What is Warehouse Automation and How Is It Evolving?

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Automation has, in recent years, become a buzzword across many industries–but it’s also more than just a buzzword. Automation is a highly effective way to reduce strain on your employees and ensure higher levels of efficiency than you can, in many cases, accomplish on your own. 

Warehouse automation can help with a variety of processes: receiving, sorting, putting away or picking, packing, shipping, replenishment, and returns–in short, many of the vital activities that help keep your warehouse running. With the right tools, you can manage many of the processes in your warehouse through automation.

What is Warehouse Automation?

Warehouse automation involves any process that helps automate your regular warehouse management. 

It may include moving inventory within your warehouse, moving inventory in and out of your warehouse, and ensuring that inventory reaches customers efficiently and effectively. 

In many cases, warehouse automation allows you to reduce the strain on your employees, including eliminating many of the repetitive tasks that can place immense strain on your staff.

Warehouse automation offers a number of critical benefits. It can minimize the amount of manual labor in your warehouse environment and free up employees to take on other tasks. 

An automated warehouse can take on more distribution challenges than a warehouse that relies on human staff members to take care of those vital tasks. 

Furthermore, automating common tasks may lead to fewer shipping errors, increase the accuracy of your available data, and even decrease many of the errors you often face in shipping, accounting, and picking. Warehouse automation can even lead to decreased overall operational cost throughout your warehouses and across your company. 

The Evolution of Warehouse Automation

Warehouse automation has continued to grow exponentially. Thanks to modern technology, there are numerous options available that can help you streamline common tasks, and in many cases, help reduce heavy manual labor. 

Modern Warehouse Management Systems

A warehouse management system, or WMS, provides visibility into your inventory. Modern systems can easily and effectively track the movement of inventory through the system, whether that inventory is arriving in your warehouse, being stored, or being picked, packed, and shipped to its next destination. 

Modern warehouse management systems can track the presence of your existing inventory and give you insights into when you may need to reorder. 

With an effective warehouse management system, you can keep an eye on ongoing trends, manage your inventory needs, and ensure more effective rotation of inventory so that you do not end up with unnecessary shrinkage. Your warehouse management system should integrate with or be part of your supply chain management solution.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems, also known as AS/RS systems, can use automation to store and retrieve items. They use technology that may include:

  • Automatic guided vehicles, which may move through the warehouse on magnetic strips or wires. Automatic guided vehicles often have minimal on-board guidance systems, so they may not be ideal for complex warehouses or those with a great deal of foot traffic.
  • Autonomous mobile robots, which can use laser guidance systems to navigate more complex warehouse environments, including those that may see a higher overall amount of foot traffic. 
  • Automatic sorting systems, which can help send inventory to the right locations automatically. 

Using automated storage and retrieval systems in a warehouse can cut down significantly on the manpower needed to accomplish many of those vital tasks. They may also cut down on the risk of human error.

In many cases, automated storage and retrieval systems rely on modernizing your warehouse design. 

You may, for example, need to change the layout of your warehouse to accommodate guided vehicles or mobile robots, since they may work within specific specifications. 

Improved Options for Manual Retrieval/Picking

In addition to fully automated solutions, many warehouses are choosing improved options for manual retrieval and picking of items in the warehouse, which can help streamline the process and reduce human error. 

  • Pick-to-light systems, which use mobile barcode scanners and digital light displays to help warehouse pickers find items, or the spots for items, more effectively. 
  • Voice picking and tasking, which allow employees to issue voice commands and lists. The system may then put together the most effective strategy for warehouse workers to move through the warehouse, allowing them to pick a better route and reduce time spent on routine tasks.
  • Conveyors and lifts, which can help move items through the warehouse more effectively. Conveyors and lifts may help avoid the need for workers to move extensively throughout the warehouse. 

These systems can help streamline operations in a warehouse that still needs a human touch: an extensive warehouse where you need human checks and balances to ensure accuracy, for example, or for a business that might not yet be ready to make the full move to automation. 

Cloud Technology

Using extensive automated practices, including data storage, no longer requires you to have substantial space for servers and technology within your warehouse. Instead, you can turn to cloud technology. 

Cloud technology may provide enhanced security, greater overall storage space, and easier scalability, which means that you can easily expand it as your warehouse needs continue to grow.

Integrated Solutions

Modern warehouse technology, including your warehouse automation systems, should integrate seamlessly with your warehouse management system for maximum impact. 

You don’t want disjointed solutions that leave you scrambling to copy data from one system to the next. Instead, look for warehouse automation systems that will integrate with your WMS. 

Automated solutions can help you run everything from one easy location and ensure that you have real-time information about stock availability, which can make it easier for you to manage many critical business tasks.

Are You Looking for Better Automation Solutions for Your Warehouse?

There are a lot of benefits to automation, from minimizing the possibility for human error to helping you cut costs over time. 

Are you looking for a stock management system that can help you manage your warehouse inventory and more effectively track inventory across your business? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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