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Warehouse Automation – Is it really worth it?

Warehouse automation is everywhere nowadays and it comes in many shapes and forms. Whilst it won’t solve all your businesses labour problems, it can help to improve and update existing processes so that your warehouse runs smoothly and is more profitable.

warehouse automation

We look at some of the positives and negatives automated equipment can bring, so you can decide whether automation is right for your business.

Warehouse Management Systems

Practically all warehouse automation works best when there is a solid warehouse management system (WMS) in place. Automated units will rely on WMS for direction and a good system will work to simplify the problems associated with automated picking and moving.

WMS is a godsend even without automation. So if you don’t have one in place already, then rectify this before you even consider buying into automated help.

It’s important to remember that automation needs data to work. So whether it’s the best picking route or barcode tagging, having a system in place will improve automation significantly.

Machines vs. Humans

The age-old argument of whether businesses are replacing humans with robots still rages on but the truth is, a good warehouse needs both to function successfully.

Humans are better at certain things whilst automated robots are more effective at others. The man use for automated equipment in warehouses nowadays is to bring goods directly to a human picker, so that they need to move around less.

Because of this, most automated solutions are called goods-to-person systems. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Vertical lifts
  • Carousels
  • Mini-loads
  • Automated material carrying vehicles
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems

When effective warehouse layouts and management systems are in place, automation can work more effectively and quickly than humans. However, intervention is still needed at certain points because robots really can’t do everything.

There are still some hiccups when it comes to using automated pickers. For example, during busy periods, automated machines can’t easily keep up with the change in pace, making flexible human pickers a more sensible option. This is another reason why automation and human labour must go hand in hand.

warehouse improvement

Return on Investment

Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not automation is the right choice for you is to ask yourself ‘what will be my return on investment’?

There is already one too many horror stories of companies silly enough to jump on the automation bandwagon without actually doing the sums to work out how cost-effective it will be. If you’re not careful, you could end up losing money in the long run, rather than saving it.

Providing your warehouse sees enough activity, automation can be a genius investment and could save time, money and in turn, help you to grow your business.

Some things you’ll need to consider before deciding upon warehouse automation include:

  • How much the business makes per annum?
  • How much you’ll save on labour costs per annum with the use of automation?
  • How much you’re expecting the business to grow with the use of automation per annum?
  • How much will automation maintenance cost per annum?

If sums aren’t your forte, consulting with a supply chain and warehousing specialist could help you to decide whether the investment is worth it. A logistics specialist could also work with you to determine if anything can be done to make you warehouse more automation friendly if you do decide it’s the right choice for you.

If you do decide to take the plunge and take advantage of automation, ensure that you plan ahead and don’t always take the manufacturers claims at face value. Speak to other businesses that use automation successfully and do you research on what automated equipment works best for your type of warehouse and business.

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