Warehouse Automation – The Ultimate Guide

Nowadays, the role of the warehouses has evolved from its traditional role of just being room to store goods. Automation of the warehouse basically includes the automation of the monotonous and repetitive tasks, in order to make those jobs more efficient and less time-consuming.

Due to the monotony and uniformity in the warehouse operations, the chances of errors are increased and mistakes in manual documentation, picking, stocking, and shipping are expected. This is the reason why warehouses should look for ways to automate their operations. Many companies are looking for ways to digitize their warehouses for

  • Better Speed,
  • Efficiency,
  • Scale operations,
  • to cut costs, etc.

With millions of products going in and out, along with the fulfillment of accurate data collection, other warehouse operations can be challenging too. Automated warehouses have streamlined various operations at a reduced cost. Moreover, automated warehouses can easily handle larger volumes of goods. It not only saves time but also fuel and cost of labor, and reduces chances of error. The main functions might include:

 

Automated Picking

Modular shelving systems that suit the collection and the warehouse robotics are assisting humans in the picking process by increasing the speed and making the whole process error-free.

Barcode Labeling and Scanning

There is a constant in and out of the movement of the products and one of the most important duties is to keep a track of this movement, storing them and stocking them, to arrange the warehouse. The automation of the documentation with barcode labeling eliminates the possibility of any errors and saves a huge amount of time by speeding up the whole process.

Automation of the Vehicles

With the self-guided forklifts and pallets, human intervention and the chances of errors are reduced to none. These automated guided vehicles follow a specific digital path in the warehouse for loading and unloading the goods packed in boxes or other containers.

Inventory Automation

The mistakes related to data entry or transcription can create many disruptions in the supply chain, cost-effective and efficient automation of the inventory operations is a must to avoid any kind of losses in the long run.

 

Why it is Necessary 

A warehouse is one of the most important pillars of the supply chain, a core hub of logistics. An autonomous warehouse is becoming the trend and retailers and many freight forwarding companies looking for autonomous solutions. The retailers and logistics companies are facing increasing complexities due to the 

  • Rising customer expectation
  • Labor availability challenges
  • Shorter deadlines and more works
  • Amazon has set the bars high due to automation and fast distribution

Amid the increasing competition and customer’s expectations, automation seems to be the smart and strategic investment option as it can 

  • Achieve key operational metrics
  • Fulfill customer service requirements
  • Move goods effectively
  • Add profitability
  • Optimize process
  • Increased output

One of the most important benefits of automation is that the right technology and equipment helps the employees to feel safe and satisfied. The automation can bring change in the following departments:

Sales

  • Reduction in out of stock status
  • Enables immediate picking for faster order fulfillment

Production

  • Improves the profitability 
  • Improves customer service 
  • Improve inventory planning

Customer Service

  • Real-time order status
  • Faster deliveries

Business

  • visibility
  • Reduction in transport costs
  •  Best time to Implement

The entire world seems to be moving towards automation and owing to the growing demands the automation of warehouses is also becoming a trend. Now is the best time to digitize the warehouse operations to increase its efficiency. With the increasing demands of the same day and next day shipping, distributors are facing more challenges in the constantly changing world of warehouse management.

The success or failure of the company is determined by the fact if the right kind of automation is installed. Automation can help to optimize and strategically organize the operations and multiple other benefits can be achieved. Some of them are

  • Business becomes proactive rather than reactive 
  • Reduced costs and mistakes
  • Transparency increased
  • Improve customer relationship
  • Speedy receiving and returning
  •  Help make better use of space, layout, and flow
  • Maximizes the warehouse space
  • Better accuracy of orders
  • Regular and accurate updates
  • Covers labor shortage

 

4 Steps to Automate Your Warehouse

Retail companies must try to look for ways to cut expenses and make the warehouse operations cost-effective to avoid the waste of resources and time. New trends emerging and complex supply chains putting more pressure on retailers and distributors. Two main categories of automation of warehouses are process automation and physical automation.

Physical Automation

This automation calls attention to the use of robots and robotic systems in the warehouse. Though it is costly, it proves really helpful for the warehouses with larger volumes of products and various distribution center operations. Driverless automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile, etc are included in it.

Process Automation

This type of automation involves barcoding, wireless barcode scanner to input and track data. It is basically the process of digitizing manual jobs and also automating communication of the data to and from the system.

 Automation is a multiple-step process that should help make is primary functions efficient which are

  • Storage
  • Inbound( receiving and returns) and outbound operations(picking, packaging, staging)
  • Value-added process(labeling, stickers, kitting)

Complete know-how of the automation is crucial. Some steps are suggested below

 

1. Automated Data Collection System

In the fast-paced world, access to real-time data in the warehouse management system is crucial. Manual processes can lead to delays and errors impacting the productivity and lowering the profits. One of the most important jobs to automate is ‘data collection’ as the traditional ways of this job i.e. the manual entry is prone to errors and mistakes. The handwritten notes and the process of transferring the data to computers is more inconvenient, time-consuming and more susceptible to cause problems.

Consequences of Errors

Any human error in the receiving of the products can create disruptions in the packaging, picking and in the delivery of those goods. And the customers could also end up with the wrong product. Then it would lead to the handling of a return process. But what is earned by all this: the dissatisfaction of customers or partners, the company’s reputation damaged, poor customer service. Just because of a small mistake in the receiving, as low as 0.5% inaccuracy can have a grave impact on the efficiency of the warehouse operations.

