How to automate your warehouse. Considerations for both automated warehouses and mechanised solutions.
In competitive markets, efficiency in distribution is an important factor in minimising costs and creating a competitive advantage.
The challenges in the logistics field continue to grow almost monthly. New competitors, too much capacity in the industry, increased customer expectation and advances in multichannel distribution, all add to the pressure.
Logistics automation for key processes can be a powerful way to address this.
There are many areas that benefit such as put-away, retrieval, order picking, sortation, palletizing and vehicle loading.
The good news is ongoing technological innovation and competition among automation suppliers are really starting to have a positive effect. They are allowing the benefits of warehouse automation to become more economically accessible than ever before.
Within the Materials Handling Equipment (MHE) and Warehouse Automation Suppliers landscape, there has been a great deal of consolidation between organisations. For all of these reasons, the Automated Equipment Suppliers services are in high demand right now. This means they are enjoying full order books and clients are working with longer lead times.
In the current market, understanding where suppliers are in terms of the manufacturing and installation capacity is more critical than ever.
Levels of warehouse automation and what works best for you.
There are two principal categories of equipment that can be used.
- Mechanised solutions in which the product/material is transported to operators working in carefully optimised and efficient areas. This is usually achieved with software assistance.
- Fully automated solutions. This is where the movement of the product or materials is carried out by mechanical equipment directed entirely by software systems.
Often, the most successful approach is to develop solutions that use the most appropriate technologies from the two categories in combination. This in order to deliver the best benefits of mechanisation and automation, whilst mitigating the associated risks.
The volatility of market demand is often a key determinant of the degree of automation that a business should opt for. The key is to ensure that the benefits always outweigh the costs and the risk elements.
The potential to ally either of these approaches to a “robotised” fine handling solution is now emerging. The potential use of Collaborative Robots is high on the development agendas of several of the major Automate Equipment manufacturers.
Although it is early days, many complex manual operations still remain beyond the capability of CoBots. However, as with all technological innovation, it is only a matter of time and this year we have seen significant inroads.
Technology is moving fast. It is vital that in reaching decisions on automation, the full range of alternative technologies is considered. We offer a scoping exercise so that the benefits and costs involved can be looked at.
How to Automate your Warehouse and the Benefits of Warehouse Automation.
Solutions that are based around a mix of mechanisation and automation deliver a variety of benefits to differing distribution operations.
Some of these are ‘hard’ benefits. Others are ‘soft’ less tangible improvements that nevertheless serve to improve the level of service offered to customers.
With so many types of automation available the key is to adopt those that offer the the biggest improvement for the lowest spend.
Each client will of course have their own priorities but there is always a consistent theme. A key principle is that any business priority is to effectively service their customers in order to achieve repeat business.
However, achieving a better service level has to be delivered at an affordable cost. It has to be done cost-effectively and it has to impact quickly onto the profit and loss account. management needs to see an early return on the money invested.
The many benefits of warehouse automation mean that it is not something that management can keep putting off.
- Improved productivity on the part of all operatives. Far less time is spent unproductively moving from point to point. This means far high throughputs with fewer resources.
- Improved working conditions. This includes a reduction in manual effort, which again helps increase productivity. It also reduces fatigue, raises morale, and reduces absentee rates. This coupled with general improvements in health and safety makes it a win-win situation.
- Reduced cycle times. Automation speeds up batch planning, storage retrieval, order-picking, and packing processes. It can dramatically reduce delivery cycle times as well.
- Higher space utilisation. This is an important factor for many of our clients. Automated equipment will usually provide better storage density, often without compromise to stock access.
- Improved inventory management. Stock visibility and control are always high on the priority list for warehouse managers.
- Improved levels of accuracy in order fulfillment which leads to an enhanced customer experience
- Enhanced security through reducing contact with warehouse operatives and hence exposure to theft. A factor that is key for high-value products.
- Reduced handling errors and damage to product and equipment as automated systems operate at consistent speeds, handling items securely and precisely.
- Lower transportation costs using intelligent software to organise the loading of vehicles. This ensures optimum space utilisation and correct drop sequence for the most fuel-efficient routes. It also reduces labour costs significantly both short term and long term.
- Better management information and warehouse management systems through improved gathering and storing of relevant operational data.
- The improvements in Warehouse Management Software and Warehouse Management Systems WMS in the last few years have been dramatic. This is a low-cost, fast-return option that many companies are missing out on.
- Improved operations and faster processing of returns. This has become a major factor in recent years. Online sales have led to improved turnover but higher return levels as well which creates a new set of challenges.
- The all-important Customer Service. All of the above contribute to the supply chain and customer experience. This can be the breakpoint for so many organisations.
- Excellence is often transparent but poor customer experience means bad reviews and reduced market share. Good customer service has never mattered more than it does today.
Improving warehouse facilities. Warehouses have to be more efficient as the competition heats up.
So, we now live in an era of fast-paced technological innovation and market change. Many industries must face up to the challenges of improving distribution centre productivity and optimising logistics in order to survive.
Distribution automation is one area which may address some of these business improvement goals. However, this approach needs to carefully consider several factors. The business objectives and the nature of the market operated in, are key. We also need to look at the risks and the potential return on investment.
At Bisham Consulting, we undertake a range of projects to assess, evaluate and advise on the benefits and risks of automation.
Bisham Consulting has design experience but more importantly, we have market knowledge and very good supplier relationships.
We offer a design tailored specifically to each customer based on individual requirements. Our customer testimonials speak volumes for the ability of the team.
Some of our mechanisation/automation projects include Arcadia, Brammer, River Island, 7/11 (Far East).
Would you like to discuss the potential benefits of improving your warehouse automation?
So for more information on automating your warehouse and to speak to an expert please contact us on 01628 487000
You can find out more about our consultants and their specific areas of expertise here.