28 Dec 2022

Understanding the Basics of Warehouse Automation

Warehouse automation is becoming more popular among industries as it enhances warehousing capabilities while reducing the cost of operations and enhancing their sustainability.

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Any business that must keep an inventory of its products understands the importance of warehouse management. Good management can be the difference between fulfilling customer demands while keeping expenses low and hearing complaints about delayed shipments and higher operating costs. Management of warehouses covers the processes and principles of managing the day-to-day activities in a warehouse to keep the supply chain uninterrupted and optimized. On a higher level, it includes optimizing the warehouse space, order fulfillment, and inventory management. When you zoom in, you can see that warehouse operations include integrating all the tasks involved in ensuring a smooth workflow within a warehouse while keeping productivity high and operating costs low. Unlike in older days, modern businesses are using warehouse management systems which are software solutions that help in warehouse automation, enhancing the efficiency of the operation of a warehouse.

Table of Contents

What Is Warehouse Automation?

Warehouse automation is automating the processes that are carried out in a warehouse. This includes the movement of inventory while it enters the warehouse, movement within the warehouse, and when it exits the warehouse with little human assistance. When a warehouse is automated, it focuses on eliminating labor-intensive tasks and duties that are repetitive in nature, along with manual data entry and data analysis.

Warehouse automation only sometimes means physical or robotic automation of the warehouse but using a software platform to replace manual functions. However, the use of robotics can help attain maximum efficiency with minimal fatigue and injury.

What Are the Different Types of Warehouse Automation?

There are mainly two types of automation used for warehouses: digital and physical.

  1. Digital Automation

    When digital automation is applied to a warehouse, it uses data and software platforms to reduce manual efforts. Technologies, such as mobile barcoding, are used for automatic identification and data capturing or AIDC.

    One of the best things about warehouse digital process automation is that it allows easy integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They come with enhanced efficiency, better data management capability, and improved data security. Also, as digital automation reduces manual processes, it removes the possibility of human errors.

    Data-capturing technologies such as RFID tags and barcode scanners improve worker productivity and enhance customer service experiences. In addition to that, they also help in reducing the operational costs that result from human errors.

    To implement digital automation solutions, companies must invest a significant amount as it requires software, hardware, support contracts, and the time required to implement the systems.

  2. Physical Automation

    It focuses on minimizing employee movement and introducing workflows that support more efficiency. The use of robotic machines and forklifts for automated warehouse logistics is one example of such automation. Its significant benefits include increased capacity, improved reliability and scalability of services, and improved performance. One downside of physical automation is the need for a skilled labor force to maintain the system. Also, this type of automation solution come with high maintenance costs. To take the most out of warehouse automation, companies need to have advanced planning and organized execution.

How Does Warehouse Automation Work?

It uses warehouse automation software and technologies such as advanced data analytics algorithms, robotics, and sensors to perform duties automatically without human intervention. This helps perform repetitive, tedious operations in a warehouse without human labor. Using modern technologies such as machine learning to do simple repetitive tasks frees the workers to perform more complex operations.

In addition to performing the assignments, the technologies such as machine learning and AI also focus on optimizing the tasks based on workload, warehouse conditions, and priorities. Different companies use several warehouse automation levels based on their requirements.

How Does Warehouse Automation Work
  • Low Automation: This kind of automation is dependent on the personnel. The employees do the movement of material and collection of data with a low automation approach that uses automated equipment. It can be prone to inconsistency, low production, errors, and high turnover from workers.
  • Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): It is a system consisting of a set of processes and policies meant to organize and govern the warehouse operations and ensure efficiency to meet all objectives. This system notes the arrival and dispatch of material along with keeping track of the exact location of the stock in the warehouse. It also stores information about the available space in the warehouse and optimizes it offering maximum efficiency.
  • Advanced Automation: Advanced automation uses to execute a task during a work cycle. This uses advanced technologies and algorithms to capture data and recommends optimizing the warehouse's workflow and available space.

What Are the Advantages of an Automated Warehouse?

Now that we have discussed the working of warehouse automation, let’s have a look at how it benefits warehouse efficiency.

  • Lesser Human Errors - Human errors are common in a warehouse workflow. However, it can be reduced using the correct automation system. Frequent errors can be a significant cause of delays and bad customer experience.
  • Reduction in Operational Cost - Warehouse automation systems are expensive, but they pay off their price in the long run by significantly reducing operating costs. These systems help cut off labor expenses as well. Once the labor and operational cost is reduced, resulting in a faster return on investment by optimizing product handling and warehouse space and minimizing inventory errors.
  • Reduced Safety Risks - Another advantage of automating the warehouse is that it enhances warehouse safety. When there are operations in high-traffic areas, it involves a lot of high risks activities such as handling heavy pallets and high racks. Once automation is adopted in a warehouse, it eliminates the involvement of human labor and hence reduces the safety risks of the workers.
  • Lesser Processing Time - Automating the warehouse makes processes faster, resulting in reduced processing time. Using robots to handle parcels and goods is much faster than humans. This makes automation a necessary and valuable investment for warehouses.

Here are the top technology trends in warehouse automation:

  1. Cloud-based WMS A cloud-based management system enables better sync between the users and can be accessed from anywhere. Also, a cloud-based system is cheaper than an on-premises data center.
  2. Mobile Robots They are becoming increasingly popular in warehouses and replacing traditional belt conveyors. Using mobile robots takes up less space in the warehouse, making travel easier within the premises.
  3. Advanced Analytics It is helping to make warehouses smarter using technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and analyzing vast amounts of data to detect the pattern in the data, which can be used for warehouse optimization.
  4. Sustainable Operations May businesses are taking steps toward enhancing the sustainability of their operation. For this, they are using AI and ML for accurate carbon reporting and formulating a sustainability roadmap.

How Can 3SC Help in Warehouse Automation?

3SC is a leading supply chain solutions provider offering platforms and solutions for supply chain and warehouse management. Our intelligent products help you streamline your supply chain using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to provide the most accurate data analysis. Our products, such as Demand Curve and CarbonX, not only help you predict demand and plan your operations accordingly but also help in reducing your carbon footprint, taking you one step closer to sustainability.

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