Automated warehouses: why mechanization is a must-have for warehouses

In today’s complex logistics landscape, warehouse automation has become a critical driver of process optimization and competitiveness, especially in light of growing e-commerce volumes. Combining automated systems with a warehouse management system is now a fundamental trend: according to Gartner, some 96% of firms have already deployed robots in their logistics warehouses or are planning to do so within the next two to three years. In this article, we take a deep dive into this important topic…

The what and why of automated warehouses

One of the key principles of automation is to optimize tasks performed by human operators. In an automated warehouse, machines of varying complexity handle some or all logistics operations in the interest of efficiency.
In these demanding environments, automation offers a pragmatic response to logistics challenges, delivering a range of benefits across all aspects of warehouse management:

  • Operational efficiency gains: automation speeds up operations, cutting wait times and boosting productivity.
  • Reduced risk of error: automation dramatically reduces the risk of human error, guaranteeing that orders are processed accurately, and making picking and inventory errors a thing of the past!
  • Operational flexibility: in today’s fast-paced world, flexibility is becoming critical to success. Automated warehouses can quickly adapt to fluctuations in demand, enabling unparalleled levels of operational agility.
  • Lower costs: greater efficiency means lower costs. Although automation requires a sometimes substantial upfront investment, it offers a significant return on this investment over the medium and long terms.

Each of these benefits represents a step toward more efficient logistics.

 

Benefits Automated warehouse Conventional warehouse
Operational
  • Faster operations
  • Quick adaptation to change
  • Slower manual processes
  • Difficulty adapting to fluctuating volumes
Human
  • Maximum accuracy
  • Reduced risk of error
  • Lower burden of work
  • Higher risk of human error and accidents
  • Shortage of labor
Financial
  • Lower costs
  • Return on investment within two to three years
  • – Higher operational costs

Every logistics process can be automated

Each routine logistics operation in a warehouse can be automated, with specially designed machines and equipment for every step in this process:

  • Incoming goods receipt and sorting: this process is critically important for warehouses that manage a large number of different items, that operate allocated cross-docking, or that work to a just-in-time model. Automating all or part of this process leads to greater operational efficiency. It can be optimized with vision-based automated sorting systems, pocket sorters, or the use of handling robots to unload and sort goods.
  • Internal transportation: imagine a fleet of autonomous vehicles traveling around the warehouse with inch-perfect precision. Automating internal transportation leads to faster movement of goods, lower accident risk, and shorter wait times. Conveyor systems, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) keep goods moving smoothly around the warehouse.
  • Automated storage: automated storage is a revolutionary way to make better use of available space. Imagine smart shelving systems automatically adjusting the location of items according to demand. Space management can be optimized using automated racks with dynamic inventory management, and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS).
  • Automated order picking: mechanized order picking means faster delivery and, therefore, happier customers. Automating this process drives efficiency to new heights, from locating products through to final packing, with automated pick and place systems (pick-to-light, voice picking, and pick-to-cart) and picking robots that quickly and accurately select items.
  • Automated packing and shipping: get your orders ready to ship in next to no time. Automating the packing and shipping process isn’t just a question of speed. It also raises the bar for quality, putting an end to packing errors and increasing customer satisfaction—all enabled by product-specific automated packing machines, automated labeling and palletization robots, beacon-based package sorting systems, and more.

Robots, the stars of the automated warehouse

There are many automation solutions out there, but robots are undoubtedly the stars of the show. As well as being able to handle objects, logistics robots bring smart capabilities to some or all warehouse operations. And thanks to their adaptability, they can operate autonomously, which sets them apart from other automated machines.

The key role of the WMS in mechanized warehouses

The warehouse management system (WMS) plays a critical role in planning, coordinating, and optimizing every flow in the warehouse, from incoming goods and storage through to shipping.

In an automated warehouse, the WMS software also coordinates tasks assigned to the various automated systems. Operating in conjunction with the warehouse control system (WCS), the WMS system acts as the brain and central nervous system of the automated warehouse, with the WCS responsible for controlling the automated machines.

Reflex WMS interfaces with and manages these machines through its integrated WCS Master module, which also pulls all data together in one place.

Embracing automation: a carefully planned process

Automating a logistics warehouse isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. It’s a process of strategic change that requires careful planning and organization:

  • Needs assessment: before diving headlong into automation, the first crucial step is to assess your specific needs, identify the key processes you want to automate, and decide on the concrete goals you want to achieve.
  • Planning and implementation: the key to success lies in meticulous planning at every stage, from selecting equipment providers to implementing automated systems in accordance with best practice. It’s also important to challenge your warehouse management software to make sure it can scale in line with future changes.
  • Change management: automation isn’t just about the machines themselves—it also involves changes in working methods. That’s why it’s important to make sure employees get the support they need, which helps minimize push-back, foster buy-in, and ease the transition to a new age of logistics.
  • Investment and return on investment: it’s essential to analyze your upfront costs and potential return on investment—because every euro you invest should lead to higher profitability down the line. By deciding on your KPIs in advance, you’ll be able to track your performance and determine your return on investment.

Read to revolutionize your supply chain? Contact one of our logistics experts for support.