Many businesses these days already implement warehouse automation in various forms to keep up with customer demands and expectations. Warehouse automation tools help them deliver products faster, maximize warehouse space and reduce costs, among other benefits.
But what comes next after the current wave of warehouse automation? If you’re curious about what’s on the horizon for warehouse managers, read on to learn more.
What is Warehouse Automation Technology?
Warehouse automation technology encompasses all the tools and software used to automate warehouse operations. Companies often use warehouse automation technology to reduce labor-intensive work, reducing the occurrence of human error and avoiding costly mistakes. Automation also reduces total labor expenses, resulting in cost savings.
Warehouse automation doesn’t necessarily mean using robots or drones in your warehouse. It can be as simple as implementing a warehouse management system or automatic data capturing to assist in daily operations.
Some common examples of warehouse automation technology include:
- Warehouse management systems
- Robotic warehousing solutions
- Inventory management software
- Automatic data entry software
What are the Benefits of Warehouse Automation?
Some of the most important benefits of warehouse automation include cost savings, human error prevention and improved safety. Here’s a look at the benefits of warehouse automation:
Increase Warehouse Productivity
Warehouse automation software and tools take over manual tasks from human workers, meaning they can accomplish more work in less time. An example of how warehouse automation can improve productivity is when you implement goods-to-person (GTP) solutions.
GTP solutions typically use robots or machines to bring goods to warehouse workers for packing. These robots pick goods from shelves for your warehouse workers, so they don’t have to walk or ride forklifts from one end of the warehouse to another, saving them a lot of time.
Reduce Operational Costs
Implementing warehouse automation is often a major financial commitment, but the long-term cost savings can be considerable. Automating warehouse processes means you can reduce labor costs because you won’t need as many warehouse workers. Additionally, you’re less likely to suffer product damage or inventory loss due to human error when automating picking and packing processes.
Prevent Human Error
Manual processes are often prone to human error. While small mistakes won’t hurt your company much, big mistakes can cause significant shipping delays or major product damage, hurting your credibility and customer satisfaction.
Automating warehouse processes reduces human error by minimizing the role of warehouse workers in manual and repetitive tasks. For instance, automatic picking processes ensure your workers receive the right items to prepare for shipping.
Improve Workplace Safety
Warehouse operations are risky because workers often carry large items in high-traffic environments. An accident might mean people getting injured and hundreds of dollars in damaged goods.
Warehouse automation tools like GTP solutions reduce the risk of accidents by bringing the goods to the workers instead of the other way around. This way, there’s less foot traffic, reducing the likelihood of accidents.
Use More Warehouse Space
Your warehouse space is typically limited, so you need to use every bit of space to save on leasing or operational costs. Unfortunately, you can only stack your goods so high because your workers can’t pick products up safely when your shelves reach the ceiling.
Warehouse automation solutions like automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) help you by providing a safe way to pick products from high shelves without having your workers leave the warehouse floor. This means you can stack your goods as high as you like and use every single bit of space without endangering your human staff.
Boost Customer Satisfaction
Warehousing isn’t directly linked to customers, but good warehouse operations ensure their satisfaction. Your staff needs to process goods quickly so you can ship them punctually. If your warehouse crew is slow in fulfilling orders, customers will receive their products behind schedule, leading to complaints.
Warehouse automation tools improve your warehousing efficiency and ensure everything is shipped on time. By building a reputation for punctual deliveries, you’ll get happier customers and secure their loyalty.
Types of Warehouse Automation Technology
Different warehouse automation tools do different things to improve your daily warehousing operations. Here are three common warehouse automation systems you can look into:
Warehouse Management Systems
Warehouse management systems (WMS) are complete software bundles that help you monitor and manage the entire warehousing process. They cover all aspects of your warehousing operations, which include inventory receiving, storing, picking, packing, shipping and return handling. Warehouse management systems also give you automatically generated reports to help in decision-making.
You can consider implementing a WMS if you’re looking to improve your overall warehousing operations.
Inventory Management Solutions
Inventory management solutions give real-time updates on your supply chain and warehouse’s product stock to ensure you can meet customer demands without overstocking. Inventory management solutions also help you fulfill customer expectations by forecasting high-demand seasons and reminding you to order more stock before you run out.
Warehouse Robotics Solutions
Warehouse robotics solutions come in forms such as automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), collaborative robots (cobots) and more. The main objectives of implementing robotic solutions are reducing human error, increasing warehouse efficiency and preventing accidents by minimizing the human element in the warehouse.
Some examples of warehouse robotics implementation include:
- Cobots that follow workers around the warehouse as mobile storage bins.
- AGVs that replace manual forklifts to move products.
- Automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) cranes that store goods in high shelves unreachable by human workers.
Top Warehouse Automation Technology Trends in 2022
All the technology we’ve mentioned in the article is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many technological breakthroughs on the horizon, and each one has the potential to change the warehouse industry as we know it.
