Debunking warehouse automation myths

humans-handling-parcels

Automating warehouses is not easy to approach. As 2021 is coming to an end, the adoption of warehouse automation is gaining increasing popularity to meet the ever-growing consumer demands and improve return on investments.

Industry experts have been pushing automation for decades, and only now has it become a pressing need to manage order-fulfilment processes, cut down on operation costs, and escalate productivity. Furthermore, companies can expand their target audience and ship their products successfully worldwide.

However, many companies still hesitate to incorporate robotic technologies in daily warehouse activities. They are bound to rethink their warehouse strategies whilst struggling with the right resources to meet their scalable growth. On that note, this article puts an end to common automation myths.

Myth 1: Only large companies can afford automation technologies

Warehouse automation may seem like an overwhelming process, but it really is not one. Investing in an intuitive, easy-to-operate, and efficient technology can make daily operations more productive, even for small or mid-sized organizations.

Companies can apply automation in various situations, such as order pickingpalletizing, packaging, parcel induction, etc. If automating all warehouse activities at once is not feasible, it is also possible to apply the appropriate technologies to the most time-consuming and laborious tasks first. For instance, order picking consumes about 55% of warehouse costs but applying suitable robotic technologies can save the company from unnecessary expenses. Additionally, relying on a manual taskforce for the order picking process can lead to the perils of mispicks.

Robotic picking can be up to five times more efficient than manual picking, performing repetitive tasks around the clock. This substitution can keep the warehouse operations going without any hiccups caused by human errors, fatigue, breakdown, or sickness. Boosting efficiency can improve profit margins and modernize processes to keep pace with the market.

Myth 2: Robots will lead to more unemployment

Since robotics has set foot into the vast field of logistics, many companies are concerned about the unemployment rate it may lead to. Workers inevitably burn out and are prone to fatigue, which feeds to an assumption that they are replaceable. On the contrary, they need to be relieved from gruelling tasks of meandering from one place to another, removing items from the shelves, picking and placing objects on sorter or conveyor belts etc. To support that, companies can benefit by collaborating human and artificial intelligence to improve warehouse working conditions.

Involving robots can lead to the possibility of making new systems seem complex for warehouse employees to manage. Instead of fearing the change, investing in suitable training modules can help the employees feel supported and confident with the new workflow.

Robots at the end of conveyor belt

Myth 3: Automated solutions demand sophisticated maintenance

At first, post-installation maintenance might seem challenging. Before reaching that stage, the company must sail through initial evaluation, design, onboarding, and commissioning. After a smooth transition from manual to automation, warehouses can have more control, fewer risks, and better command of daily operations.

Traditional warehouses have been subjected to untimely machine breakdowns or have borne the consequences of unsuitable maintenance strategies. Smart warehouse systems, on the other hand, ensure 24-hour visibility into warehouse operations and conditions with little to no human involvement. An ideal system integrator aims to reduce unplanned maintenance costs, decrease unintended downtime, and improve asset lifespan. Over time, applying a reliable maintenance strategy (preventive or predictive) can prevent unexpected delays and high recovery costs, thus, improving overall throughput rate and productivity.

Myth 4: Investing in a vision software is expensive

Ensuring high-quality vision software to enable robots to pick and place any object requires a careful choice. A vision software serves as the robot’s brain. Investing in a picking cell without understanding the quality of its vision software can defy the whole purpose of automation. It determines the long-term reliability of any automation cell and end-users (or retailers) risk operational challenges without knowing what goes beneath the hood of their automated picking cell.

What matters is not just the software installation and smooth configuration, but how well it fits with the other components, such as the industrial camera, robots, grippers, warehouse management systems etc. A plug-and-play modular product with fast and efficient integration can ensure a whole new level of automation.

Not to mention, the software can accelerate the performance with better pick rates, precise placement, ease in handling parcels, to name a few. Choosing the right supplier who understands the current operations and target objectives can turn out to be a long-term investment. A software supplier must ensure that the integrators are guided through every step of the process, allowing them to be independent of any lock-in contracts.

Myth 5: Automation means building a new warehouse

Automation doesn’t necessarily lead to building new warehouses unless the scale of operations expands. Most of the time, the existing warehouse space can incorporate advanced technologies to streamline processes, offering a helping hand to the warehouse employees.

Companies can take advantage of the existing space, especially the vertical space for Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), thus, saving up to 85% of floor space as they increase the cubic volume within a building. Depending on the existing logistics infrastructure and the growth strategy, retailers may opt to automate existing operational facilities or plan for a completely new and fully automated warehouse. Accordingly, they need to choose brownfield or greenfield integrators.

Briefly put, brownfield installations can offer a turnkey solution, especially with a limited budget and time, for automating time-consuming order-fulfillment processes. On the other hand, end users can have complete control of the warehouse design, management and maintenance with greenfield installations. The good news is that retailers don’t need to wait for years as many brownfield integrators have quickly adapted their automation needs and are able to provide robotic picking solutions; all while respecting the existing constraints of retailers.

Warehouse automation may seem daunting, but taking it slow by automating one step at a time can benefit the organization in terms of time, cost, and return on investment. As more and more players enter the e-commerce market to reach consumers faster than ever, scaling operations with quality software and better automation strategies can nudge the companies in the right direction.