Ecommerce stores warehouse

Autonomous solutions for the modern warehouse

At the height of a global pandemic, an e-commerce boom and a national labor crisis, warehouses and their workforce have been hit hard. The pandemic has led one in three employees not to want to do work that requires them to be on site full time. On top of that, warehouse managers struggle to keep people tired from walking 5-10 miles a day and suffering from health issues like degenerative musculoskeletal injuries.

It is obvious that changes need to be made and luckily the industry is moving in the right direction. Warehouses of all types – manufacturing, storage, execution – are on the road to automation. And, for those who are not, the question is not “if” but “when?” “Ultimately, the goal is to have the ability to automate all tasks remotely in an operation often called” lighting the warehouses “. In this model, robots perform all repetitive tasks by rote while humans can supervise these tasks by providing more complex and problem-solving skill sets.

The path to these dark warehouses is different for almost any business. They will move at different speeds, and some may leap forward.

Let’s start at the beginning of the automation path and take a look at the main phases that a fulfillment warehouse will go through early in the process.

  1. Warehouse without help. Here, no automation. All the work is done manually and at its most basic level using pencil and paper. There is probably a limited warehouse management system (WMS) in place to manage inventory, but all material handling is done by unaided people. Employees must spend the majority of their shifts traveling long distances and pushing heavy carts to pick up inventory as part of the order fulfillment process. Conventional industry wisdom says that 80% of warehouses still operate in this mode without any automation to help them achieve efficiencies.

2. Warehouse assisted. This is where you still have the same staff doing the same handling tasks as in the unassisted phase, but get some smart tips. They are oriented on the paths they take and the sequence of tasks by software that calculates more efficient movements. They are given specific instructions on where to go and what to choose or place.

The software calculates directions and employees are guided by pick-to-light, pick-to-voice or pick-to-color tools. The efficiencies they realize come from strategically allocating inventory to locations, and people don’t waste as much time walking the paths in the warehouse. However, employees are still required to do a significant amount of walking.

3. Expanded warehouse. The number of people needed in the increased warehouse can be reduced. The increased efficiency added in the assisted warehouse is now enhanced by the use of robots to perform certain execution tasks. This is where Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) are introduced which can automate the rolling of control carriages in a facility.

Employees still have to follow a path through the warehouse to pick up or place the goods, but they have a robot that guides them and transports the goods. This improves the efficiency of trip planning and alleviates some of the physical burden on people who no longer have to pull heavy order trolleys.

4. Warehouse without steps. Here, robots can perform many more tasks remotely, including fully automated retrieval and stowage of goods. Employees can be more productive because they can focus on sorting and packaging the products picked up by the robots. People no longer spend hours of their day walking the aisles, an activity that typically takes up 50% of their shifts in warehouses unassisted, assisted, or augmented.

The robots bring in a large amount of SKUs, then ask people to select the number of items needed for an order. People continue to do fine handling of goods, which is difficult for robots to do. This relieves a lot of physical burden on the employees and also increases the accuracy rates. The risk of human error is reduced when robots are responsible for retrieving and storing goods.

5. Contactless warehouse. Automation systems are integrated to extend to all operations in a contactless warehouse. You can have AMRs that pick up bulk goods to take to a robotic arm that does fine handling, then places a product on a conveyor belt to go to the end of the line. This eliminates the need for people to walk or touch the produce during the picking and storing process.

It also saves people from having to walk and work in the middle of the automation equipment. There is simply a transfer to the final pack. People can perform tasks that require more decision making than repetitive physical tasks, and robots perform physical tasks by rote with machine precision and eliminate errors made by human error.

6. Autonomous or “lights off”. “It’s a distant sight, but the warehouse lights out epitomizes the ultimate level of warehouse automation. Multiple automation systems would be integrated to function as one and create a continuous flow of goods through the warehouse. warehouse. From inbound and reverse logistics to outbound orders and at all intermediate points, machines would execute every movement with precision. Automated systems would operate continuously – no more shifts, training or assignment and management of Workforce.

Self-supporting warehouses eliminate the need for on-site operators. For example, people who drove forklifts could control them remotely from the comfort of their own homes. They would have full mobile access and visibility, allowing them to monitor and take action when needed.

Most tasks would be performed autonomously, and these systems would self-correct and self-heal. When a problem arises, the software and the machines running on it would be able to identify it and implement a remedy without human intervention. The systems would be designed with enough intelligence to have datasets that can be referenced to assess and solve problems.

These warehouses would also change the role of managers. They would no longer be absorbed in personnel issues – hiring, training, managing temp, assignments, removing bottlenecks and solving problems. Managers would simply oversee operations, and it can be done from anywhere as they don’t need to be in the facility. Ideally, they could be on a beach or hang out with their families, as long as they have internet access.

The future is therefore bright on the path to warehouse automation. The innovation seen in space over the past few years has given companies many options to choose from when creating their plan. This level of flexibility allows everyone to grow at their own pace and find the right technology to support their existing employees and the growth of their business.

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