By: Poul Lorentzen, General Manager, Körber Supply Chain Automation
Often seen as ‘static’ entities within dynamic and fast-paced logistics supply chain systems, warehouses can in fact play a crucial and direct role in ensuring successful and seamless logistics handling. With rapid advancements in technology, warehouses have grown beyond their basic function of simply storing inventory. Instead, they now serve to add greater value to the supply chain, even anchoring the entire logistics process in some cases.
Traditional vs automated warehouses
Workers in traditional, manual warehouses typically use long-established methods of order picking such as paper sales orders for retrieving items from shelves. And to handle the movement of goods from one pick location to another, manual handling systems and mechanisation like forklifts and conveyors may be utilised. Yet while the use of such equipment can help to reduce workers’ physical fatigue, some real risks include workplace safety, damaged inventory and inaccuracies in order picking.
For these reasons, warehouses cannot rely solely on manual, traditional processes to keep up with demand, especially with the increase in land and labour costs, as well as with rising consumer expectations in service levels. Automated warehouses bring together a variety of complementary technologies, all of which work in harmony to receive, process and dispatch goods.
Still, with the plethora of benefits that are attached to adopting automation in warehouses, manufacturers can be hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Let’s review the common myths of automating warehouses and sort fact from fiction.
Debunking 5 automated warehouse myths
Smart solutions are suitable only for large, multi-national businesses
Some small businesses worry that automated solutions will complicate their otherwise clear-cut logistics processes. However, automation isn’t reserved for big corporations — smart solutions can benefit businesses of any scale. Small business owners can devote time to tasks and goals that really matter, for example, automating repetitive processes.
Today, automation technology is the key to empowering small businesses where logistics is concerned, as automated solutions enable small businesses to not only process tasks quicker but to also expedite orders more efficiently, improving customer service across the board. However, business owners may feel hesitant to adopt automation due to a lack of experience in seamlessly integrating and running new technologies. Therefore, careful selection and appointment of a strong intralogistics provider are essential, so small business owners can identify and implement the right automation solutions for their needs.
Automated equipment is expensive
Most companies can easily appreciate how automated processes offer the benefits of quick and consistent logistics handling with little to no human involvement. However, just like any other major investments, there are many factors to consider before signing on the dotted line — and the high cost of automation is one of them.
Companies will do well to realise that automated solutions are not short-term solutions; in fact, it will often be difficult or close to impossible to justify the short-term relevance and value associated with these solutions. A key point to remember is that these smart technologies help to streamline processes by reducing costs in the long-run. Furthermore, smart solutions help companies control their budgets more efficiently by generating higher rates of accuracy and efficiency, reducing the reliance on labour and in turn, lowering a warehouse’s average cost per error. The initial cost of automated solutions may seem high but the return on investment will more often than not justify the outlay.
Smart solutions only benefit warehouses with sizeable items or large volumes of goods
Smart solutions are designed to efficiently handle all kinds of products, regardless of size or volume. For example, businesses that need to store and transport small products like microchips can tap on smart solutions like the mini-load ASRS, which provides fast and efficient storage and retrieval for containers, trays and bins. Solutions like the Warehouse Management System (WMS) are designed to constantly optimise warehouse operations by adapting quickly to different situations. As such, businesses with smaller volumes are also able to reap the benefits of smart solutions.
Another benefit companies can enjoy with smart automation is the freedom and flexibility to scale their businesses. When properly designed, smart warehouses will be able to handle new surges in growth smoothly, giving these warehouses a competitive advantage over manual ones.
Smart system breakdowns carry risks of lengthier downtimes and higher recovery costs
While some data-based IT issues and some downtime may invariably occur down the line, smart solutions like a WMS can help to mitigate risks by alerting warehouse operators to potential equipment failures, reducing the possibility of lengthy or unexpected delays or downtime. And unlike traditional warehouses, smart warehouse systems can provide full, 24-hour visibility into operations, inventory and warehouse conditions with little to no human involvement.
Automated solutions are bulky
Space is a finite resource that needs to be designed mindfully, and smart warehousing systems can be installed so that limited spaces are most efficiently utilised. For example, warehouses that employ robots for product retrieval and storage eliminate the need for wide aisles. Such spaces can instead be used for additional storage. Another popular smart warehousing system that can help store more products in limited areas is the automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), which utilises vertical storage spaces to achieve a higher storage density as compared to conventional warehouses with low height racking.
More companies will be exploring and investing in smart warehouse solutions in the years to come, as it is estimated that the global warehouse automation market will double by 2025. As businesses look for more opportunities to expand services, investing in technology is an important step to not just surviving but also thriving in a highly competitive and fast-changing environment.
However, companies need to be aware that implementing an automated warehouse goes beyond simply installing robots and smart solutions — capability and capacity need to be added seamlessly to the warehouse within an optimum timeframe. Intralogistics experts like Körber have the expertise to conquer supply chain complexities by creating customised warehousing solutions for customers across a variety of industries, regardless of warehouse size. With the help of the right intralogistics experts, businesses can look forward to running productive, efficient warehouses that will ensure their market competitiveness in the long-term.