The explosion in ecommerce and changing consumer behaviour has had a major impact on warehousing. To keep pace with increasing volumes and rising demand for fast and accurate turnaround, warehouse management and operation have had to evolve, and this has meant a move towards automation.
But what does automation look like? Most people’s idea of the inside of a warehouse is rows and rows of pallet racking with shelves stacked high and operators driving forklift trucks around to pick items and replenish stock.
With a fully automated warehouse, this is very far from accurate because of a key differentiator: people have been removed from the equation and robotic and automated systems are used instead.
In fact, where a warehouse is fully automated, we call it dark warehousing. With no people, there’s no need to have the lights on. Mobile robots, automated storage and retrieval systems, high speed sorting equipment and driverless forklifts can work in the dark. Their movements and work schedule are all orchestrated by software solutions harnessing the power of the cloud and Internet of Things. No need for humans in the fully automated warehouse machine.
7 advantages of fully automated warehousing
- Low labour costs. With fewer people employed the wage bill is greatly reduced.
- Speed. Automation is faster and more efficient than a people-based system.
- Accuracy. By automating the warehouse and removing the possibility of human error, the process becomes more efficient and fewer mistakes, if any, are made.
- Space. Automation allows for maximum use of space in a warehouse building. Density of storage can be increased, as well as optimum use made of available height. Automated warehouses with smaller footprint offer cost savings in terms of rent or purchase, while not compromising on storage capacity.
- Safety. This is always an important consideration in any warehousing operation, but by removing people, you also remove the risk of injury due to, for example, back strain or accidents.
- Reducing risk of damage. Human error can lead to accidents, such as damage to pallet racking from forklifts. This risk is removed with a fully automated warehouse, as equipment is controlled via the warehouse management system.
- Round-the-clock efficiency. Without the shift changeovers, there is no potential downtime or lag as there might be with a people-operated warehouse, even one running 24/7. Moreover, unlike people, automated machinery does not need to take holidays, nor have days off sick, or have lunch breaks!
How does a fully automated warehouse operate?
Quite simply, every single stage in the process – from goods arriving, to goods being dispatch – is automated and perfectly synchronised, thanks to the warehouse management system software.
State-of-the-art warehouse automation would cover the entire AS/RS (automated storage and retrieval systems). Innovations include:
- Automatic telescopic conveyors to receive goods arriving
- Driverless forklifts to take the goods for storage
- Crane racking - ideal for working in narrow aisles to heights of up to 30m and best suited for use in storing pallets and large items.
- Mini load – a dynamic, ergonomic automated solution for the retrieval of small parts, increasing output thanks to its high accuracy and high throughput
- Automatic shuttle systems for crates
- Automated pallet shuttles
- Mobile pallet racking
- Mobile robots
During the entire process, guided via the warehouse management system, there is little or no human intervention.
Of course, full warehouse automation does represent a significant investment for a business but at the same time it is certainly the way forward for an efficient, fast warehousing system that can keep abreast of consumers’ increasing demands.
Semi-automation, and potentially retro-fitting a warehouse with automated elements, may represent a good first step towards full automation.
If you would like to discuss automated warehousing solutions for your business, or to find out information about other storage options that are available, please get in touch with the team. We would be happy to help.