Time for automation


As the number of items in your warehouse exceeds a certain volume, it’s getting more and more difficult to process orders manually. This is a sign to think about automation. However, instead of adopting new technologies, many companies are expanding their staff. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to use resources efficiently and optimize warehouse processes. If you want to keep up with the progress, it’s better to start implementing automated systems. Conveyors can be a good thing, to begin with. In this article, we would like to share with you why to do so and how to step on the way of modernization.

How conveyors make the processes more efficient?

Several pieces of research show that more than 60% of operating costs in the warehouse is represented by manual order picking. No wonder, considering how much time the staff spends walking or driving around the warehouse for long distances to find the right product. In the best scenario, one employee performs 100 order lines per hour with manual piece picking. Additional hiring of staff will not solve the speed issue but will definitely increase the labour costs.

In contrast, conveying systems are a goods-to-person solution, which means that the carrier with needed goods (could be a plastic container or a carton) arrives at the picking station on the conveyor. In this case there is no need to transport each carrier independently through all the pick-up zones. Picking is still done manually, but the carrier is transported automatically between the pick-up zones and then to the control/packaging zone. This significantly reduces the order processing time.

Hence, using semi-automated systems for piece picking, you can significantly increase the number of processed order lines per hour without hiring more staff.

Conveyors or a fully automated system?

Conveyors can be installed as a part of a large fully automated warehouse solution. However, in this article, we would like to talk more about conveyors as a semi-automatic solution that helps to increase smaller warehouse productivity.

In terms of efficiency, it makes sense to choose conveyors when your warehouse processes more than 3,000 order lines per hour. In this case, conveyors are a very good solution for increasing efficiency. If the number of order lines exceeds 10,000 per hour, we recommend that you consider implementing a fully automated solution. Here you should also think longterm. If significant growth is planned, it is important to choose an automated solution that can be scaled in the future so that existing warehouse processes are not interrupted during the implementation phase.

How this is going to work for you?

To be more precise, let’s have an example.

Time for automation

In this picture you see picking zones with conveying lines going through. Warehouse employees put the goods from racking channels to a carrier.  All the items are organized according to their turnaround. Fast-moving items are considered as an A-category, so usually they are placed into the flow racks. Flow racks allow staff members to always have needed product near them, no need to walk around. B and C-category goods are slower moving, so they are stored on shelves.  

A special conveyor located inside the flow racks delivers carriers with A-category goods to the required zones for rapid replenishment of the picking channels.

Carriers are moved by a conveyor to the pick-up stations and then to the control and repacking areas. After repacking orders into carton boxes, they are sent to the automatic sorter conveyor.

Keep in mind that the order picking and control/packing operations speeds should be aligned. Usually it takes more time to pass a controlling/repacking area than to pick an order. That means that a staff member from the picking area performs a bit faster and can handle more than one zone. 

It is also possible to organize the picking operations into boxes or packages directly from the front racks where the palletized goods are stored. To do this, there must be a special branch of the conveyor, connected to the main conveying system.

Does your warehouse need a conveying system?

Conveying systems require a considerable investment, so you should be sure of their profitability before implementing them. At the same time, if you conduct a long-term analysis, it may show that it is more expensive to hire additional warehouse staff than to install a semi - or fully automated solution once. In any case, the choice is yours.

If you are planning to automate the warehouse processes, our experts at SSI SCHÄFER can help you estimate your options and provide you with the solution that will suit just right.