Warehouse Automation: What It Is and How to Implement It

Warehouse automation is very common optimization tool for any size business. But how do you implement it, and what are the possible pitfalls?

Warehouse automation has been on the rise in recent years as businesses have looked for ways to increase efficiency and cut costs. While there are many benefits to automating a warehouse, there are also some drawbacks that should be taken into account before making a decision. In this article, we will explore the topic of warehouse automation as a part of your overall strategy for warehousing and help you decide if it is right for your business.

warehouse automation robot

Table of Contents

What is warehouse automation?

Warehouse automation is the use of technology to improve the efficiency and accuracy of warehouse operations. Automation is simply the process of taking repeated manual processes and making them automatic.

Examples of automated systems include conveyor belts and machines that pick and package products, reducing the need for manual labor. Warehouse automation is used by a variety of businesses, including those in the retail, manufacturing, and logistics industries. Automated systems can improve the speed and accuracy of warehouse operations, making it easier to keep up with demand.

warehouse automated picking system

The Benefits of Warehouse Automation

Automated warehousing has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity. There are many different types of warehouse automation technology, from mobile robots to pick-to-light systems, and each has its unique benefits.

The main benefit of warehouse automation is, as already mentioned, that it can help to optimize your efficiency. This makes your warehouse leaner and able to operate with less overhead. Automated warehouses can provide real-time data tracking, which enables managers to optimize inventory levels and make better use of available space. Additionally, automated storage and retrieval systems help reduce picking errors and other mistakes, make picking faster, increase inventory accuracy, and ensure that orders are filled correctly.

Another benefit of warehouse automation is that it can improve supply chain efficiency. This is especially true in the earlier phases of the supply chain. By automating operations, businesses like manufacturing plants can eliminate many of the bottlenecks that can occur during traditional manual processes. This leads to faster production times and improved customer satisfaction. Additionally, automated warehousing systems can help businesses to become more nimble and responsive to changes in customer demand.

Regardless of the type of automation technology you choose, automating your warehousing processes can provide several significant benefits for your business.

What are the types of warehouse automation?

There are 5 main types of warehouse automation. They are warehouse management systems, warehouse control systems, mobile robots, storage and retrieval systems, and conveyor systems.

Warehouse Management Systems

Warehouse management systems (WMS) are software solutions that help warehouse managers to optimize their operations. WMS solutions provide real-time visibility into inventory levels, stock locations, and order fulfillment status. They also help to track and manage kitting and picking processes. Common features of WMS solutions include order management, labor management, and other optimizations.

Warehouse Control Systems

Warehouse control systems (WCS) are used to automate and manage material handling equipment in warehouses. WCS solutions typically interface with WMS solutions to ensure that warehouse operations are coordinated effectively. Common features of WCS solutions include equipment control, routing, and tracking.

An example of a WCS is a routing control function (guided vehicles) which allows a manager to pre-determine specific routes that a forklift, or other machinery may take in a warehouse.

Mobile Robots

Mobile robots are used in warehouses to automate tasks such as picking, packing, and stocking. Mobile robots can be either autonomous or remotely controlled. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are capable of operating without human intervention. They use sensors and computers to navigate warehouse aisles and locate items. Remotely controlled mobile robots (CMRs) require a human operator to control their movements.

Storage and Retrieval Systems

Storage and retrieval systems (SRSs) are automated processes (sometimes using AMRs) that store and retrieve inventory in warehouses. SRSs are used to accommodate high-density warehouse storage requirements.

Commonly used types of SRSs include automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRs) and pick-to-light systems. ASRs are computer-controlled systems that store and retrieve inventory using cranes or shuttles. Pick-to-light systems consist of racks of shelves fitted with lights that indicate where an item is located, put away inventory in high-density storage areas, as well as to accumulate orders for picking.

Key Takeaway: Two Types of SRSs

  • ASRs are fully robotic picking systems ideal for use in high-density storage areas.
  • Pick-to-light still uses human labor, but makes the picking process faster.

Conveyor Systems

Conveyor systems are used in warehouses to move materials from one location to another. Conveyor systems can be either manual or automated. Automated conveyor systems use motors and sensors to move materials along a predefined path. These systems can significantly improve warehouse efficiency by reducing the need for manual labor.

How do I choose the right automation for my warehouse?

When it comes to warehouse automation, there are a variety of options to choose from. Mobile robots, warehouse management systems, and storage and retrieval systems are all popular choices. But how do you know which one is right for your warehouse? Here are a few factors to consider:

The Type of Warehouse

Automated warehouses are typically classified as either fast-moving or slow-moving. Fast-moving warehouses require more frequent replenishment and tend to be smaller in size. Slow-moving warehouses, on the other hand, have large inventory levels and require less frequent replenishment. Knowing the type of warehouse you have will help you narrow down your options.

The Size of the Warehouse

The size of your warehouse will also play a role in choosing the right automation solution. If you have a large warehouse, you’ll need an automated solution that can handle the increased volume. However, if you have a smaller warehouse, your automation needs may not be as great.

The Budget

Automation solutions can vary widely in price. Be sure to consider your budget when choosing an automation solution for your warehouse.

Choosing the right automation solution for your warehouse doesn’t have to be difficult. By considering the type of warehouse you have, the size of your warehouse, and your budget, you can narrow down your options and find the perfect solution for your needs.

The Steps to Implement Warehouse Automation

If you think that automation is right for your business, you are ready to start planning and implementing. Here are some steps you can follow to implement automated systems in your warehousing operation:

Assess the Need: Identify Areas of Improvement

When considering warehouse automation, it is important to first assess your warehouse operations and identify areas where automation could improve efficiency. Once you have identified potential areas for improvement, you can then research the different types of warehouse automation technology (discussed earlier in this article) that would be best suited for your needs.

