As the industry evolves in the 21st Century, so does the nature of automation. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have created a world in which artificial workers can perform complex tasks. Increased warehouse automation improves worker safety, reduces the number of repetitive menial tasks performed by human workers, and streamlines logistical processes and procedures.
Whether a warehouse is a distribution center for one organization, a fulfillment center for several independent retailers, public or private, warehouse automation equipment will maximize efficiency and give you your ROI sooner than you may expect.
How do automated warehouses work?
In the past, warehouse automation involved one or two bulky machines connected by a few conveyors. The tasks performed by this equipment was effective, but those machines were very limited in their functionality.
Modern automation innovations have changed everything. Blending AI and machine learning robots with drones and technology designed to augment human labor, today’s automated warehouse is more efficient and versatile. The number of robots in use can be adjusted based on volume. Incorporation of the Internet of Things allows for faster and more accurate data collection to help streamline processes and notify maintenance workers of potential issues before they become big problems.
Automation and IoT tech also contribute to improved materials transportation by connecting conveyors, lifters/rotators, and other devices. These intelligent conveyor systems can move goods in three dimensions while maximizing the use of space in your warehouse.
What are the three types of automation?
Not all automation is the same. There are a few different avenues one can take when looking at warehouse automation technology. Using the right tool for every job is important, so understanding the technological needs of your warehouse and how those technologies overlap is key to effective automation.
GTP technologies revolve around getting the goods to the correct person as well as place. These technologies involve conveyor systems transporting materials from one part of the warehouse to another. These systems will include automated storage and retrieval solutions (AS/RS) such as cranes and carousels.
Automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots also fall into this category. AMVs move materials along fixed tracks while AMRs can travel freely through a warehouse. Both of these machines compliment conveyor systems by filling potential gaps and allowing for more open floor space for workers to operate without interrupting workflows.
By incorporating sortation systems with conveyors, materials are moved smoothly to their destinations. Sortation systems identify objects and bring them to shipping, picking, packaging stations, or wherever they need to go automatically.
Collaborative Mobile Robotics
Used to increase efficiency, robots that are designed to work side-by-side with human associates maximize productivity in several ways. Inventory tracking systems incorporated into cooperative robots reduce the time needed to find items. And drones, while not as advanced as AMRs, can facilitate the picking process by scanning high shelves so that a human worker need only climb up to retrieve goods once.
Benefits of Automation
Automated warehouses carry a bevy of benefits. Automation allows team members to focus on higher-level tasks than more menial, repetitive tasks. Using robots to assist in picking and material transportation tasks means less lifting for human workers, which will greatly reduce on-the-job injuries.
The data collection capabilities of intelligent machines on the warehouse floor offer real-time updates on volume and relay information that can be used to suss out inefficiencies in workflows to allow for constant improvement.
Warehouse automation with modern, intelligent machines also allows for adjustments based on volume and the type of materials being moved, stored, and/or shipped. Older robotics were only able to perform one specific task, and the entire warehouse floor had to be structured around them because of their immobility. With AI and machine learning, modern robotics can perform more than one task and are, generally, far more mobile than their predecessors.
Another one of the many warehouse automation benefits is the ability to close gaps in conveyor systems that may have required forklifts or manual lifting and carrying. Automated conveyor systems integrate with robots through the Internet of Things to recognize materials, sort them, and carry them where they need to go. And since AMRs and AGVs are typically smaller and more maneuverable than forklifts, it’s much easier to maximize floor space.
How automation is implemented in the warehouse?
In order to implement automation, it is important to have a warehouse management system in place. A WMS prioritizes effective planning and identifies where and what kind of automation will benefit your warehouse. For example, not every warehouse may benefit from using drones. Formulating a WMS to suit your warehouse’s individual needs prevents you from spending money on a tool you don’t need.
Of course, not everyone who owns and operates a warehouse will be up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies. Consulting an expert in industrial automation gives you fresh eyes that aren’t burdened with ideas of “how things have always been done.” To automate, an openness to changing the floor layout to include more efficient, intelligent systems is an absolute necessity.
A good WMS is also important to transition to a higher level of automation because it takes into account training your associates on new workflows and how to operate and maintain the new machines that will be incorporated into the warehouse floor. Additionally, your WMS must include a timetable for implementation that allows for work to continue as renovations happen.
Make Your Profits Automatic
Automated warehouse systems can be a significant investment in time and money. But the benefits to worker safety, increased efficiency, and scalability to the volume will bring your ROI quickly. Automation can reduce operations costs by 50% or more over time. Don’t wait to move your warehouse into the future.
Find the right warehouse automation solution for your business and join the robot parade today.