Before we talk about flexible warehouse automation, let’s try and understand the value that automation brings to the table. Automation involves identifying repetitive tasks which can consume a significant amount of time as well as lead to common errors. Once these operational tasks have been defined, one can start thinking about automating them.
Now, let’s consider this in the context of a warehouse.
An Operator walks to a bin and picks one unit of an SKU. Another operator then walks to the same bin to perform the same function but for a different order. The Operators then categorize the inventory, sort it and prepare it for shipping. Finally, they update the tracking system. When one scales this seemingly simple process to accommodate for the massive volume of orders that are repeatedly shipped on a daily basis, one can begin to see the value of automation and the opportunity that is created when repetitive tasks are automated.
By automating your warehouse, you can improve efficiency, increase the speed of operations, make processes more reliable and improve accuracy all while ensuring your system remains flexible and scalable.
Today, warehouses and distribution centers seek flexible automation solutions such as Goods-to-Person (GTP) technology. The concept of GTP is not hard to understand. In manual operations, an operator must travel to a bin to pick the good. In GTP operations, goods are brought to the operator. This significantly improves the throughput of a warehouse and improves service levels while reducing overall cost per shipment. To add to this, stores today expect their deliveries to be packed and sequenced in a manner that minimizes the time and manpower that is required for storage operations. If the ability is presented to automate shelf replenishment, then the time and manpower requirement decreases considerably. For retailers that operate multiple stores, this is a major impact to their business.
Concurrently, accuracy is of paramount importance. If a distribution center is shipping 20,000 cartons per day with 97% accuracy, the cost of re-handling 600 cartons on a daily basis can be very high. Effects can include a drop in service levels, unnecessary expenses to reverse logistics, increased processing & manpower as well as sales opportunity loss.
Today, we speak data. Companies are looking at block chain and are hiring data scientists who can process big data. But where is that data coming from? Is the source reliable? Flexible automation technology is acutely capable of not only sharing substantial amounts of data but also translating that data into relevant information such as evaluation metrics and performance scorecards. All while ensuring a high degree of accuracy.
Let's take a closer look at some additional benefits provided by flexible automation:
Reduced operational costs: Flexible automation lowers both direct and indirect costs such as a decrease in manpower (direct) or associated expenses that come with recruitment, training and administration (indirect).
Safer operations: Robotics can replace humans in dangerous environments. By freeing up labor from back-breaking, injury prone tasks, people are able to concentrate on safer and more meaningful operations.
Consistent performance: Flexible automation ensures standard operating procedures are followed without fail, consistently guaranteeing quality, performance and accuracy.
Such performance allows for better forecasting which in turn leads to lower inventory and decreased costs.
Flexibility: Consumer demand can change overnight and the ability to effectively hire, train and sign on labor to fulfill such surge is non-existent. For this reason, flexible automation plays an extremely vital role in re-tasking and adapting to changes on the fly while ensuring continuous and consistent performance and productivity.
We can clearly see that flexible warehouse automation provides a wide array of business benefits and advantages. At the same time, it is imperative to ask the right questions before deciding to implement such technology.
Some of those questions include:
Can my current processes sustain planned YoY growth?
- With scale, will I outgrow my existing warehouse space? Can automation help me increase productivity in the same area?
- Am I able to manage and control my inventory down to the unit level?
- What does my customer service look like? Will automation improve my service levels and give me a competitive edge?
- What is my return on investment? Will automation help me sell more, sell faster and sell more accurately?
- Is the technology modular and scalable?
Like most technology, flexible warehouse automation is moving from ‘good-to-have’ to ‘must-have’. The time to consider the adoption of "must-haves" is now.