Warehouse automation: the best in trends and innovations
Automation is transforming our world. From programmable coffee makers, to self-driving cars, to tools that help companies make complex hiring decisions, automated systems have made life faster, cheaper and more efficient. Warehouse automation, in particular, is moving to the forefront of how we will buy goods and services in the future.
Automated warehousing systems improve reliability and efficiency for companies that track enormous inventories and move goods at high speeds. As demand for quicker, better production continues, such systems impart a competitive advantage to manufacturers, and smart business owners would do well to keep an eye on the latest improvements.
Here are a few of the hottest innovations:Cutting-edge robotics
Companies everywhere now rely on robots to improve logistics and increase production. Online orders that once took hours can now be filled in just minutes. Machines can help design and sort through products to prepare them for delivery and streamline the process for fetching merchandise for customers’ online orders.
Adidas operates robot-staffed manufacturing facilities to design and quickly produce custom running shoes. By partnering with 3D printing company Carbon, Adidas has developed a mass production process for creating midsole geometries with 3D printable materials to produce shoes that meet unique customer needs. The result? The customer’s new Speedfactory in Atlanta is completely automated and can get shoes to market three times faster than by traditional means. Adidas says it hopes its factories will produce 1 million pairs of shoes by 2020.
Amazon began rolling out robots to its warehouses in 2014 using machines developed by Kiva Systems. These automated guided vehicles (AGVs) move around the warehouse through a maze of thousands of storage units – shelves crammed with a random assortment of items. When a robot finds its storage unit, it glides underneath, lifts it up and then delivers it to a worker. These robots haven’t simply slashed labor costs. Since 2014, Amazon has hired 50,000 workers at its warehouse facilities, and added 30,000 robots to work with them, according to PwC.
Brewing company Carlsberg also improved its warehouse productivity with laser guided vehicles. At its production and storage facility in Sweden, Carlsberg has phased in fully automated full-pallet processes alongside manual picking and consolidation of mixed and part-pallet orders. As a bonus, the change took place with little downtime or disruption to the production or warehousing operations.Warehouse design
To accommodate AGVs and other robots, companies have had to re-think the design and layout of their warehouses. Efficiency is key, and products must be stored in containers that machines can easily lift and move from one point to another. These bins and boxes must be placed on and removed from shelves that are readily accessible to the robots. As a result, engineers have created ingenious systems of racks and shelving that seamlessly integrate with the design of the robots themselves. Warehouse operations are seeing improved speed and mobility, and companies are enjoying greater productivity.Product traceability
Online shopping has created demand among consumers for improved transparency in tracking the products they purchase. A simple email confirmation that an order has been placed is no longer sufficient; many customers want updates on the availability, estimated delivery date and location of the item while it is en route. At the warehouse end, manufacturers are developing systems to trace the product’s location up to the moment it is shipped. One way to do this is by employing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on shelved items. The tags provide end-to-end tracking that lets warehouse managers communicate accurate information on the retrieval and shipping process to the customer.
As consumers continue to desire ever-faster delivery and consumption of products, warehouse automation will evolve and become more efficient and cost-effective in the years to come.