Warehouse automation has been a big buzz word for years, but this subset of the industry is getting a major facelift thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shopping in stores became too much of a risk for millions of Americans and consumers around the world. Many people chose to order goods online or pick them up in-store, including everything from perishable groceries to large-scale appliances, as a way of limiting their exposure to the coronavirus.
This has forced thousands of companies and suppliers to change how they do business. Firms specializing in automation have discovered new ways to help their clients make ends meet, leading to a golden age in warehouse technology. Post-pandemic, the warehouse automation industry is expected to reach $30B by 2026, with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of almost 14 percent between 2020 and 2026.
Instead of automating the order fulfillment process several years from now, companies are looking to increase efficiency sooner rather than later. If you’re considering automating part of your facility, learn about the latest developments in this fast-growing industry.
How Warehouse Automation Has Changed in Recent Years
Automating a warehouse isn’t what it used to be. Piecemeal machines and components were used to move products from point A to B, but this system has come a long way over the last few years.
Size and lack of space continue to plague facilities all over the world. The cost of renting warehouse space continues to rise year after year, and the competition couldn’t be more cutthroat. Companies large and small have been investing in automation in order to make better use of their existing space without paying for more real estate.
Today’s picking robots are much smarter and sleeker than models of years past. They can navigate tight spaces and narrow corners with ease without damaging inventory along the way. This gives companies the chance to devote more space to stack racks and storage. However, these spaces may be too narrow for human entry, making it harder to spot check items on the shelf.
Scalability has also been a major headache for smaller companies in the supply chain. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that nothing is set in stone. Companies may have an idea of what their facility could look like five years down the road, but these predictions are becoming increasingly unreliable. The changing economy, global pandemics, trade embargos and natural disasters make it virtually impossible to predict future demand.
That’s why automation is becoming increasingly scalable and flexible. This gives smaller players a chance to invest in automation and grow their operations over time. Modular systems have become a hot-ticket item for smaller companies looking to increase efficiency and throughput. Technology firms have realized that they can increase demand for their products and services by creating customized solutions. Regardless of the size of your facility, automation is no longer out of reach.
Automated warehouses are only as good as the machines that run them. Manufacturers of this technology have gone to great lengths to improve performance and reliability. Maintenance will always be a part of the automation process, but today’s machines are designed to care for themselves. Automated preventative maintenance takes the guesswork out of managing these machines. Machines now issue regular status reports and analyze internal efficiency to help managers prevent downtime as much as possible.
The New Face of Automation
AutoStore has emerged as a leader in warehouse automation over the last few years. The company threw out the rulebook when it came to automation, creating a new system that replaces the Goods2Person (GTP) model. Sending human workers to retrieve items off the shelf can lead to unnecessary downtime.
The most advanced warehouses are jettisoning their clunky conveyor belts in favor of the AutoStore system. Let’s take the 314,000-square-foot Radwell warehouse in New Jersey as an example.
Dozens of robots move around an aluminum grid as they pull from the company’s huge selection of products. The system also features a robotic box builder, which automatically builds cardboard boxes according to the product’s exact size and weight. It also chooses a specific carrier based on cost and the delivery timeline, while printing a shipping label. Packages and goods are then sent to the facility’s human workers as they prepare them for delivery.
Under this model, workers don’t have to leave the loading dock. They can stay focused on double-checking the information on the screen, coordinating with vendors and preparing shipments for delivery.
The Benefits Speak for Themselves
The AutoStore system delivers on a number of fronts.
The company says it typically sees a 75 percent reduction in floor space in facilities that use this system. Engineers go to great lengths to create customized solutions that fit into the client’s existing space instead of having them design a new space from scratch.
The system is also much more reliable than other forms of automation thanks to its simplicity. It is made up of just five modules with two moving parts, the robots and ports, with no single point of failure. This reduces the need for maintenance. Currently, the company boasts an uptime of 99.7 percent. Engineers work with clients to make sure they have enough robots on the grid to maintain optimal throughput.
The built-in software program, known as Router, increases robot travel by up to 40 percent, so companies can reach more packages with fewer machines.
The AutoStore system can also reduce the cost of storage. If workers no longer need to retrieve packages by hand, companies can save money by turning off the lights or HVAC system. This reduces overhead, so companies can save more over time.
Warehouse automation is increasing at every turn. If you’re not ready to invest in automation, consider low-cost alternatives for increasing efficiency, such as using industrial wire baskets to increase product visibility.
This is just the start of what could be a major automation revolution. Find a warehouse automated system that will help you reach your goals, so you don’t get left behind.