Automation for industrial businesses is not a future state. As you read this article, automation solutions across the globe drive efficiency in warehouses, manufacturing plants, and distribution centers. Over the next five years, automation will account for 25% of industrial companies’ capital spending.
In the logistics and fulfillment industry where labor challenges and rising costs persist, warehouse automation solutions are critical to fulfilling orders accurately, meeting key SLAs, and keeping customers satisfied. Operations that rely on manual picking or clunky automation infrastructure can’t adapt to shifting demand and volume – it takes too long. However, 69% of logistics companies who invested in automation say it helped them achieve business goals.
Let’s take a look at eight ways warehouse automation transforms logistics.
1. Flexibility and optimized resource management
Adjusting your warehouse’s capabilities to accommodate fluctuating demand is a common challenge in today’s fulfillment landscape. Traditional tactics like changing warehouse layouts and alternate shifts may provide flexibility in certain situations, but they can be difficult and costly to coordinate. A warehouse automation solution, combining software and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can be retrofitted into any existing warehouse layout or design without requiring major changes to racking, bolts, or shuttles.
Some companies, such as 6 River Systems, offer flexible rental pricing structures, enabling warehouse operators to rent additional capacity during peak and return units when demand returns to normal. This is a very streamlined resource management option, limiting capital purchases to what’s needed now.
2. Equipment scalability
In addition to resource flexibility within the warehouse, AMRs can scale to meet your operation’s needs. Warehouse automation equipment such as conveyors and sortation systems are typically static and part of the costly, fixed infrastructure of the warehouse. Investments to increase infrastructure capacity or speed to accommodate peak season aren’t used during non-peak times.
On the other side of the coin are AMRs, which can be rented, transferred among facilities, and brought online quickly to adapt to changing needs, providing the scalability needed in the modern warehousing world.
3. Improved warehouse productivity
Hiring and retaining at warehouses remains a challenge. Operations are looking for ways to optimize their existing workforce while keeping costs low and getting orders out faster. A warehouse automation solution can help operations achieve 2 to 3 times increased productivity, fewer errors, and greater employee satisfaction.
4. Intelligence-guided decision making
The software that pairs with AMRs optimizes warehouse associates’ walking routes throughout the warehouse. Instead of the associate deciding the path, system-directed workflows provide a continuous flow of work, increasing productivity. Decisions can be made in real-time based on current work assignments and warehouse floor status.
5. Rapid ROI
Larger warehouse automation systems, such as conveyors or sortation, can take 12 to 24 months to go live and as many as five years to achieve ROI. There is often a lot of manual labor and planning required given the large footprint and weight of such equipment. A flexible and scalable warehouse automation solution can be implemented quickly and customized to work with your existing warehouse processes and staff. Some warehouse automation solutions can be implemented in as little as four weeks and produce ROI within a year.
6. Streamlined onboarding & training
Training new warehouse associates to pick can take several weeks or even months. Achieving time-to-productivity can take even longer. Training time is reduced when using AMRs driven by intelligent software. Most associates learn to pick on an AMR in 15 minutes and reach time-to-productivity much faster than using less flexible warehouse automation solutions or pushing a manual cart.
7. Robust equipment reliability
The upkeep of equipment is essential in warehouse operations. Equipment breakdowns can cause delays and bring operations to a standstill; a classic example is a conveyor breakdown. Implementing warehouse automation solutions to existing infrastructure can improve the reliability of the overall system. AMRs can be moved, serviced, and replaced quickly to keep your operation continuously running with minimal delays
8. Better visibility with data
Beyond the physical operation, a WMS tracks inventory quantities and movement. However, it misses the chance to learn from the entire warehouse. Individual data systems can be siloed and fragmented, which is great for protecting sensitive information, but less than ideal for making improvements that affect the entirety of an operation. The marriage of hardware and software offers an opportunity to fill in the gaps in the black hole of data caused by inventory movement within the warehouse.
For a more in-depth look at how autonomous mobile robots beat traditional warehouse automation, download this white paper.