Warehouse automation, or the implementation of computer software and machinery in a distribution center, is a great way to improve efficiency throughout the entire facility. By automating the procedures involved in product distribution, the center will drastically reduce the manual handling of products, thereby virtually eliminating human error. Not only can this lower overhead costs, but it will also speed up the whole system.
Depending on the needs of the distribution center, the entire scheme can be automated or just one or two components may be. There are three basic types of automation that can be used on their own or combined throughout the facility.
Automated Conveyor And Sorting Systems
A simple conveyor belt arrangement transports products throughout the warehouse. Automation of the conveyor system means that employees no longer have to physically transport goods through the center. Products may simply be placed on the conveyor belt, which carries them to where they need to go.
A sorting system is similar to a simple conveyor, but with higher capacity and the ability to direct containers to specific locations. An automatic sorting method is typically used to direct high volumes of smaller containers to several different locations.
Automated Storage And Retrieval Systems
An automatic storage and retrieval system, or ASRS, may almost be viewed as a large-scale vending machine. Comprised of several different computer-controlled processes, this arrangement uses machines to deposit goods in their designated locations, then, when it is time to ship them out, to retrieve the items, place them on a conveyor belt, and transport them to the shipping docks.
An ASRS will also keep track of inventory, reducing the need for manual counting and saving even more time and money.
Automated Picking Systems
With a voice-directed picking or pick to light system, order picking becomes vastly more efficient. Rather than relying on a paper printout of which items are required, the system will tell the pickers exactly where to go and how many items to retrieve.
A voice-directed process utilizes handheld units connected to headphones. The units use voice technology to literally tell the picker where the required goods are located as well as the amount to pick. The day’s orders can be downloaded onto the unit at the beginning of each shift and organized by department.
With a pick to light system, a special module is attached to each storage location. When an item at that location is required, the light will turn on, attracting attention to that area. The module will also display how many units of that item are required. Once the required amount has been picked, the picker will confirm that the task has been done by pressing the appropriate button on the module. This is regarded as one of the fastest and most efficient picking systems available.
A Smarter Warehouse: Automation Is The Wave Of The Future
Though it may seem like an intimidating process, warehouse automation is a great improvement to any distribution center. By using computerized programs, human error is reduced drastically and the entire facility can run faster and more efficiently. By reducing time spent on order fulfillment as well as cutting down on waste of both time and materials, warehouse automation is truly a great benefit.