Warehouse Automation: Different Options

What is Warehouse Automation?

Automating a warehouse means integrating Business Processes, Warehouse Management System (WMS) Application and Warehouse hardware like conveyors, cranes, storage & retrieval stackers, sorters, labelers etc. This is generally done by employing PLC based programming for integration between Business Applications (like WMS) and Warehouse Hardware.

How Automation can help?

Automating a warehouse can provide huge advantages for an organization.

  • Realizing more storage space: High Rise Racks can be constructed and ASRS systems employed for storage & retrieval. In some cases, this enables the companies to increase the warehouse storage capacity by up to 400% compared to conventional forklift-based operation. Warehouse automation is of particular help to warehouses with space limitations. This also helps in keeping building costs to a minimum.

  • Reducing Labor: In certain warehouses, data is entered manually and workers are kept busy putting stock away and picking orders. Automated warehousing systems feed data to the computer automatically. Machines can perform tasks faster and efficiently compared to human workforce. Depending on the extent of automation on material movement, automation can help reducing labor proportionately.

  • Improving Accuracy: Processes such as manual data entry, picking and binning, counting etc. are usually prone to mistakes and inaccuracies. Automation eliminates human errors in storage, retrieval, sorting, labeling etc.

  • Improves Productivity: Automated warehousing systems work faster than forklifts and narrow aisle trucks. They can operate 24/7 keeping goods on the move. With ASRS, the delays involved in putting away or retrieving pallets at higher locations are eliminated. Automated warehousing systems can enhance efficient flow of materials through a distribution center of a manufacturing facility.

  • Inventory reduction: Automation techniques such as integrated location and inventory control software can help in reducing inventory. The software enables goods to be automatically picked based on preset rules like FIFO, FEFO, etc improving stock control. Intelligent location control helps in locating goods in the most appropriate zone depending on usage.

Types of Automation

There are numerous ways of automating a warehouse. A company must know what level of automation is required for them that can suit their requirements and pocket. Here are some common types of automation.

  • ConveyorsBased on barcode, these can route parts and pallets in right direction 

  • RFID scannersThey use radio-frequency electronic fields for transferring data from a tag attached to an object. These are used for automatic identification and tracking. 

  • Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)These constitute various computer-controlled methods for automatically storing and retrieving loads from certain storage locations. 

  • LabellersThey automatically label pallets and parts once they reach a specific station on the conveyor 

  • CarouselsThese are special type of rotating racks which rotate and bring the location to the picker/binner when a barcode is scanned. 

  • SortersIn dispatch area Sorters will sort and place the part in correct dispatch bay based on the bar code. 

  • Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)An automated guided vehicle not only helps in transporting loads between shipping docks or manufacturing and storage, but also helps in storing and retrieving goods from storage locations. 

  • Automated Handheld devicesThese play a major role when it comes to order picking, cycle counting, transfers, and other data collecting and storing activities. Most of the handheld devices perform these actions as well as record the data. This helps in reducing human errors and paperwork while increasing efficiencies. 

  • Should you automate?The question in today’s context is not whether we should automate or not. The real question is, “how much should we automate”. It is agreeable that automation requires capital and the returns are not immediately evident. High level of automation such as RFID tags is not economically viable for many SMEs. Hence companies need to look at how much automation is required on a priority basis, and choose the type of automation that suits the organization’s bill.

    Choice of automation also depends on what you are actually looking to achieve from incorporating an ASRS solution. ASRS solutions are expensive, so make sure that you have done your math correctly. Make sure ROI calculations are validated correctly before you take any decision. While manual labor costs will be definitely reduced once automated solutions are employed, it is also important to consider recurring maintenance costs on ASRS while quantifying the ROI.

    It is always better to first list out the reasons on why and how the company thinks automation will help its warehouse. If there are specific pain points in business, they must be very clear on quantifying the worth of the pain point in actual cash terms.

How PALMS™ – WMS can help

The PALMS™ WMS provides Supply Chain processes required by companies, which can be easily configured to provide better customer service and control operational costs. PALMS™ has highly advanced logic based stock put away, collection and intelligent direct stock movement features which can help in dramatically controlling space utilization and labor costs. It offers full integration to purchasing, sales, logistics and other 3rd party systems.

  • PALMS™ WMS has taken lead in the country in forming alliances with automated solution providers and provide integrated WMS application with Warehouse Automated devices.
  • PALMS™ WMS has a 100% SOA compliant architecture which makes it easier to plug the business application with external entities.
  • It provides a perfect bridge between ERP applications, custom-bespoke applications (if any) Warehouse Management function and Automation hardware.

Disclaimer: The videos available are properties of the respective organizations. They are linked here for representation purpose only.

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