Warehouse automation has many advantages: it increases the efficiency and speed of order processing, helps to reduce costs and reduces the number of errors caused by people. However, there are still doubtful opinions on if it necessary to automate the warehouse. Warehouse automation has many advantages: It increases efficiency and speed in order processing and, compared to purely manual processes, reduces costs and the susceptibility to errors. However, sometimes concerns are raised whether full automation is necessary in a particular case.
Dmitry Ellin, Head of Pre-Sales and automation expert at SSI SCHAEFER, describes the most common automation myths and explains why they do not always correspond to reality and what automation really is about.
To companies that attempt to follow the latest trends, it might seem that the implementation of automation is necessary for all the warehouses without any exception. That's not true. There’s no need to automate warehouses with a small assortment, number of goods or low storage capacity, since the effect of this will be insignificant. If there are no plans for future expansion, it is much easier for companies to process and complete small quantities of orders manually.
It may seem that the full warehouse automation is quite time-consuming because of several reasons. First, you should define the equipment needed, then develop the first design concept, select the solution that suits your expectations and budget, sign all the necessary contracts and only then start the installation and commissioning processes. The site works stage could cause money losses if the existing warehouse workflow stops even for short breaks. However, the automation can be planned that way, so it wouldn’t affect current operations. This can be achieved thanks to the advantages of automated systems: optimized storage space, scalability of the solutions and ergonomics. Reorganizing a traditional static warehouse would take more time, so in case of green field project it’s better to consider installing an automated system from the very beginning.
If the automated system is properly designed and implemented, on the contrary, it only helps to eliminate many problems in the warehouse management system. The software monitors and shows the most accurate data on available stock items, or, for example, can detect a decrease in operator’s productivity at peak times and quickly redistribute their workload by sending employees from other sites. It also provides managers with recent information on all processes, goods flow and the system status.
Automation or re-equipment of the warehouse to more modern does not necessarily imply additional costs or time costs for the training of employees or their replacement. Automated warehouses are easy to use, so operators know their instructions and do not need a lot of experience. Modern interfaces are really simple to work with in comparison with traditional warehouses when a new employee has to learn the location of each product or good. The number of possible errors due to the human factor is reduced to a minimum. Another important advantage of automation is the increased safety level. For example, it is crucial for warehouse operators working in high-bay storage areas. The goods-to-man concept allows to minimize any risks by delivering goods directly to the operators working station.
There is for sure one hidden thing people sometimes forget about. Migrating to a highly automated warehouse system may also require the data migration. If a company has been using both manual and semi-automated systems to manage warehouse activities for many years, it is likely that there is much information accumulated during this time. Most of the time, this area of implementation is underestimated, so you need to think of it and be prepared for it in advance. If a company already uses any WMS then this integration is usually much smoother and faster.
The initial cost of the automation may indeed seem exaggerated, but at the same time you expect returns on investment quite soon. In most cases, the costs are fully paid off within 3-5 years, while the installed automated warehouse equipment will function for much longer. One important thing you should take into consideration is the quality of the equipment. Poor quality can lead to costly downtime in the future, so make sure your picking, handling and other systems are of the highest quality. A gradual integration of automated systems will also allow to distribute investments over time by automating the warehousing processes step by step and slowly increasing the processing performance.