12 Warehouse Automation Benefits for Your Business
Automation and data-driven operations are the basis of warehouse efficiency today. Every storage, logistics, and retail company considers integrating warehouse automation technology in response to increasing demand, booming eCommerce, and stringent competition. The strategies they choose, however, vary greatly depending on scale and budget.
If you work in this sector, you probably have already implemented at least some automation strategies or consider doing so in the future.
This post will walk you through the key benefits of warehouse automation for your business. It will also give you a good idea of technologies and solutions you can use to modernize and optimize your warehouse operations.
But before we begin, let’s quickly review the concept of warehouse automation and how it affects modern logistics.
So what is warehouse automation? Warehouse automation involves the use of applications and machinery to enhance various operations, such as inventory management, order fulfillment, and material handling.
The idea of warehouse automation goes far beyond the use of robotic arms and RFID tags. AI technologies, autonomous vehicles, and modern monitoring systems open ample opportunities, helping managers reduce processing time, improve employee efficiency, and save time and money. Here are just a few examples of how it works.
Warehouse management solutions
Warehouse management software is a diverse category of tools that are seamlessly integrated into warehouse operations. They provide managers with better visibility, control and, ultimately, allow them to fully automate supply chain processes from order to distribution to shipping.
These systems vary in scale, too. Warehouse management systems (WMS) are common tools that help managers plan and automate daily routines across the warehouse, maintain inventory control, manage staff operations, and manage workflows. Multiple advantages of automated warehouse management system make it an essential back-office toolset for organizations of various sizes.
Warehouse Control System (WCS) is mainly focused on on-floor material handling operations. It connects people, machines, and goods and helps boost fulfillment speed and distribution efficiency.
Warehouse Execution System (WES) is a bigger solution that can either be integrated with existing WMS and WCS or have relevant functionality for all-in-one warehouse automation. These are truly smart systems that can help you unlock the full benefits of warehouse automation implementation. Relying on real-time data, they automatically adjust operations planning and execution depending on priorities, workload, resources, and capacity.
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Robots, drones and autonomous vehicles
Robots, controlled and autonomous vehicles are the main instruments for physical process automation in warehouse and distribution centers. These technologies are used to either augment human efforts or replace people and take over all the mundane, repetitive, or dangerous work.
Robots and vehicles are used in various operations to drive automation in warehouse management. There are robots for picking and sorting, smart carts and forklifts for moving goods across facilities, and drones for conducting inventory and delivery. All of them require different levels of autonomy and mobility.
For instance, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) are preprogrammed to move along certain routes, have limited navigation capabilities, and require navigational software. On the contrary, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) can navigate on the premises using sensors and maps and plan their routes depending on the job. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems, or AS/RS, operate not only on the floor but also in 3D — pick up goods from bottom to top shelves, and crawl up the storage racks.
If you need a good example that demonstrates the benefits of fully automated warehouse, think of an Amazon warehouse before Black Friday or
Many of these robots wouldn’t be able to perform or reach a high level of autonomy if not for different AI technologies that power their decision-making, sensing, understanding, and learning.
For example, mobile robots, smart vehicles, and drones largely rely on their ability to locate themselves and objects in the environment for navigation. Using computer vision and optical systems, sensor data analytics, and deep learning they choose the best course of action depending on the tasks.
Even though modern AI brings the biggest benefit to warehouse automation powered by machines, it is just as helpful in warehouse automation systems operated by humans. For instance, voice-directed work such as voice picking, inventory, and audits are powered by voice recognition technology which allows a system to learn the operator’s voice during quick training and provide 99% accuracy during fast and efficient voice-data input.
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Boost efficiency and customer satisfaction
Perhaps the biggest benefit of warehouse automation and also one of the main reasons why large retailers and logistics companies invest in fully automated warehouse system development is to increase operational efficiency and better address growing customer demands. Smart warehouse today has much higher throughout, is immediately restocked and resupplied, enabling same-day delivery.
Improve labor management
It may seem backward, but a great deal of warehouse automation benefits are focused on warehouse employees. Instead of taking over people’s jobs, mobile robots and drones, for instance, help cut down on on-site commute time and do all the mundane work. It allows to better manage and employ human skills in warehouse operations.
As a result, warehouse employees are getting engaged in more intellectual work, more satisfied with their jobs and motivated to further improve their skills.
Increased safety for people and product alone is enough to consider warehouse automation technology development. Warehouse operations are often associated with a range of high-risk activities such as handling heavy pallets and high racks, operating in high-traffic environments, and, sometimes, working with toxic products (e.g., chemicals). Today’s robots can do most of these jobs eliminating risks for employees.
