Complete guide to warehouse automation

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So you have recently seen Alibaba’s automated warehouse and are thinking of implementing the system in your businesses’ warehouse too? Well, be ready to be disappointed as making such a setup will cost you hundreds of thousands and who knows might break some copyright regulations.

For small to medium ventures who want to introduce automated warehouse systems in their business, the process is not that tedious and is easily achievable by following some guidelines. And here, we have outlined some possible steps that you can take to accomplish complete automation, but before you must sort out some stuff to optimize better integration of the systems.

Cleaning up

Before you go on, clean up your warehouse. Check for any unused spaces, fill it up first. Re-organize your inventory to keep the most in-demand items closer to shipping lanes to make the process faster. Then, locate the areas that are creating a need for automation. If there is an area where it’s taking the workers a long time to reach and bring stuff, then you need to optimize it and make it faster by doing the suitable thing. Removing the unsold goods, this will ensure that you have the maximum utilization of your space.

Why automate?

There could be various reasons why you need to automate your warehouse. One possible reason is that you need to keep up with the advancement in technology and not be left behind. But in business, one must always not make decisions based on emotions. Instead, they should try to focus more on making the market efficient. Find things that are reducing efficiencies, like a worker failing to enter the correct data on the system or the time and judgment a worker takes to pick and sort items from the warehouse shelves — a couple of things that need improvement.

Data Entry and Inventory handling

The data entry operator in the warehouse can make lots of mistakes and be inefficient sometimes. Doing this leads to loss of time for the business, and hence money and efficiency. What could done to counter this problem is to integrate each item with a barcode label.

The process will require one-time intensive labeling of all the product details, and entering their related information on the computer will be time-consuming, but will save you plenty of time and money in the future. Afterward, all that will need to do is scanning the items with a barcode reader once to complete multiple tasks, such as marking an item as sold or bringing in new inventory.

Integrating this with the right software solutions will increase efficiency in even more areas such as tracking of inventory. If data stored on the computer, it will automatically tell you when to re-stock the warehouse once at the minimum threshold numbers.

The software will also ensure that which sector of the warehouse needs to be prioritized and assign workers automatically over there.

Automating the storage and retrieval system

That is by far the best system you could implement in the warehouse to boost the business’s efficiency and profitability.

It consists of machines and robotic hands that move up and down the shelves and sort, move, picks, and place your inventory. It also provides tracking of items, and when something finished, sends alerts to re-stock the shelves.

Implementing this will be expensive and may take some time to give a return depending on the size of your business. Research shows that these systems will pay back in 3 to 5 years on average and last for around 30 years.

But the most attractive advantage of implementing this is the reduction in labor costs. The machines will replace most labor, and hence saving you plenty of expenses. It can work in all conditions, whether its raining or some other natural calamity, your business will continue to run. There are fewer safety concerns to be kept in mind. As no or very fewer humans are involved, hence saving the company a lot in worker’s safety.

Hardware and Software requirements to implement automated systems

The most common types of systems are out there all contain some Hardware, that has its accompanying software solution.

Let’s start with the Warehouse Management System (WMS). It allows you to manage different aspects of the warehouse. Inventory flow, making sure it reaches the distribution center or vice versa. Or it is assigning the labor to various tasks according to the need in different sections.

The next solution to talk about is the Warehouse Control System (WCS). This system enables you to manage all the control flow of items from the shelves to the conveyor belts. It is a very sophisticated system that communicates with many different checkpoints in the control flow using its algorithms.

The last one is the integration of the Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Warehouse Control System (WCS) into one compact solution, the Warehouse Execution System (WES). It primarily made for small ventures that have small warehouses and should not require more complex and advanced solutions. It compromises of inventory control, picking goods and shipping them.

Which system you need for your business depends on the complexity involved and the size of your business. If you have a sophisticated large warehouse flow, then perhaps WMS and WCS would be the best choice. But if you need something for a small business operation, then the integrated WES would be the best bet.

Equipment

At last, when you have made a decision for which system to implement, there is equipment that you need to buy to finalize the process altogether. You will need to purchase computer systems, barcode scanners to implement the data entry systems. Then you will need label printers to print the barcode containing labels. You will also need some tablet computers to manage the operations on foot, and track what is going on. The list for the types of equipment goes on, but what is needed depends on different situations.

Summing it all off

Lastly, whatever system you choose, be sure to recognize the needs and make suitable arrangements for the system to be successfully implemented. If you are unsure about the need or want some expert advice, then make sure you consult someone who has already done it to make a better decision and choice for the automation system. Lastly, choose something that is trusted, and always remember, when you implement an already built system, chances are the software may not work according to your needs. And you will be compelled to hire a custom software engineering team to customize it based on your needs. Warehouse automation made easy to stop leakage or theft issue.

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