TOP 5 BENEFITS OF WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION
Many industries and market drivers continue to push the supply chain community to innovate. Automation is rapidly changing the warehousing industry and robotics continues to emerge as a large and influential market.
Businesses around the world are employing automated material handling equipment (MHE) to streamline operations, improve safety and ultimately increase revenue. However, warehouse automation comes at a – usually high – cost. It’s a big investment and strategic decision.
Conversely, an automated warehouse offers immense benefits for operational efficiency. It can dramatically improve productivity, shrink order turnaround windows, and maximise throughput and capacity ultimately slashing operating costs.
However, without an integrated solution to orchestrate these systems, you can’t maximise the potential of your operations. Having a complete picture of your site’s automation is critical. From conveyors to robotics, the unique combination of automated systems in warehouses needs to function seamlessly. Bottlenecks and mechanical breakdowns are a part of day-to-day operations. What gives businesses a competitive advantage is how their warehouses manage these incidents.
Let’s start with the basics
MHI defined material handling as “the movement, protection, storage and control of materials and products throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption and disposal.” The overall objective of materials handling is to reduce operational costs.
Material handling incorporates a wide range of manual, semi-automated and automated equipment and systems that support logistics and make the supply chain work. Material handling equipment (MHE) encompasses all mechanical apparatus used to perform repetitive tasks.
“The use of MHE provides improvements in two key areas: efficiency and accuracy. MHE automates warehousing functions and material movements, which results in higher resource utilization, lower cycle time and higher inventory and shipment accuracy.” – MHL News
The danger lies in the fact that MHE is individual machines working in silos, albeit towards the same goal. These siloes can lead to issues if (and when) machines break down or there’s an interruption in the flow of materials. Without a central system, it’s impossible to mitigate the ripple effects of issues that crop up in day-to-day supply chain operations.
Adoption trends prove we’re on the cusp of the age of automation. Labour issues and the increasing need to improve throughput are the main forces driving adoption.
Because every warehouse operates differently, needs for material handling equipment (MHE) differ from company to company and site to site. Having multiple MHE systems and even multiple MHE vendors within the warehouse can be a great benefit.
However, MHE hardware configurations, inventory tracking, data collection, troubleshooting, maintenance, and integration to other systems occur through a software layer. Virtually all automation hardware providers offer software. But many of these systems don’t integrate with other MHE within the warehouse. To ensure that all MHE in a facility works together as a unified system, it’s critical to have the right integration software in place.
Which software solutions do you need?
With the hefty investments behind warehouse automation, it’s critical to put the right systems in place to optimise the robotics and fixed hardware that require immediate – and big – returns on investment.
Today, most warehouses run their operations smoothly with the support of a Warehouse Management System (WMS). A WMS offers capabilities to control inventory and the business logic that drives people and processes within the distribution centre.
However, a WMS alone won’t provide the requirements needed to control all aspects of MHE deployments, let alone the integration across multiple MHE technologies such as conveyors, sortation, AGVs, etc.
A warehouse control system (WCS) can bridge the gap between the WMS and MHE software. It operates and manages the material handling equipment as well as providing the conduit to programmable logic controller (PLC) scanning for machine inputs.
At each decision point, the WCS determines the most efficient flow and conveys commands to the equipment controllers to achieve the desired result. Moreover, real-time data from all connected systems allow for any issues to be quickly flagged and traffic rerouted around the problem, giving users an immediate prompt to fix the problem.
What are the benefits of automated MHE, WMS and WCS?
1. Optimising labour
Optimising labour is critical to operational savings. Due to labour shortages, businesses must consider increasing salaries to attract new workers or retain existing employees. Rather than adding headcount, businesses lean on automation to augment personnel. This also helps when demand slows down, as businesses aren’t paying for unproductive work hours.
2. Increase overall efficiency
Automation will optimise all processes within your supply chain, shrinking turnaround windows. Increased fill rates and decreased cycle times will enable you to avoid costly shipping delays and backorders that jeopardise valuable customer relationships.
3. Improve inventory management
Keeping accurate records of your stock levels is paramount. Having a full understanding of how much inventory you have as well as how much you need to fulfil upcoming orders allows you to maintain adequate stock levels.
The ability to visualise, manage and report on tones of real-time inventory data allows you to maintain high accuracy, avoid over-stock, improve in-stock availability, forecasting and planning for seasonal periods. Cycle counts, spot checks and information verification ensure warehouse staff are not wasting time looking for misplaced or missing items.
Additionally, MHE can fit in spaces a human body just can’t go safely. This allows businesses to squeeze more inventory in small (more cost-effective) spaces.
4. Order accuracy
Automation will increase order accuracy, thus decreasing the cost of processing returns.
Also, automated warehouses achieve wider operating windows to process orders, helping businesses achieve faster fulfilment. Just-in-time (JIT) order fulfilment becomes possible, which reduces packages cluttering in staging areas and keeps transportation moving smoothly.
5. Customer satisfaction
Automation ultimately affects customer satisfaction. Fulfilling orders on time, on budget, and with full transparency can go a long way toward repeat business and automation can be a make-or-break investment to please customers.
Moreover, in a time where customers want to know exactly where their order is from the time of purchase to the time the doorbell rings, automation offers deeper levels of traceability and control that customers crave.
iWMS is an independent software developer, innovator and team augmentation partner with years of global experience in consulting, building, and supporting WMS solutions. We offer proven industry-leading software from HighJump Software Network Solutions for warehouse and supply chain management.
iWMS is based in South Africa, the Americas, Australasia and India.This gives iWMS access to the best resources and IT talent globally enabling us to ensure that the right level of experience is available for all projects at any given time.
Please contact us if you are looking for a warehouse and supply chain management system service provider for enterprises.