Automated Entry

The automated data collection reduces the chances of mistakes and any error in receiving, picking, packaging and shipping is highly improbable. Thus leaving the customer satisfied.

How is it Done?

It usually involves the implementation of a system where the information regarding the flow of the inventory is recorded with the assistance of a barcode reader and scanner and is communicated among the parties through the ERP system or any other software. The accuracy of the data can be as high as 100% leading to a cleaner, visible and transparent set of operations.

Portable Scanners

With the introduction of the portable barcode scanners, the automation has gone many steps further in making the warehouse jobs easier and efficient. The wireless barcode reader, handheld computers, etc are examples of the mobilized solutions. Data can be collected form barcodes, RFID tags, IoT devices, etc.

High Quality and Accuracy

It provides the managers with accurate and high-quality data regarding the inventory levels that influence the planning regarding the stock levels, manufacturing and customer service.

The efficient data collection, in turn, helps companies to stay proactive in their approach rather than adopting a defensive approach. Not only the accurate data collection helps prevent an uncertain situation but it also assists in dealing efficiently with such chances.

 

2. Barcode and Inventory Management System

Mismanagement of the inventory can lead to out of stock conditions which often results in the dissatisfaction of the customers tarnishing the reputation of the company. It can also lead to excessive stock on the shelves increasing operational costs lowering the profit.

Barcode Scanners

As discussed earlier, barcodes scanners help to collect accurate data related to the flow of the products in and out of the inventory. Documentation is the indispensable component of the warehouse operations as it is the record of the products being stored, arranged, picked or delivered. They help achieve

  • Accuracy
  • Faster operations
  • Traceability
  • Visibility
  • Transparency
  • Inventory tracking preventing any loss of the product
  • Arrival planning of the cargo

Improved picking efficiency by avoiding delays The barcode scanners have automated the warehouse operations. The barcode labels and signs, shelf labels and the warehouse signs eliminate possible errors and speed up the process. Barcode scanners help track the record of the product flow in and out of inventory with the help of RFID or IoT, etc.

RFID uses wireless signals to record data stored in the microchips placed in the tags or labels of the goods. This decreases the possibilities of error. RFID can provide all sorts of details including:

  • Size and type of product
  • Quality
  • Country of origin
  • Country of manufacturing
  • Analysis of the sale patterns
  • Time of sale of products

Inventory Management Software

The automation of the inventory collectively known as the inventory management system IMS. The software provides an eagle eye over all the warehouse operations. The involved parties gain visibility over the flow of the inventory and the information related to the products flowing in or out of the warehouse is accessible from any part of the world thus adding transparency to the whole process. There are many IMS solutions:

  • ShipStation Software (for smaller retail businesses)
  • RFgen( for larger companies)

These software allow recording data related to the products and the financial transactions that take place in the inventory. All the steps of picking, receiving, storing, kitting, assorting and shipping are recorded by the software and the status of the product can be figured out and it can be traced without any hassle. 

The record also helps in keeping the count of the products coming in and going out. This helps in updating the stock levels at the inventory. The level of the stock then is not kept too high or too low ad a balance can be achieved. 

 

3. Implementation of Warehouse System

The lack of access to real-time accurate data related to the inventory can lead to various disruptions in the overall operations. Basic automation involves the usage of special applications, scanners, inventory software, and printed papers.

System Automation

It involves the use of technologies that are voice-directed and software like WMS and RFID.

Mechanized Automation 

This includes conveyors etc. and the advanced one involves automated picking, sorting, etc.

IoT and WMS

The IoT shorter for The Internet of Things makes the whole logistics process smooth. It can help share the supply chain information without needing human contact. 

WMS Software can streamline all the warehouse operations. Warehouse management software can keep an eye on all of the inventory-related jobs. In this way, it can 

  • Decrease labor expenses
  • Improve customer experience
  • Increase accuracy 
  • Increase responsiveness
  • Effective use of space in a warehouse

WCS

Warehouse control systems manage the flow items on the automated equipment. It fits well in a highly automated facility.

WES

Warehouse execution system simplifies the communication and the controls between different functions.

AS

With 20 to 30 years of lifetime, this automated system comprises automated storage and automated retrieval systems. They assist in utilizing automatic machinery and software.

 

4. Automated Shipping Process

The automation of the vehicles is the new trend in the modern supply chain. The automated vehicles allow

  • Easy loading and unloading of the products
  • Autonomous operations
  • The use of alternate fuels to have eco-friendly transportation

With automation, the vehicles would be able to analyze and predict the traffic and also communicate with other automated machines. They can also re-route the whole transportation if there is any hurdle in the already planned route.

 

The Automated Guided Vehicles

With the self-guided forklifts and pallets, human intervention and the chances of errors are reduced to none. These automated guided vehicles follow a specific digital path in the warehouse for loading and unloading the goods packed in boxes or other containers. Following the markers on the floor, these vehicles navigate in the warehouse. They can perform the following functions:

  • Storing pallets in racks or deep stacks
  • Receiving of goods
  • Automatic loading and unloading
  • Transporting the materials to storage
  • Vertical and horizontal storing

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