Warehouse automation solutions assist with logistics tasks such as goods control, monitoring and handling. Implementing automated solutions in your facility ramps up productivity, reduces travel times and ensures uninterrupted operations. Process automation eliminates the risk of error due to manual management of operations and guarantees maximum reliability in moving loads between two or more areas of the building.
What’s warehouse automation?
Warehouse automation solutions employ the most advanced technology to optimise logistics processes such as goods receipt and dispatch, order picking and inventory management.
A company’s level of warehouse automation will depend on factors like its logistics needs, technical product specifications, the design of the different areas in its facility and its slotting criteria. Depending on the nature of your business, you can invest in partial automation, incorporating technology solutions in one or more parts of your warehouse. Alternatively, you can fully automate, replacing all manual management of goods with automatic operations.
What are the top warehouse automation solutions?
The market features multiple solutions for automating all kinds of logistics processes, from goods receipt to product dispatch. Here are some of the top technologies:
Automation of goods receipt and dispatch
Goods receipt is the first stage of product flows in a logistics facility. Companies often automate management of this operation to ensure strict control of inbound products as well as verify that suppliers have complied with purchase orders.
The main solutions for automating product receipt and dispatch are:
- Automatic truck loading and unloading systems: also known as automated truck loading systems (ATLS), this solution automates this operation, requiring minimal human intervention.
- Automated pallet inspection systems: these workstations, located at the entrance to an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), verify that inbound pallets meet handling requirements and won’t damage the AS/RS.
- Sorters: these automatic product sortation systems consist of conveyors that divert unit loads according to their destination.
When automating goods receipt, a logistics program such as a warehouse management system (WMS) plays a major role in coordinating the functions of the automatic equipment. For example, once the inspection system finds the pallet to be in good condition, the WMS directs the item to be stored, assigning it a location in the AS/RS.
Goods-to-person: intelligent movement of products
The goods-to-person picking method employs machines or robots to supply products to the pick stations. These automated solutions move the goods to the operator’s station, avoiding unnecessary travel in the facility.
Goods-to-person solutions include:
- Stacker cranes for pallets or boxes: this automatic handling equipment runs up and down the aisles of an AS/RS, depositing and removing goods from the racks. These machines streamline goods handling by performing combined cycles; i.e., when storing a pallet or box in the AS/RS, they leverage that movement by retrieving another unit load from the system.
- Conveyors for boxes or pallets: this internal goods transport system connects two or more areas of a warehouse. Conveyors automate the flow of pallets or boxes in the receiving area. They can even serve as accumulation channels for product loading or preloading operations.
- Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): this automatic handling equipment transfers unit loads between two or more areas of a facility without the need for a driver. These machines typically complement other automated storage and internal transport systems. They perform specific functions such as transporting heavy loads to the production lines.
- Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): this cutting-edge technology solution moves goods in the warehouse autonomously. AMRs incorporate cameras and state-of-the-art sensors to interpret their surroundings and transport products in an agile, safe way to the work areas where operators need them.
Solutions to automate picking
Order picking is one of the most complex logistics operations. Implementing solutions that facilitate picking tasks increases speed and accuracy in order processing. These are some of the most common solutions to automate picking:
- Pick-to-light: this order-fulfilment technology consists of the installation of numeric displays on shelf locations to guide operators as they perform picking. The light-up displays are controlled by the warehouse management software.
- Pick by voice: with this picking solution, operators receive voice commands via headsets connected to the WMS.
- Industrial robotic arms: these industrial robots increase the number of picks per hour. Robotic arms simulate the movements of a human arm, but they can handle heavier loads faster and without tiring.
The best warehouse automation solution for your facility
In a logistics environment where companies demand speed and precision in goods handling, process automation is an ideal solution for maximising the throughput of your logistics operations. Nevertheless, the degree of automation you need in your facility will hinge on your particular technical characteristics and logistics needs, the type of product handled and your facility’s layout.
At Mecalux, we have a wide range of warehouse automation solutions to streamline all kinds of operations. These include goods receipt, order shipment, storage and picking. Want to scale up your productivity in your facility? Be sure to get in touch so we can advise you on the best solution for your business.