When to Implement Warehouse Automation

Does your current warehouse or distribution center have an order fulfillment process that requires repetitive time-consuming or task-oriented processes? What about lengthy walking distances for order pickers to retrieve orders? If this sounds like your current warehouse, it may be time to consider implementing automation.

Automation aids in warehouse optimization. Automation not only increases picking accuracy but also frees up workers from those repetitive tasks which can improve employee productivity.

How to Evaluate if Your Operation Will Benefit from Automation

Effectively adding automation into your warehouse or distribution center starts with an analysis of your product storage and picking and staging characteristics.

When deciding if automation is right for you, it’s crucial to calculate your warehouse’s inventory, processes, and growth levels by SKU. Identifying certain characteristics of your inventory and processes will allow you to pinpoint where in your operation that could benefit from a faster, more automated process.

Things to be considered include:

  • Do the products require special material handling equipment operated by an employee? If so, automation can speed up the handling of these products and free up that employee for other functions within the distribution center.
  • Does your inventory require separate picking and staging zones because of varying weight and shape? These areas can be separate but should work together harmoniously. If there’s a lag in one of these areas, including the ‘in-between’ area of getting the products from picking to staging, then you are wasting valuable time and energy. Adding automation can make a dramatic difference in this case.
  • Would you benefit from increased order accuracy? Using automated picking systems, you may see pick rates improve over 30% as well as an impressive reduction in picking errors of up to 60%.
  • Do your employees spend a large amount of time simply traveling to and from pick locations? Automated systems, including good-to-person solutions, can dramatically increase pick rates by bringing the product to them vs. them traveling to the pick location.

Begin Automating Your Warehouse

Once you’ve identified optimal points of automation within your operation, you can then focus on which type(s) of automation will be most beneficial. There are many to consider, read below to learn more about some of the most used warehouse automation types.

Automation Solutions: Picking Systems

Picking can be categorized under split case order picking and full case order picking.

Split Case Picking Systems

Split case picking, or piece picking requires products to be individually picked or handled. Split case picking operations typically have a larger SKU base and higher circulation.

Pick-To-Light Automation

Lighted picking systems use pick to light and put to light technology in conjunction with carton flow systems to improve order accuracy and picking speeds. In lighted picking systems, each order or item location is assigned a lighted numeric or alphanumeric display.

Pick to Light systems are comprised of lighted displays attached to the pick face of each SKU. Pickers can scan bar codes to be directed to the item location. Pick to light systems are ideal for distribution centers that have a team-based approach to order fulfillment, like zone picking.

Put-To-Light AutomationIn a similar manner, put to light systems are meant for putting stock into an order to complete it. The operator will scan the item being stocked, and a flashing light shows the operator which container(s) that requires the item and the quantity needed. Put to light systems let operators efficiently fulfill orders in a bulk format.

Full Case Picking Systems

Pallet Runner Automation

Full case picking involves picking full cases or pallets. Pallet runners are semi-automated deep lane storage that delivers the product via cart that runs on a track within the racking system. The carts can be outfitted to suit a wide variety of pallet designs. The pallet runner can deliver the product at a higher rate and provide more density than typical drive-in racking.

Automation Solutions: Conveyors 

Conveyors allow for products to move from location to location within your warehouse. They are especially useful when it comes to the transportation of heavy or bulky materials or sorting items for staging. It is important to find the correct conveyor type for your warehouse or distribution center needs. There are three types of conveyors to consider – transportation, accumulation, and sortation.

Conveyor through Selective RackTransportation conveyors move pallets or cartons from point A to point B. Transportation conveyor options are available to accommodate requirements such as desired speed and product handling procedures.

Accumulation conveyors move loads from point A to point B, allowing them to accumulate when necessary to allow time for equipment or other material handling resources to become available down the line.

Sortation conveyors are used to direct products from one conveyor line to another. These conveyors integrate an induction system; system merges and sortation divert. These are tailored to each operation to properly identify, track and transport products to expedite the order fulfillment process.

Where Should You Start?

Automating your warehouse or distribution center can be a big undertaking and it’s important to find the best solution for your needs. Fill out the ‘Submit Your Inquiry’ Form to get in touch with our industry experts, who can help answer questions regarding how to incorporate automation in your existing space and provide you solutions best suited for your product storage and picking requirements.

Still need to research further?

To learn more about conveyor options and applications, read our Move Your Operation to Success article.

For more information regarding lighted picking systems for split case picking solutions, read our Lighted Picking Systems article.

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