Processes that can be automated in logistics
Logistics automation involves the use of technologies that boost warehouse efficiency. Processes that can be automated range from goods receipt and order fulfillment to stock control and order dispatch.
Automated warehouses are equipped with handling equipment such as stacker cranes and conveyors to optimise the different processes carried out in logistics facilities.
Which processes can be automated in logistics?
Automation is an ally for businesses that want to improve their service, cut delivery times, increase the number of shipments, avoid stockouts, and anticipate changes in demand, among other objectives. Let’s take a look at processes that tend to be automated in logistics:
In-warehouse movements of goods
Logistics encompasses a multitude of product movements, i.e., goods receipt, order preparation and dispatch, and deliveries to customers.
One way to automate movements of products is by installing a conveyor system. This comprises a set of elements that move, accumulate, and distribute goods to specific areas as required by logistics operations (from one logistics facility to another, from production to the warehouse, or between different areas in a single facility).
We can find this type of automated solution in the warehouse of Tadım in Turkey. This retailer of nuts and dried fruit employed pallet conveyor systems from the Mecalux Group to automatically connect its warehouse with production. This solution has increased flows of goods movements, which was essential for the company to cope with the high demand for its products. “Connecting the warehouse and production by means of conveyors has raised the number of daily goods receipts by 73%,” says Kemal Güler, Logistics Manager at Tadım.
The storage of products can also be automated using machines such as stacker cranes (AS/RS) for pallets or boxes. These machines move horizontally and vertically in the aisles to move, store, and retrieve products from their locations.
Businesses that manage small items can automate management of their goods with miniload systems (AS/RS for boxes). This solution speeds up order picking. The miniload automates the insertion and extraction of boxes from the racks, subsequently placing them on conveyors that deliver them to the pick stations, where operators prepare orders. “The miniload warehouse has brought us huge benefits, among which I would stress error reduction and a notable increase in throughput. Now, we can carry out all our tasks more quickly,” says Francis Deneckere, Operations Manager at TAL, a Belgian manufacturer of high-quality lighting systems.
Truck loading and unloading
The truck loading and unloading process can be automated with automatic truck loading systems (ATLS).. This solution inserts and extracts pallets from trucks with minimal human intervention.
One example of a business that has automated truck loading and unloading is Grupo Siro, one of Spain’s largest producers of cookies, pasta, pastries, and cereals. The flow of movements in its warehouse is intense and continuous, so the company has implemented an ATLS to load and unload goods from the delivery trucks more quickly.
Inbound inspection checkpoint
Goods receipt is a key operation in logistics. As a general rule, products that arrive at automated warehouses go through a checkpoint to ensure that the goods meet the requirements established for their storage on the racks.
The inspection of inbound goods can be automated with conveyors and with automatic pallet checking and gauging systems. Automated quality control consists of a station located at the beginning of a conveyor line that validates products: it checks the dimensions and stability of the goods, verifies the status of the pallet, weighs the items, and reads their barcodes to check that no mistakes have been made.
The goods inspection process is fundamental for Mega Pharma, one of Uruguay’s leading pharmaceutical companies. This organisation’s priority is to ensure that its stock is managed properly. Mega Pharma has set up a wide receiving area where the status of its goods is verified. Pallets containing raw materials also undergo inspection, in three isolated cabins where operators evaluate the characteristics of the products.
Order processing is one of the operations with the greatest impact on business productivity. When picking is done manually, operators have to travel around the warehouse to locate the SKUs they need to complete each order. However — as automation is synonymous with optimisation — with automated systems, operators can ramp up their throughput when preparing and dispatching orders. One of the most efficient ways to prepare orders is by means of the goods-to-person method, whereby goods are brought to the operators via automated systems such as stacker cranes and conveyors.
Multinational company Porcelanosa, for example, prepares a large number of orders a day at its logistics complex in Spain. To facilitate the work of the operators, the company created a picking area for preparing orders according to goods-to-person. To handle heavier loads, it installed industrial robotic arms that help to enhance picking performance.
Control and management
Two central logistics operations are inventory control and the organisation of operations performed in the warehouse. This process can be automated with the help of a warehouse management system such as Easy WMS from Mecalux.
With logistics software, businesses can know the exact status of their stock and optimise the ways in which operations are carried out. Using RF scanners, operators follow instructions from the software, increasing their speed and preventing them from making mistakes.
Digitization, for example, has brought considerable benefits for Intersurgical, a designer, manufacturer, and supplier of medical devices for respiratory support. In its automated warehouse in Lithuania, the business has implemented Easy WMS from our company to more accurately control the traceability of its products. “We’re happy to say that, in a matter of very little time, we now have better control over all our logistics processes. This will be crucial in the future as our business grows. Our aim is to maintain this centre as our main global distribution hub,” says Martynas Tamosiunas, Group Supply Chain Manager at Intersurgical.
Why automate logistics processes?
Implementing automated solutions in processes that can be automated in logistics has become a strategic decision for many organisations. Automatic handling equipment performs tasks such as picking, conveying, and storage rapidly and safely.
Through process automation, companies look to eliminate errors deriving from manual management of goods. Likewise, businesses with a high rate of movements in their warehouses invest in automation to ensure constant product flows. How do they do this? By implementing automated solutions such as conveyors and stacker cranes, which work 24/7.
Even companies that store their products at subzero temps automate their logistics processes with the same goal in mind: to step up throughput. One of the main reasons is that automation with stacker cranes and conveyors facilitates the management of goods kept at frozen temps, raising the number of cycles.
When to automate a warehouse
Logistics automation is generally applied to repetitive tasks like truck loading and unloading, storage, and movements of products. These are some needs that could motivate an organisation to automate its warehouse:
- Accelerate processes. Over the past few years — especially with the rise of ecommerce — logistics has undergone a transformation characterized by shorter and shorter delivery time windows. Companies that want to minimize their order lead times while reducing their margin of error could turn to automation to speed up processes.
- Manage a growing number of orders. Automation could also significantly improve picking in warehouses that manage large numbers of orders. Machines organise the products strategically to facilitate storage and picking tasks.
- Cope with business changes. From expanding storage capacity to increasing the number of orders, companies can automate their logistics processes to enhance flexibility in their supply chains.
- Leverage storage space. Businesses with limited warehousing space can automate their processes to maximize their available space. For example, automatic machines such as stacker cranes can operate in narrower aisles than manually operated forklifts.
Processes that can be automated: more efficient logistics
Automated processes can ramp up productivity and streamline storage tasks. Handling equipment such as conveyors and stacker cranes can improve efficiency in the supply chains of companies from all sectors.
Considering automating your logistics operations? Don’t hesitate to contact us — we’ll show you how it’s done. At Mecalux, we have extensive experience in setting up warehouses that have helped companies to boost their business.