Many different applications automate inventory. Some of them are standalone systems such as mobile apps and fleets of drones equipped with barcode readers. Others are part of bigger automation warehouse management systems. Either way, the primary goal of inventory automation is better precision and control over storage and product. This is, in fact, one of the biggest advantages of warehouse automation because error-free inventory eventually translates into the reduction of losses and waste.
Warehouse modernization projects are expensive. But they are also paid off quickly. The reason for impressively fast ROI is multiple new saving points provided by automation — reduced labor cost, higher performance, quick replenishment, optimized handling and storage cost, minimized inventory errors, eliminated risks of mishandling and product loss, etc.
This is one of the warehouse automation advantages that brings measurable and tangible results and thus often becomes the most important driver for warehouse modernization. Wonder if warehouse automation is worth time and expense? Check
Scale up faster
The best thing about warehouse automation technology is that you can easily scale it up and down and quickly respond to changes in consumer demand. For instance, retail brands don’t need to hectically double their personnel for the holiday season and deal with temporary employment. Instead, they can tweak schedules and reprogram their fleets to manage higher input and output, while employees can focus on more customer-centric activities such as customer service, holiday packaging, etc.
Highly automated warehouses had an edge when the pandemic came because they were by default more resilient to unexpected changes. Long-term spike in demand for consumer products, new safety, sanitation, and social distancing measures hit hard on fully human-operated warehouses. On the contrary, the companies that could engage their fleets of warehouse vehicles and robots and control all the inventory and operations on one dashboard were better prepared.
Sustainability is on the agenda of nearly any business, retail and logistics are no exception. Warehouse management solutions and other automation technologies help executives get closer to their environmental goals. Predictive analytics, condition monitoring, and smart warehouse management systems help managers maintain better control over warehouse resource usage, optimize the use of space and inbuild basic green practices such as recycling into operations.
Improved visibility in warehouse and logistics operations is an important benefit of warehouse automation. Using various sensing technologies, managers get a 360-degree view across all critical areas, including inventory management, order fulfillment, and resource allocation, enabling better performance monitoring, demand planning, and risk management.
Reduce and control risks
Thanks to improved visibility, warehouse managers can identify and forecast potential risks much faster and prevent problems and disruptions to operations long before any arise. This includes stock discrepancies, machinery malfunctions, and inefficient use of resources. Equipped with real-time data and insights, managers make proactive decisions to avoid risks and better adjust to changes.
Optimize machine maintenance
Using IoT data and AI technologies for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, managers optimize the use of machinery, prevent downtime and equipment failures, and make sure warehouse infrastructure works as it should.
Bring new opportunities
Digital technologies unleash many new opportunities. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of warehouse automation is the ability to keep round-the-clock consistent work performed by fleets of robots and drones.
There’s more. Using the data collected by different systems on-site (traffic, fleet tracking, space usage, etc.) and advanced analytics tools, warehouse managers can better understand how to adjust processes, and optimize warehouse layout and workflows to maximize performance.
During over a decade in digital product design and development, we have helped several leading retail and logistics brands integrate custom warehouse and production automation solutions into their operations.
One of our long-standing clients, Printique, uses custom data analytics and visualization software to automate order-to-delivery management on their production site. We have designed and developed this system to help the company sustain an increasing influx of customers yearly during the sales season and provide managers and executives with handy tools for real-time monitoring and analytics. Today, this monitoring software enables better control and visibility of all internal processes from receiving an order online to production and completion.
We designed and developed an inventory management platform integrated with industry-grade scanners to enhance the efficiency of warehousing operations for a US-based automotive retailer. Since the launch of the platform, the client has been benefiting from warehouse automation seeing significant growth in operational efficiency. We continue scaling the system that is now widely used to automate inventory management, job scheduling, and reporting.
If you are looking for an experienced tech partner to help you leverage the pros of warehouse automation and tailor them to the unique needs of your business, drop us a line. We offer end-to-end software design and engineering services and have a broad skill set across web, mobile, IoT and big data development. We will help you define the goals and requirements of your project, estimate the investment of time and expenses, create a roadmap and actional plan for your project, and bring it to life.
This post was originally published on December 7, 2021 and updated on July 7, 2023.
- Efficient labor management
- Increased safety on site
- Reduced error rate
- Optimized handling and storage cost
- Fast scale-up
- Higher resilience
- Improved visibility
- Introduced sustainability practices
- Reduced risks
- Optimized maintenance
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Higher performance and predictability