With today’s customers demanding fast fulfillment times and one or two-day shipping, manual warehouse operations just won’t cut it anymore. These days, you need to automate warehouse operations if you want to satisfy customers and grow your eCommerce business.
What is warehouse automation and what do you need to implement it in your business? Read on to learn more.
What is Warehouse Automation?
Warehouse automation is the process of automating your daily warehouse processes with minimal human involvement. Businesses generally implement warehouse automation to eliminate labor-intensive work that requires a lot of time and effort. It also minimizes the number of manual tasks required, reducing the chance of human error.
When you hear “automation,” you may think of workers loading products into robots and drones. However, warehouse automation doesn’t necessarily need robots or other physical hardware. Sometimes, warehouse automation starts with implementing a warehouse management system or similar software.
What is Warehouse Automation Software?
Warehouse automation software is a tool used to automate modern warehouse operations. These tools reduce the manual tasks necessary in daily warehouse operations, increasing efficiency and reducing human error.
Warehouse automation software and tools include, but aren’t limited to:
- Automated data entry software
- Warehouse management systems
- Inventory management software
- Robotic solutions
- Warehouse management mobile apps
How Does Warehouse Automation Work?
Warehouse automation works differently depending on which software or tool you implement. Here’s a quick look at some example warehouse automation tools and how they work:
Warehouse Management System
A warehouse management system (WMS) provides tools to help you manage all aspects of day-to-day warehouse operations. It especially assists in the main warehousing flow of:
- Stock receiving
- Stock arranging
- Picking and packing products
- Shipping products to customers
- Tracking shipping progress
- Handling product returns
Warehouse management software also provides regular reports on your warehouse’s key metrics. This helps you identify improvement areas and make informed decisions on what to do next.
Automated Data Entry Software
Manual data entry is one of the most common work processes to automate because they’re often highly repetitive tasks.
Employees will enter information into the spreadsheet, highlight another cell, enter more information and repeat the process until everything is filled. It’s boring work and distracted workers often lose focus and enter the wrong thing in the wrong spots.
Automated data entry software helps you reduce the workload by automatically extracting data from documents and digitizing paperwork. In addition to preventing human error and saving time, you can assign your warehouse team to work on other important tasks that need a human touch.
Inventory Management Software
Inventory management software gives you real-time visibility into your entire stock, meaning you don’t have to do physical inventory checks as often. It also monitors your stock levels to notify you when you’re running out of a certain product, keeping your products from running out of stock.
In more advanced cases, inventory management software can forecast consumer demand based on historical sales and notify you to order more products in preparation for high-demand seasons.
Benefits of Using Warehouse Automation Software
When implemented right, warehouse automation software can improve your warehousing operations in many ways. Here are several examples of warehouse automation software’s benefits:
Reduce Human Error
There’s always the potential for human error in manual processes. Depending on the significance of the mistake, human error can lead to costly item replacement or significant shipping delays that reduce customer satisfaction.
Automated warehouse solutions reduce the chances of human error by automating certain warehousing tasks. For instance, pallet dimensioning systems help your warehouse crew accurately measure a pallet’s dimensions without using manual methods like tape measures.
Drive Operational Costs Down
Warehouse automation systems aren’t cheap but usually have a fast return on investment. Warehouse automation reduces your operational costs by minimizing:
- Manual labor costs
- Inventory and stocking errors
- The risk of product mishandling
- The cost of product handling
Increase Productivity and Lighten Workload
In addition to reducing human error, automated warehouse solutions reduce the time necessary to do key warehousing tasks. Using the pallet dimensioning system example above, warehouse workers can measure the dimension of a pallet and plug it into the system in minutes or even seconds instead of spending time measuring the pallet manually.
Automating warehousing tasks also reduces your employees’ workload, allowing them to skip over parts of the job they may find boring or frustrating. This improves staff satisfaction and can even increase retention rates.
Warehousing operations are often high-risk because there are lots of people moving lots of goods from here to there at any given time. If an accident happens, people may get injured and hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise may be damaged.
Warehouse automation through automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) helps your staff move products safely. These autonomous vehicles and robots reduce human traffic throughout your warehouses, reducing the chance of accidents and ensuring your workers are safe.
Optimize Warehouse Space
Warehouse space isn’t cheap and you need to use every cubic foot of it to get your money’s worth. However, you can only stack products so tight and high before it becomes dangerous for people to grab them.
This is where warehouse automation comes in. Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and drones take care of the picking process for your team, so they don’t even have to leave the ground – no matter how high and tightly packed your products are.
Using every cubic foot of your warehouse available also means you won’t have to purchase or lease extra storage space as often.
Increase Customer Experience and Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction is the goal of every business, and yours is no exception. Warehousing might not have a direct link to customers, but they can feel it when your warehouse operations are subpar. If your staff are slow to process products, customers won’t receive their goods on time, leading to lost sales and complaints.
