5 Ways Automation Can Improve Warehouse Efficiency
Today’s operations managers face many mounting challenges when it comes to warehouse efficiency. Perhaps the most pressing concern is the increasing workforce shortages at a time of immediate consumer demand. If you’ve been wondering how you can maintain an efficient warehouse in a rapid-paced market, then you’ve probably considered how automation can improve pick-rate, reduce travel time, and promote scalability at your facility.
There are three types of automation currently boosting warehouse efficiency:
- Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Leveraged for transporting and retrieving products throughout the warehouse space. These devices typically operate via the use of laser, contour, ranging, magnetic sensors, or a combination that enables them to move throughout the facility.
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): Used for transportation, sortation, and order picking in the warehouse, but with greater adaptability to their surroundings. Unlike AGVs, AMRs can utilize lasers, LIDAR, QR codes, GPS or RFID in combination with its onboard CPU and host interface. These robots can automatically identify the most efficient routes throughout the facility, allowing them to complete tasks at greater speeds and autonomy.
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): Ensures warehouse efficiency by storing and retrieving materials on demand. These Goods-to-Person systems automatically present the required items or storage medium as needed to a workstation. A few examples of AS/RS include shuttles, crane and aisle systems, vertical and horizontal carousels, vertical lift modules, AMRs, and robotic storage retrieval systems.
How Automation Improves Warehouse Efficiency
These systems can improve warehouse efficiency in several different ways that boost pick-rate and replenishment while slashing travel time and human error.
Increasing inventory accuracy
These days, customers expect a high level of order fulfillment, with a low tolerance for inaccurate or incomplete deliveries. For this reason, your warehouse efficiency may depend on AS/RS systems to cut down on these mistakes and improve inventory accuracy by up to 99.99%.
Reducing travel time
The efficiency of your order fulfillment depends on travel time. Up to 70% of an operator’s day can be spent walking miles to find the correct items. This is why automation such as AS/RS Goods-to-Person systems allow operators to stay in a workstation and have inventory delivered to them for picking and replenishment.
Orders are shipped every day. As a result, those SKUs need to be consistently replenished in the warehouse. Relying on manual labor for this process, however, isn’t enough to maintain warehouse efficiency over long hours. Since automated Goods-to-Person, AS/RS, AGV, or AMR systems don’t get fatigued, these devices can work for longer periods of time. This will contribute to warehouse efficiency by reducing walk and search time.
Improving pick-rate productivity
Putting your warehouse efficiency in the capable hands of automation will result in a powerful domino effect for your facility. Unlike a manual forklift or cart, automated systems require little or no human labor. Automation keeps the work moving, slashing travel time while boosting inventory accuracy. These systems can work longer hours, dramatically reducing the risk of your productivity rate declining.
Reducing picking error rates
Another benefit to using automation is the significant reduction of picking errors. By integrating automated systems such as pick-to-light, RF barcode scanning, voice, augmented vision, inline weigh scales, and RFID, accuracy levels will soar. A picking error not only costs an organization the time and money to fix it, but the loss of customer satisfaction and reputation as returning business can decline dramatically as a result.
Automation allows your warehouse employees to focus on high-value tasks instead of the repetitive ones. This can improve warehouse efficiency by reducing workplace injuries, which keeps workers motivated and productive.
Unlike the stringent needs and capabilities of a human-based workforce, automation provides flexibility. As you integrate automation into your warehouse, you’ll find it remarkably easier to scale your operations according to your specific business and operational needs. The ability to modify your automated workflow processes gives you leverage in terms of your short-term goals, while enabling you to coordinate warehouse operations based on your long-term requirements. This not only gives your warehouse labor flexibility, but financial flexibility as well.
If you’re thinking about adding automation to promote warehouse efficiency, then you’re likely concerned about its ROI. Given the critical role that automation plays in reducing labor and picking error rates, it’s clear that the long-term return on this investment is quite high. This implementation can lead to major improvements in staff morale and warehouse efficiency, leading to increased order fulfillment for your facility.
Ease of scalability
An important selling point for AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) and robots in the warehouse is that these systems are modular. The ability to modify and customize your automated systems according to the needs of your facility can help you maintain the speed required to keep up with today’s instant-gratification market and your competition.
Because of the scalability, operations can run on a system which meets their day-in-day-out requirements and then lease robots and AMRs as needed to hit peak weeks and months. This allows a nice blend of OPEX and CAPEX, not historically found in automated warehouse equipment.
Lack of single point of failure
One of the biggest obstacles of automation is the single point of failure (SPOF). This refers to a single design flaw that has the potential to stop the entire system if it malfunctions. Historically, a conveyor is an example of a mechanism that when any part malfunctions, the entire system is down. By utilizing AMRs and robots, any possible faults are met with system redundancy to keep workflow moving, without affecting hourly or daily metrics.
5 Ways to Use Robots to Improve Warehouse Efficiency
With the many ways that automation improves warehouse efficiency, it’s clear that any warehouse manager should invest in this groundbreaking technology. Like any investment, however, the use of automation needs to be approached carefully. To make sure your systems are maximizing warehouse efficiency, consider these five methods.
1. Evaluate throughput levels
The purpose of maintaining warehouse efficiency is to maximize your facility throughput level, or the amount of product a warehouse can pick, pack, and ship in a given timeframe. Using automation to lower travel time and improve labor productivity requires consistent warehouse monitoring. This way, you can better guarantee your systems are keeping your facility’s throughput levels high by matching or surpassing order fulfillment targets.
2. Consider safety levels
Few things are as vital for warehouse efficiency as workplace safety. Although bringing automation into your facility can reduce accidents just by decreasing the need for operators, mishaps can still occur if the proper safety procedures aren’t adhered to. Every facility and its workers have different safety considerations, but if this is one of your primary goals make sure to audit how these systems will contribute to a safer and more efficient working environment.
3. Calculate ROI
While automation often comes with a high ROI, it is nevertheless critical to calculate, validate and monitor. In the preparation stages, make sure your target goals are clear so you can ensure your warehouse efficiency modifications are working toward a higher, long-term ROI. When calculating an ROI, make sure you include all factors. Estimating labor, space, accuracy benefits, etc. are relatively easy math. But figuring out the savings of increased inventory visibility and turns, and the opportunity value get a bit more challenging. The opportunity value is simple, since my automation project will save me “X” if I invest that into “Y” how much more revenue can I generate. This is often overlooked and a valuable element of the ROI calculation.
4. Integrate with WES software
Although the right automation can do wonders to promote warehouse efficiency, this hardware is only as smart and efficient as the software running them. To maximize the potential of your AMRs, consider implementing a Warehouse Execution System (WES). A robust WES can fill the gaps of your existing processes and strengthen the capabilities of your automation investment.
5. Ensure it’s the RightFIT
When it comes to improving efficiency for your warehouse, what are your goals? Are you looking to keep down labor costs while raising inventory accuracy and worker productivity? Or are you hoping to cut down on warehouse travel time to better meet your customer KPIs? Whatever the reason, it’s important to carefully consider your facility’s specific needs before committing to an automation and robotics plan.
Find Your RightFIT
Choosing the right automation for your warehouse is like choosing the right tools for a construction project. Without a firm understanding of how the tools work, nothing can be built. Armed with the appropriate knowledge, however, your robotics can build an amazing future for your facility.
Are you interested in learning more about improving warehouse efficiency for your organization? Contact us now to schedule a consultation with a trusted Conveyco representative! Don’t wait to learn more about how automation can boost your facility’s performance.