A skilled labor shortage has afflicted the warehousing and fulfillment industry for several years, and the situation has been compounded and complicated by the influence of COVID-19. With the public increasingly reliant on ecommerce, warehouses and fulfillment centers struggle to stay competitive and meet fulfillment expectations.
Here are a few key automated material handling solutions that can help solve modern warehousing problems and pave a path to business growth. Each one plays a role in enabling 24/7 productivity, lowering labor costs, reducing manual processes and errors, and improving worker ergonomics and safety.
Automated guided vehicles, commonly referred to as AGVs or self-guided vehicles, perform key roles in inbound and outbound handling. Warehouses and fulfillment centers use them to move inventory from receiving to storage, and from long-term storage to picking areas. Available in many different sizes, types, and navigation options, AGV solutions are ready for nearly every inventory type, regardless of dimensions and weights:
● Pallet transport AGVs operate as driverless forklifts, freeing employees from repetitive tasks and reducing product damage.
● Case or tote transport AGVs are ideal for carrying lighter loads between processes and to and from pick stations, improving productivity and increasing throughput capacity.
● Cold storage AGVs transport materials in chilled or refrigerated environments, allowing employees to spend less time working in uncomfortably low temperatures.
AGVs possess a few key advantages over other conveyance solutions. They use less space than conveyors, are energy efficient, can be changed or reprogrammed to different routes as your business changes, and they include smart safety features to improve ergonomics and reduce hazards.
Warehouses buried in increasing SKUs need a way to maximize floor space and still maintain easy access to inventory. Highly configurable AS/RS technology optimizes storage space, reduces picking time, minimizes manual processes, and allows greater inventory control. AS/RS base models support different load sizes, maximum heights, and load types, including:
● Pallet storage AS/RS support storage of heavy unit loads, maximizing use of available floor and vertical space.
● Case and tote storage AS/RS support storage of a large number of SKUs, optimizing the sequencing process and delivering products directly to pick stations.
● Shuttle-based storage AS/RS are ideal for storing and retrieving goods without error, speeding up fulfillment for high-throughput applications with lower SKU counts.
AS/RS systems can support a wide variety of materials and goods and can operate in different facility types and conditions. This is particularly advantageous for the cold supply chain, because AS/RS solutions alleviate personnel from having to work in frigid environments. Less human intervention in the storage area also helps refrigeration systems operate more efficiently.
Sorting and sequencing are often highly manual processes, requiring the workforce to perform time-consuming physically repetitive tasks. The time workers spend walking through warehouses can account for more than 50% of total picking time, especially with multi-item, small lot, and high-frequency picking.
Automation makes workers more productive and reduces the overall need for human intervention. Automated sorting and sequencing typically involves AS/RS and a delivery solution working together, automating the carriage of goods in between processes, or from storage to personnel.
● AS/RS + rail-guided vehicles (RGVs) provide high-speed sorting for complex pallet handling systems, ideal for rapidly transporting heavy loads between processes.
● AS/RS + case sorting vehicles increase productivity by automatically moving products to personnel. In conjunction with a mini-load AS/RS, rail-guided case transport systems such as the Muratec Shuttliner are ideal for delivering caseloads directly to operators for picking.
● AS/RS + AGVs can also transport goods to personnel or in between processes, ideal for flexible travel paths and confined spaces.
Automation at the picking level supports your current workforce and empowers their full value and productivity. It can also improve inventory tracking, increase order accuracy, and decrease cycle times.
For maximum return on investments, automation equipment must often be integrated into larger systems and designed with flexibility for future growth. To ensure success and reliability, partner with an automation provider experienced in system customization and long-term servicing.
If the automated system is going to be used alongside pre-existing equipment, ease of installation can make a dramatic impact on the amount of downtime required for the upgrade and integration process. All of the previously mentioned automated systems can be customized to support existing facilities’ unique processes and space considerations. An experienced automation provider can also accommodate the need to balance automation costs and productivity, ensuring minimum downtime and maximum investment value.