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The Ultimate Journey From Manual To Automation

The Ultimate Journey From Manual To Automation

We asked 20 business owners “What does automating your warehouse involve?”. All the replies discussed how an automated warehouse had a greater future perspective, but only after going through a painfully long and expensive installation with multiple reorganizations. But does it always have to be this way, or have you just been looking at the wrong solutions?

Automation in intralogistics does not have to go from 0% to 100% all at once. Not every business needs full automation or perhaps not every business is ready to dive in right away. Depending on the volumes, growth opportunities and industry development trends, different businesses can start small and steadily invest in upgrades, i.e. “grow as you go”.  Of course, your intralogistics expert from SSI SCHÄFER can advise you on the right path for your organization.

Let us start with when and why

Take it from some of the leaders who have already started their journey towards the automated warehouse and hear what pushed them into taking this step.

“In a short time, we have found a solution that provides the conditions to continue our fantastic growth journey and to achieve our set profitability goals. The solution will also offer our logistics employees in Sweden the best working environment!”, - comments Henrik Peitz, COO at Mathem.

“We have seen many shifts to automation within our industry. The productivity rates reached with the automated operations are impossible to get with the manual goods handling,” - shares Mats Tornard, Project Manager of Strategic Supply Chain at Coop.

Knut-Andreas Kran, CEO of ASKO OSLOFJORD AS: “We simply would not be able to keep up with the expected growth in the current location. We also did not want to just build a larger manual warehouse as we see that automation is an investment in the future.”

Every business has a different way of starting automation. Discover the projects for market leaders in pharmaceutical and cosmetics, fashion, food retail, е-commerce and many other industries. Do not rush into any decision without thorough research 😊

How much to automate

Depending on the size of your business, the growth rate, and the path it is on, there are different degrees of automation to consider.

The first, or a smaller step, can be introducing a simple technology to reduce the need for manual labour, or to shorten process completion time. With this goal in mind, logistics managers may consider installing one or a few pieces of equipment. For example, it may be a conveying system to connect the working stations more easily. Another option, Vertical Lift Module (VLM), works perfectly for small parts and items storage. The VLM is designed to address the lack of space and improve picking errors.

However, automation does not have to start with equipment. A Warehouse Management System is another choice. It will help with inventory count, order consolidation, faster and more efficient items retrieval, and clearer control of the process overall.

Equipment can be also integrated to build a better process design, for example, a conveying system can work together with VLM. This way, an employee working with a VLM does not have to waste time on delivering the retrieved product to the next station. The conveyor will do this.  At the same time, a conveying system can take up valuable floor space which might not be an option for some of the areas. In this instance, AGVs are more flexible, and only need a rail or guide on the floor. Moreover, with the intelligent motion tracker, they are safe to operate in manual warehouses with increased pedestrian traffic.

The “big” step to full automation is something that the above-mentioned industry leaders selected for their logistics centres – complete automation with the minimal involvement of manual process fulfilment. A solution like this may include shuttles for ambient, cold or deep-freeze storage zones, Case Picking and Piece Picking robots, order verifiers and a variety of sensors.

With all said, there is no moving forward before evaluating the process and functional areas at your logistics centre. Your SSI SCHÄFER intralogistics expert can assist with this.

What to automate

Knowing the optimal automation’s end goal for your businesses is one thing, but it is crucial to break the process into steps. Analyse the journey a product takes throughout the logistics centre, from the entrance to shipping, and identify how each step can be performed better individually, and as a whole.

Goods receiving zone

In terms of inventory a simple question pops up: “Is the item’s description and tracking information immediately transferred into the system? Are there scanners for pallet or case labels?”. This is something to consider in terms of clear and well-organized stock, easier picking and replenishment.

Another point to consider is how the receiving zone is equipped. Are items delivered to depalletizing or storage buffer manually or by a conveying system?

Handling returns

Having the right approach towards returns is essential, especially for the e-commerce sector.  Thousands of smaller orders or items in a B2C environment may be sent back by the customer after a more thorough at-home fitting. This provides one of many pressuring points the e-tailers face. There is quite a large number of products that leave the warehouse and come back in a few days, and they need to be handled and reintroduced correctly.

Is there a separate procedure for returned orders? How are they checked and registered before storage or buffering? An automated sorting system or a separate conveyor line can be a solution to speed up and ease these processes.

Picking orders

Manual order picking can be very time-consuming. With perfect stock organization and great location tools, order handling can still take significant picker travel and picking time. Another issue is that an employee would not just be visiting one shelf once. This task will be repetitive throughout the day. One picker needs to walk to a location, collect the ordered items, walk back, and put them in a box or start to build a pallet….and then do it again, and again. How can it be fast? And, most importantly, what can we do to improve it?

Having employees engaged in one main activity, focusing on one role is definitely beneficial. For starters, separating the picking task from that of packing or consolidating orders into different stations, can be advantageous. When the areas are separated, the delivery can be handled by a conveying system, an AGV or even a shuttle-like function.

Another option to consider is robotics in terms of one of either picking items and assembling orders or both.

Shipping zone

And now we are at the final phase with a logistics centre when the goods are leaving the warehouse to reach a customer, whether the end customer is a business or a person. All the roles here can be handled manually, but with the little help of automation, they can be performed on another level.

For example, routes and order details can be automatically printed and applied to the package. The label is scanned, and the data is added accordingly, meaning there will be fewer errors or mix-ups. It will speed up the whole process.

Key takeaways

Logistic centres now play a huge role in every business’ supply chain. It can help your business prosper or diminish peak season’s sales results. Definitely not something to overlook. An up-to-date equipped warehouse adds significant value to the customer experience and journey.

There are dozens of decisions to make when automation is on the horizon. This article highlighted just a few crucial points to think over:

  • Why your logistics centre needs modernization and what is the desirable productivity increase?

  • How far does your business need to go now and are you ready for some advanced technology?

  • What do the current processes look like and what zones are the bottlenecks?

Finally, one should always consider future growth by investing in scalable systems. A solution that will accommodate additional areas, more workstations, extra machines, increased sales and orders and extra people following your business’ success path, will be the right one for your business. SSI SCHÄFER’s logistics expert can talk you through the best options. Do not hesitate to get in touch.


[1] “ SSI SCHÄFER automates Mathem's new logistics facility in Larsboda, Sweden”, Press Release, link

[2] “How and why Coop is shifting from manual operations”, Article, link

[3] “Grocery, Logistics, Sustainability: Customized Solution for Absolute Sequence”, Article, link

Contact Person

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