Warehouses play a vital role in supply chains across America and across the world. This has been the case for over 100 years, but as online retail has taken up a larger piece of the pie in the modern economy, the need for efficient warehouse workflow has become all the more important.
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, online ordering was already taking over, but during the pandemic, a major shift occurred in how consumers purchased goods. The need for warehousing solutions has become more important than ever as a result, and this has led to a reimagining of the modern warehouse.
Traditionally, warehouses have been staffed by workers who either manually pick and pack items or use equipment like forklifts to move pallets of items around warehouse storage space. Some warehouse operations operate in shifts, allowing them to service customers 24 hours a day, but others only operate during business hours and supply locally.
These days, however, automated warehouse systems are becoming more commonplace, allowing for a number of advantages over traditional warehouse organizational strategies.
How Warehouse Technology Has Changed Logistics
Logistics automation, including automated warehouse technology, has changed the face of commerce in several ways. Automated systems operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing for greater productivity. Additionally, robotic warehouse equipment cannot become injured or call out sick, meaning warehouse operations experience less downtime when employing robotic logistics solutions.
Accuracy is another huge benefit that comes from using warehouse automation. Even the most experienced warehouse professional is going to make mistakes from time to time, but robots, on average, are more accurate due to the use of advanced scanning, logging and data analysis software. This improved accuracy leads to fewer customer complaints, fewer returns due to inaccurate orders and greater efficiency in supply chain management.
Automation and artificial intelligence software also provide warehouse companies with the ability to streamline supply chain operations. In a traditional warehouse environment, communication must be constant between workers on the floor and those in the packing and shipping departments.
One snag in any of these departments can quickly bottleneck operations leading all the way to the ports and ships involved in sending goods off to their destinations.
Using automation, machines can keep this line of communication open at all times, and if changes occur in the logistics chain, adjustments can automatically and instantly be made further down the line. Since every piece of the supply chain knows what the others are doing, the potential for bottlenecks is greatly diminished.
Technologies Used By Automated Warehouse Systems
Despite the advanced nature of automation warehouses, you may already be familiar with some of the technologies employed by warehouse automation companies. Radio frequency identification (RFID) has been around since 1983, and this technology is used to track items by bouncing radio signals from transmitters to receivers. Automated systems keep track of where each unit is, both in storage and in the movement of items from storage to shipping, using RFID.
Additionally, while automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) sounds fancy, this is the same technology that is used to scan barcodes, QR codes and other visual identifiers on packages.
AIDC also utilizes audio cues to identify targets during a scan, and this technology can also use biometric data to identify workers and visitors in a warehouse setting. Automated warehouse technology takes advantage of AIDC on a massive scale as scanning equipment can quickly read hundreds of items as they move past a scanner.
Where Is Warehouse Automation Heading?
Because automation has become the standard in larger warehouses across the world, smaller warehousing companies should take note. From a competitive standpoint, failing to implement warehouse machines and automated logistics solutions could soon create a competitive divide that will become too difficult to traverse. At the heart of this issue is the idea that smaller warehousing companies will find themselves so far behind that catching up will become an exercise in futility.
Fortunately, warehouse automation companies like Honeywell provide a range of material handling systems for warehouse management needs of different sizes. Likewise, startups like Fetch are supplying robot workers to pick items for medium-sized warehouse operations.
While there is an initial investment to be made in automated technology, the benefits in terms of customer fulfillment and efficient productivity are considered worth the cost in the long run.