How to Automate Warehouse Operations
Modern distribution usually utilizes a variety of technologies. Companies are not giving their operations managers more money to do less. On the contrary, they are required to do more with less.
Most warehouse managers understand that automating warehouse operations is one of the best ways to optimize a warehouse, reduce errors, improve efficiencies, and maximize labor hours. In modern, smart warehouses, robotics and RFID technologies are being used in conjunction with warehouse management systems (WMS) for tasks such as picking and sorting to data analysis and inventory management. But how does a company get started with these kinds of innovations?
It’s important for managers to maintain momentum while introducing new technologies that will benefit the organization. Partnering with a third party supplier can reduce the headaches of a large-scale roll-out by sourcing equipment, kitting, setting up the appropriate software and services, and deploying everything while letting the staff stay focused on day-to-day priorities. Look for a supplier who offers end-to-end solutions, including ongoing repair and service support to lessen any potential disruptions to warehouse operations.
Update Traditional Technology
The use of newer form factors like upright racking and wearable devices can help free up workers’ hands for other tasks, reduce the risk of dropping, and keep operations running seamlessly rather than using traditional pistol-grip devices. Likewise, voice-directed systems can allow for associates to be hands and eyes free, making them more productive and safe.
RFID is being used in several distribution centers and allows for quicker scanning of many items as well as an extra level of quality assurance when using RFID portals as trucks are loaded. RFID can be a great technology for cycle counts and physical inventories, which are the applications workers are most likely to spend the least amount of time on. Automated lockers, along with device management software, can help make sure devices are working and are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.
Adding Robots to the Mix
Utilizing staff members to manually pick, sort, and scan items in the warehouse can not only slow down processes but also increases the possibility of errors. Furthermore, employees have to physically walk an enormous amount around a warehouse to find items and manage inventory flow, which can be not only fatiguing but also time-consuming.
Robots are nothing new, but many warehouses have yet to incorporate them in their toolbox. Robots can automate manual processes, cutting the time it takes to find and select items significantly while increasing safety for workers who are dodging forklifts and other machinery when walking all over a distribution center. Furthermore, they can reduce human errors; consolidate multiple tasks into a single tool; and store data that helps keep track of inventory, employees, and other mission-critical information.
Picking represents anywhere from 50 to 65 percent of labor in a distribution center. Pickers are running from location to location, and there’s potential for a lot of manual labor — and therefore, the potential for automation. As workers go up and down aisles and from point to point, they can walk upward of 10 to 15 miles per day. That’s a significant chunk of labor hours just going from aisle to aisle and bin to bin to retrieve items.
There are several solutions to choose from. For example, Locus Robotics has a product specifically designed to streamline warehouse operations. LocusBots are collaborative, autonomous robots that automatically learn the most efficient route to take, find an item, and pick, increasing productivity two to three times over manual picking. It learns workers’ languages and interacts with each worker, and has an integrated scanner to confirm the appropriate product was picked.
Pricing has become much more affordable and user interfaces are simpler than they were several years ago, making these technologies achievable solutions for automating warehouse operations. Partnering with a third-party supplier that offers mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) options can help realize ROI faster while decreasing upfront costs even further.
A maintenance platform, such as TRG’s ServiceHub, can give insight into equipment repair schedules, letting managers know when it’s time for certain devices to go in for routine maintenance or the status of equipment out for repair. This can prevent downtime due to an untimely or unexpected maintenance issue.
Collectively, modern technology, a WMS and a third-party supplier that manages the roll-out and maintenance programs not only automate logistics for warehouses but ultimately help to realize ROI quickly.
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