To help you prepare, we’ve compiled ten upcoming trends in warehouse automation you should keep an eye on:
1. Big Data and Predictive Analytics
Big data refers to large volumes of hard-to-manage data taken from sources like social media, transaction records and smart devices. These data volumes are often unstructured and tough to read, but they can provide so many insights that help your business identify upcoming trends and spot potential opportunities.
Big data goes hand-in-hand with predictive analytics. As the name implies, predictive analytics forecast upcoming events and situations by studying past data. For an eCommerce business, this might mean knowing which products will be popular and when they’ll be in demand.
2. Remote Warehouse Management
These days, you don’t even have to be on-site to manage a warehouse. Remote warehouse management gives you a real-time look into your daily warehousing operations and lets you make business decisions on the fly, no matter where you are. This is especially useful if your company runs multiple warehouses or distribution centers, meaning you don’t have to bounce around several locations just to ensure everything works.
3. Cloud-Based Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
In the past, WMS providers installed warehouse management systems on cumbersome servers that take up space in your warehouse. Moreover, you had to arrange a vendor visit to get upgrades or fix problems.
Cloud-based WMS makes things much easier for modern warehouses and distribution centers. Instead of physical installations, you can access the WMS through the Internet. Your WMS vendor can also install updates and fix issues remotely without arranging a visit.
4. Machine Learning (ML) in Warehouse Labor Planning Systems
Machine learning is a field of artificial intelligence (AI) where computers can “learn” things through experience, much like humans. Labor planning in the warehouse is often complicated because there are many moving parts like worker availability, schedules, work zones and other elements.
Implementing machine learning in your labor planning systems allows it to learn by doing. As time passes, your autonomous planning system will know what to do and what not to do. Given enough time to learn, your warehouse labor planning system will be fully autonomous and save you a lot of effort because worker schedules are now AI-generated.
5. Mobile Robots Displacing Conveyors
Conveyor belts are one of the oldest warehouse automation tricks in the book. While they’re still viable today, they’re slowly being replaced by mobile robots because they can go places that conveyor belts can’t.
However, robots can still work together with conveyor belts. Some robots are designed to move items between conveyor belts, minimizing the role of human employees in transporting items across the warehouse. Reducing human interaction with the product decreases the likelihood of workplace accidents that cause injuries and product damage.
6. Blockchain Technology
Blockchains are permanent, irreversible ledgers that everyone can see. Implementing blockchain technology for recording warehousing transactions gives you the transparency necessary to avoid fraud and leaves an audit trail to ensure your warehouse complies with all local regulations.
7. Warehouse Drones
Unlike their robotic counterparts, warehouse drones aren’t big or strong enough to move products reliably. However, they’re great at capturing data by scanning barcodes on crates or boxes. A skilled operator can maneuver drones to high shelves and narrow aisles, ensuring every package in every nook and cranny of the warehouse is scanned
8. Internet of Things (IoT)
The core concept of IoT is a network consisting of multiple smart devices. In warehousing, IoT devices like sensors, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and trackers monitor the movement of products to give you a constant real-time view of what’s happening in the warehouse.
By implementing IoT, you don’t have to do a physical check whenever you need information on a package or product in the warehouse.
9. Voice Assistants
Voice assistants in warehousing help employees navigate the warehouse to find the products they need. With voice navigation, the employee doesn’t have to constantly hold a device, so both hands are free and can focus on their picking job.
Additionally, voice assistants require the employee to listen closely to the directions, minimizing distracting conversations among coworkers.
10. Wearable Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality in warehousing improves picking efficiency by showing employees how to navigate to the product and which box to take for packing. You can install AR technology on tablets, smartphones, or even wearable technology like AR smart glasses.
When the employee doesn’t know where to go, they can just pull their device up and get routed to the requested item for pickup.
Warehouse automation technologies improve day-to-day warehousing operations by increasing efficiency, reducing mistakes and minimizing the human element. You can fulfill more orders and ship quicker to secure customer loyalty by improving your warehouse operations.
Many warehouse automation options are available today, and even more technological advancements are coming. Following warehouse automation trends like big data, cloud-based WMS and robotics can help you stay ahead of the curve and learn which ones to implement in your company.
Warehouse Automation Technology FAQs
What are the new technologies in warehousing?
There’s a wide range of new technologies in warehousing. Some of the most prominent warehousing technology trends include, but are not limited to:
- Augmented reality picking
- Internet of Things integration
- Warehouse robots and drones
- Big data and predictive demand forecasting
- Cloud-based warehouse management systems
Will warehouses be fully automated?
These days, warehousing technology trends toward fully-automated warehouses and fulfillment centers. If the trends keep up, warehouses can be self-sufficient without human floor workers.
What are the types of warehouse automation?
The most common types of warehouse automation are warehouse management systems, inventory management software and warehouse robotics solutions.