Whereas once industrial warehousing was a people-based operation, more and more companies are opting for automation, or semi-automation, to take advantage of the efficiencies these bring in terms of reduced costs, increased capacity and faster turnaround.
The rise of ecommerce, partly fuelled by the pandemic, has only accelerated this move to automation, where innovative new developments are constantly improving the speed and efficiency of the warehouse operation.
Benefits of automated warehouse solutions
Automation enables the mechanised loading and unloading of goods, replacing the traditional operator-driven forklifts with fully autonomous handling equipment, and is ideal for an operation that sees high goods flow.
Automation allows for:
- Optimal use of the available space, as automated stacker cranes can lift goods to heights of 150ft in aisles just 5ft wide.
- Agility, with the cranes placing and retrieving goods with the minimal amount of movement
- Continuity, with the operation able to carry on 24/7, all year round.
- Stock control, in real time, as the automated equipment tunes into the warehouse management system (WMS).
- Reduced errors, since automated equipment is more accurate that manually operated equipment.
The range of automated equipment now being deployed is extensive. As mentioned, stacker cranes are fully automated, and enable goods to be stored at a greater height, in narrower aisles, so increasing the overall capacity.
Products are generally kept on pallets, as they are in a conventional warehouse, but in an automated warehouse these can be stored in single deep racks, allowing access by crane or pallet shuttle, or in double deep racks, where a stacker crane with telescopic forks can reach the pallets in the second position in the racks.
Similarly, automation is possible for the storage of boxes, in single-deep or double-deep racks, and is ideal for businesses needing both high storage capacity and a speed of turnaround for the boxes.
Pallet shuttles are a storage system comprising an automated shuttle which moves within the channels, placing and retrieving pallets.
Pallet flow racks use gravity for their ‘automation’. Gently sloping, the pallets are forced by gravity from the entry point (which is slight higher) towards the (slightly lower) exit point. Stacker cranes are then automated to place and to pick the pallets.
Benefits of semi-automated warehouse solutions
Here, high tech automated solutions are combined with the human workforce, to create an efficient operation.
Combining the strength of technology with manual operations is the ideal solution for businesses which can’t, or don’t wish to, opt for full automation.
Semi-automation allows for:
- Greater productivity, as automation increases the workflow of the human operators.
- Reduced errors, with technology helping remove the scope for manually created mistakes.
- Better use of time, as the manual operators can devote their time to other tasks, while automation deals with the rest.
- Fewer maintenance costs than with full automation, since automated machinery needs servicing, as well as repair or new parts, due to damage or wear and tear.
- Job satisfaction for staff, who have some of the more repetitive and tiring tasks taken off their workload, and handled by automated machinery.
- Improved inventory control, thanks to the link between automation and WMS, so stock can be monitored in real time.
Automation and the bonded warehouse
Automated and semi-automated solutions are the perfect fit for bonded warehouses.
When goods are freighted into a country, and need to pass through customs, they can be stored in a bonded warehouse.
The big advantage is that excise duty owing does not have to be paid until the goods leave the bonded warehouse. This means bonded warehouses provide an excellent storage facility at ports, airports, or borders, particularly for non-perishable, low volume and high value items.
The goods may be stored for a period of time, only being moved out once they have been sold, making a suitable warehouse storage solution essential.
Bonded warehouses often store a mixed variety of commodities, which may be the property of a number of different international trading companies, so they need to maximise the use of space, while allowing for optimum storage and ease of retrieval.
This means automated or semi-automated solutions work extremely well for a bonded warehouse, introducing a combination of pallet racking storage, with pallet shuttle system for retrieval, plus high tech WMS (warehouse management system) to keep track of inventory.
If you run a bonded warehouse, or an industrial storage operation, and want to explore options for automation or semi-automation, and all the benefits these bring, please get in touch.