The Role of Automation in Modern Warehousing

By Dr. Ashivini Jakhar, Founder & CEO, Prozo

As a warehousing service provider, the aim is always to resolve the challenges faced by the world of commerce and create efficiency and speed in supply chains. On their own, manufacturers often struggle to optimise functions across the line such as manufacturing, storage, logistics, sales, and technology. The challenges are even greater for small or medium size entities such as e-commerce startups and D2C companies as they need enterprise-level outcomes, but lack the resources and infrastructure. This is where the role of advanced automation tools and technologies provided by prominent warehousing and 3PL companies comes into play.

Benefits of Automation in Warehousing
Automation and tech-driven streamlining are rapidly emerging as the panacea for warehousing challenges. Whether it is captive warehouse operations or 3PL companies, market leaders are integrating AI, automation, and robotics with human expertise to create efficient and streamlined operations. 3PL companies integrating such advanced technologies are able to provide the best warehouse automation and process enhancements to even smaller players on a pay-per-use basis.

The simplest and most effective practice is to deploy an OMS or cloud-based central platform that connects all other software through an API. This helps in creating a unified command center/control tower with 360-degree visibility of the operations. The integrated automation in turn reduces bottlenecks, and apart from giving holistic visibility of the supply chain operations, it can also lead to continuous insights on how to make things better.

First, when different tasks are not carried out in silos, but as a component of a well-oiled automated infrastructure, it results in the elimination of errors. There is greater coordination and each component of the supply chain is real-time aware of the other. For instance, inventory visibility, the real-time knowledge of which goods are stored in which section, and access to automated vehicles to move the pieces, can bring about a massive shift in efficiency.

Automation also makes it less cumbersome for the human resources deployed at warehouses. Software-driven operations optimise the movement of personnel and machines to ensure that there is an even distribution of effort and make warehousing operations safer. For instance, automation can ensure that only robots are used to handle hazardous shipments and that constant monitoring is undertaken to prevent occurrences of injury, fire, or any other potential risks. Another apt use case would be the standard procuring of items from storage racks to the loading areas or from vehicles arriving at the warehouse to the storage racks. In manual processes, people might end up making multiple trips to the same spot to fetch the right products. However, automation can strategically deploy automated vehicles to reduce this to-and-fro movement. Thus, there is less consumption of effort and equipment, and operational costs can also be reduced accordingly.

Essentially, a world-class warehouse automation system provides managers with all the tools they need to reduce effort and increase output. Warehouse automation improves customer experience by eliminating inefficiencies and improving speed. Additionally, it enhances a warehouse’s operational capabilities and allows it to handle diverse SKUs more effectively.

Types of automated systems used in Warehousing
Depending upon the scale and needs of a warehouse, there are three core automation options available to the operators:
Basic automation – An example of basic automation is using a conveyor belt or a carousel to move packages instead of carrying them manually from one point to another.
Warehouse system automation – The warehouse system automates everyday operations using software, machine learning, data analytics, and robotics. The software allows for the tracking of all orders received, filled, and pending. As a result, orders would be segregated based on SKUs, and the picking of similar items located in one part of the warehouse would be optimally timed in order to reduce multiple trips by personnel or equipment.

Mechanised automation – Usually deployed in large warehouses, mechanised equipment like robots and smart machines assist humans with warehouse tasks. A shelf loader robot, for example, places packages on shelves or lifts product racks and delivers them for retrieval and sorting.

Advanced AI automation – The goal of advanced AI automation is to reduce the need for strenuous human operations by using advanced technology. In this case, forklift fleets can operate as interconnected fleets through online tracking portals monitored by human managers using artificial intelligence, cameras, and sensors to self-navigate through the warehouse.

Advanced warehouse automation comes in two forms:
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) – They offer greater flexibility than Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and use GPS to self-navigate through the warehouse with greater route planning. AMRs use laser guidance to avoid obstacles, which makes them much safer to operate in areas where human activity is high. They can be programmed with GPS defined routes in a matter of seconds.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) in Warehousing – An advanced form of GTP fulfilment systems, the RS platforms incorporate material-carrying vehicles, tote shuttles, mini-loaders, and other such equipment that can store and retrieve goods. In warehouses, where space optimisation is necessary to meet the high demand for goods movement, these are of greater importance.

The Future of Automation in Warehousing
Warehouses are facing increasing pressure to do more with less. To accommodate these demands, many of them are turning to automation systems. Technological solutions like those mentioned here can go a long way in boosting warehousing efficiency, precision, and safety, and save money at the same time.

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