The main goal of warehouse automation is to ensure products are fulfilled and shipped on time, increasing your daily operation’s efficiency. When you deliver everything punctually, your business reputation and customer retention will improve, giving you an edge over the competition.
Why Should You Automate Your Warehouse?
You should automate your warehouse to ensure your business can keep up with customer expectations while keeping costs down. Here are some reasons why you should automate warehousing operations:
There’s no one-size-fits-all warehouse automation solution. Every solution is customized to your warehousing operations, meaning everything you implement is created to address your issues and requirements.
Implementing warehouse automation is usually a large financial commitment, but you’ll immediately feel the effects. With warehouse automation solutions, you can save a lot of money on labor, equipment and maintenance costs.
You don’t want to run out of your most popular product in high-demand seasons because that means giving up lots of sales.
Inventory management software helps you predict customer demand based on past sales so you can order more of a product. This ensures you won’t run out before the high-demand season rolls around.
Human error can result in damaged products or inventory loss, hurting your bottom line. Automating key warehouse processes means:
- Reducing human contact with your goods
- Lowering the likelihood of accidents that cause damaged products and inventory loss
Order Fulfillment Optimization
Warehouse automation tools show you the best way to fulfill customer orders. This means you can promise accurate fulfillment and fast delivery times to customers and deliver on it. You’ll build brand loyalty and gain an edge over your competitors by combining great products and punctual delivery.
When to Automate Your Warehouse
You should automate your warehouse after a thorough study of your warehouse operations. Implementing these tools is costly, so blindly following warehouse automation trends and current technologies without knowing what you really need will just waste your money.
If you can’t determine what aspects of your warehouse operations you should automate, hire a consultant to examine your business and identify what areas can be improved.
Types of Warehouse Automation Tools
There’s a wide variety of warehouse automation tools available for businesses to implement. Here’s an overview of the four most popular options in the warehouse automation market:
Inventory Management Software
Inventory management software is a tool that grants real-time visibility of your entire warehouse stock. This means you can stock enough goods to keep selling without holding too much of a certain product type.
This warehouse automation tool gives you greater inventory control and notifies you whenever something is about to run out, ensuring you’re always well-stocked.
Warehouse Robotic Solutions
Warehouse robotic solutions like AMRs and AGVs do various tasks around the warehouse. For instance, AGVs replace manual forklifts, collaborative robots (cobots) follow workers around as mobile storage bins and AS/RS systems pick items from high shelves.
In addition to increasing efficiency and reducing human error, warehouse robots reduce workplace accidents by removing the human element from often dangerous tasks.
Warehouse Management System
A warehouse management system is a holistic solution that offers inventory visibility and control over the entire supply chain fulfillment operations. A WMS helps you through the entire warehousing process, from when products enter the warehouse until they arrive at the customer’s doorstep.
Your WMS also lets you handle returns, generate performance reports and make informed warehousing decisions.
Warehouse Management Mobile Apps
Warehouse management mobile apps are like tiny warehouse management systems you can carry around. These apps help you through most of the warehousing workflow, from scanning products to labeling goods for shipment. Some of these tools are standalone, but others may require a WMS subscription.
How to Choose the Best Warehouse Automation Software
Implementing warehouse automation isn’t cheap, so you must ensure you implement the perfect solution for your company’s warehousing issues. Here’s a guide to choosing the best warehouse automation technology:
- Analyze your current warehousing situation to determine if you need to implement automation.
- Identify what you need out of the warehouse automation software.
- Examine your current business and determine whether you must connect other software or tools to your automation software.
- Define a budget and ideal ROI.
- Shop around for vendors that fulfill your business requirements.
- Negotiate for the best deal.
- Implement the automation software.
- Review and identify areas of improvement after implementation.
Warehouse automation software can be costly, but it’s a great way to improve your warehousing operations and meet increasing customer demands. Different warehouse automation solutions (e.g., WMS, inventory management systems and robotics solutions) fulfill different needs.
Before implementing warehouse automation software, you should identify your warehousing needs and find the automation tool or software that fulfills your needs at a reasonable cost.
Warehouse Automation Software FAQs
How is automation used in warehouses?
Automation is used in warehouses to reduce human error and prevent costly mistakes. Some examples of automation in a warehouse are using mobile robots to pick and pack goods, measuring pallet sizes automatically and forecasting customer demand.
What is a fully automated warehouse?
A fully automated warehouse is a logistic facility that primarily uses automatic cranes and other handling equipment in its day-to-day operations. A fully automated warehouse typically doesn’t use standard forklifts and has a minimal human presence.
What is smart warehousing?
Smart warehousing is the pinnacle of warehouse automation, where most of its operations are done automatically through robots and automated cranes. The main benefit of smart warehousing is that it prevents human error that may cause costly accidents.