Pick and Choose: Determining Which Tech Is Right for You

Choosing the right warehouse automation technology is critical to achieving success with warehouse automation. It’s super easy to get excited by all the possibilities with automation technologies. However, it is also important to consider the implementation process when planning for warehouse automation. Implementation can be complex and costly, so you may need to be selective in your decision.

Mobile robots, for example, are well-suited for tasks such as picking and sorting, while automated storage systems are ideal for increasing storage density and reducing retrieval time. Pick-to-light systems increase productivity in picking operations, while warehouse management systems can provide real-time visibility into warehouse inventory and operations.

Determine the Cost: Automating Warehouse Processes is Expensive

Once you have identified potential areas for improvement, you can then research the different types of warehouse automation technologies that would be best suited for your needs. Implementation can be complex and costly, so you may consider working with a reputable automation implementation specialist. The right provider will work closely with you to understand your specific needs and requirements before recommending the best solution for your operation. They will also provide guidance and support throughout the implementation process to ensure that your warehouse automation project is a success.

The cost of implementing warehouse automation will vary depending on the type of technology chosen and the size of the warehouse. However, in general, it can be expensive to upgrade an existing warehouse to automated operations. For smaller warehouses, a pick-to-light system may be a more affordable option, while larger warehouses may require a more comprehensive automated storage and retrieval system.

Begin Implementation: It's Time to Automate

Once you have the need, the plan, and the cost figured out, it’s time to start implementing. While the temptation is to pull the trigger and make a bunch of changes all at once, that may not be the best idea. You can move as quickly or as slowly as you like during this process. Sometimes too many rapid changes at the same time can cause more issues than they solve.

For this reason, you may want to start small. Keep things simple and make minor adjustments first. Adding barcode scanners, or modifying other small, repetitive tasks are good places to start. Remember, the goal is to reduce or completely eliminate time consuming tasks. That doesn’t mean it has to be a big task. Sometimes it may be as simple as the walking time required to collect material. Every little change in the positive should result in increased productivity or improved safety.

A robotic arm automated packing system

Maintenance and Troubleshooting of Warehouse Automation

Warehouse automation is a vital part of many businesses, as it helps to improve efficiency and accuracy while reducing labor costs. However, like any complex system, warehouse automation can occasionally experience problems. In most cases, these problems can be quickly resolved with some basic troubleshooting.

The first step is to identify the source of the problem. Is it with the conveyor belt, the sorting system, or the robotic arm? Once the source of the problem has been identified, it is often possible to resolve it with some simple adjustments or repairs. However, in some cases, more extensive troubleshooting may be required. If this is the case, it is important to consult with a professional who has experience with warehouse automation. They will be able to help you diagnose the problem and recommend an appropriate course of action.

The Future of Warehouse Automation

The future of warehouse automation is looking very promising. With the rapid advancement of technology, more and more companies are turning to automated systems to help them manage their inventory and fulfill orders. There are many benefits to this type of system, including increased accuracy, efficiency, and productivity.

In addition, automated systems can help to reduce labor costs and improve safety conditions for workers. As the technology continues to evolve, we will likely see even more widespread adoption of automated warehouse systems. This will result in a major shift in the way that warehouses operate and could have a profound impact on the economy as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Warehouse automation technology is a great way to improve efficiency and accuracy in your warehouse operations. However, it is important to carefully consider the cost of implementation before making a decision. There are many different types of technology available, so you should figure out what the best solution is for your specific needs. One size does not fit all!

In addition, warehouse automation requires periodic maintenance and the occasional troubleshooting. You will need a support structure to run and maintain the automation processes and equipment. With more and more smart technologies becoming available, the future looks bright for warehouse automation!

Warehouse Automation FAQ

In most cases, problems with a warehouse that is automated can be quickly resolved with some basic troubleshooting. However, in some cases, more extensive troubleshooting may be required. If this is the case, it is important to consult with a professional who has experience with warehouse automation. They will be able to help you diagnose the problem and recommend an appropriate course of action.

The cost of implementing warehouse automation varies depending on the type of technology chosen and the size of the warehouse. However, in general, it is fairly expensive to upgrade an existing warehouse to automated operations. The starting cost of warehouse automation typically begins at $500,000. This includes the cost of the equipment and the cost of installing and maintaining the system. However, the cost of automation may be higher or lower depending on the specific needs of the business.

Many types of tasks can be automated in a warehouse, including picking and packing items, retrieving inventory, and loading and unloading trucks. Automating these tasks can help to improve accuracy and efficiency while reducing labor costs.

Automation impacts the workforce by eliminating and creating certain jobs. This happens because machines are better equipped to handle certain tasks than humans. This can be difficult for workers who lose their jobs as a result of automation. However, in other cases, automation can lead to the creation of new jobs that require different skills than those required by traditional warehouse workers. Overall, automation tends to have a mixed effect on the workforce in a warehouse. While it can lead to job losses in some cases, it also has the potential to create new opportunities for workers and improve overall efficiency in the warehouse.

Some safety concerns to consider when implementing warehouse automation are improper use and poor calibration of equipment. Automated systems can be dangerous if not used properly, and it is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure that workers are safe when using them. In addition, it is important to make sure that the automated system is properly calibrated and functioning correctly. If there are any safety concerns or issues with the system, it is important to address them immediately.

To ensure that an automated system is compatible with your existing warehouse infrastructure, you will need to first analyze your current warehouse infrastructure. Once this is done, identifying areas of the warehouse for updating to automated systems is next. You will also need to assess your current workforce and identify which tasks are candidates for automation. Once you have a clear understanding of your needs and limitations, you can begin to explore different types of automated systems that are compatible with your existing infrastructure.

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