A technology used to aid in order fulfillment, warehouse conveyor systems transport products throughout the facility, such as from picking zones to packing areas. They’re similar to the conveyors found in grocery store checkout lanes, but on a much larger scale. Warehouse conveyor systems offer several benefits, but they also come with a few important disadvantages. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of warehouse conveyor systems, how they could be costing you money and what you should be using instead.
Advantages of warehouse conveyor systems
Warehouse conveyor systems are best-suited for warehouses that handle a high volume of SKUs, particularly those that use zone-based or pick-and-pass picking methodologies. For orders that require picks from multiple zones, conveyors can transport goods from zone to zone, allowing associates to travel freely without physically transporting inventory with them throughout the picking route.
Because conveyors handle the heavy-lifting of moving products from one place to another within the warehouse, they’re also useful for warehouses that move heavier inventory. However, the heaviest inventory — inventory that associates can’t lift by hand — will require other solutions.
Disadvantages of warehouse conveyor systems
The biggest disadvantage of warehouse conveyor systems is that they’re inflexible. Adding a conveyor system to an existing warehouse means major infrastructure changes. They’re also bulky, taking up substantial space in the warehouse. If you need to reconfigure your warehouse layout, you’ll need to work around the fixed-in-place conveyor system and your options will be limited without a major renovation.
Given their size and complexity, it’s not surprising that warehouse conveyor systems are costly to implement. Warehouses with conveyor systems have limited flexibility in planning or adjusting picking routes and other travel paths throughout the facility.
The disadvantage with the most serious fallout, though, is the fact that a broken-down warehouse conveyor system can bring the entire operation screeching to a halt.
The ideal alternative: collaborative mobile robots
While warehouse conveyor systems work well for some warehouses, there’s a better, more functional alternative. Collaborative mobile robots offer a number of distinct advantages over bulky warehouse conveyor systems and other outdated picking solutions like trolleys.
Go live in weeks, not months
Collaborative mobile robots are not as large as conveyors, nor are they fixed in place. That means there’s no need to build new infrastructure or substantially alter your existing warehouse infrastructure to implement them. Warehouse conveyor systems, on the other hand, require building new — and costly — infrastructure. Collaborative mobile robots are also intuitive for associates to operate. These benefits enable warehouses to go live with collaborative mobile robots in weeks instead of months.
In addition to their ease of implementation, collaborative mobile robots are a more flexible solution for modern warehouses that have fluctuating demand throughout the year. Warehouse operators can rent additional units to accommodate increased demand during peak periods, for instance, and return them when demand returns to normal. It’s also easy to transfer collaborative mobile robots between warehouses and distribution centers as needed. Warehouse conveyor systems can’t match the flexibility offered by collaborative mobile robots.
Warehouse conveyor systems, like all warehouse and distribution center equipment, are not infallible. An unexpected conveyor system breakdown can have a domino effect on the warehouse’s productivity, bringing operations to a halt. Sure, they can be repaired, but repairs may take days to weeks. If your warehouse doesn’t have contingency plans in place, you’re facing serious delays. In contrast, with collaborative mobile robots, you can simply replace a malfunctioning unit with another while it’s being repaired, meaning no disruptions to your workflows or delays in production.
Warehouse conveyor systems don’t hinder accuracy, but they also don’t improve it. With conveyors, accuracy is still primarily dependent on your associates. Collaborative mobile robots from 6 River Systems offer a distinct advantage, using a directed workflow to lead associates through the warehouse until every assigned task is complete to improve picking accuracy. Thanks to 6 River Systems’ three-scan confirmation process (image, scan, put), you’ll benefit from reduced error rates.
Rather than investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an inflexible, bulky warehouse conveyor system, collaborative mobile robots offer a functional and flexible alternative to accommodate your warehouse’s changing needs. 6 River Systems offers an expanded line of collaborative robots in several configurations to meet the needs of the modern warehouse, including Mobile Sort, an all-in-one picking and sorting solution comprised of smart kiosks, mobile put-to-light walls and Chucks to reduce cycle times and improve pick efficiency.