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Automated Warehousing: Playbook for Introducing AI to Your Operation

In the eCommerce industry, businesses need to reduce their costs and streamline the distribution process if they want to succeed.

With the number of physical goods ordered online skyrocketing across the country, Amazon has raised the bar in terms of the delivery timeline and customer service.

Small delays in the supply chain or order fulfilment process could leave your customers dissatisfied.

That’s why around 42 percent of warehouses say they plan on investing in automation.

Instead of having your employees lift packages and containers by hand, use machines to simplify this process so your workers can focus on less physically demanding tasks.

Automation also makes your facility safer by limiting employee interaction. Reports show the coronavirus accelerates warehouse automation. Your workers won’t have to touch as many surfaces or interact in close spaces, thus limiting the chances of infection.

Overall, automation helps you focus on the bigger picture so you don’t get stuck analyzing small details. Many warehouses are also using artificial intelligence to gather data and enhance their operations.

Every order comes with a sea of data you can use to increase productivity. Learn about the benefits of IoT in manufacturing and use this playbook to introduce AI to your warehouse operations.

What Kind of Automation?

The first decision you’ll have to make is what kind of automation is right for your warehouse. There are generally two kinds of technology for you to choose from: process and physical automation.

Process Automation

Process automation usually refers to data and other important stats and key performance indicators. Your warehouse collects an endless stream of data, whether you utilize it or not. Process automation collects this data on your behalf so you can mine it for insights later.

This includes operations inside your warehouse as well as order and customer information. You can calculate and monitor how long it takes your employees to complete a certain task. Look for ways to speed up this process over time.

When it comes to your customers, learn about their tastes and preferences to better prepare for future orders. You can stock up on the right products to keep your inventory moving. If your customers tend to order the same item more than once, you can prepare packages before they click the “Buy Now” button.

Physical Automation

Physical automation usually means replacing a physical worker with a machine. The robot will then complete the physical task instead of the worker so they can focus on more sophisticated duties. Smart pickers and stockers usually come to mind.

These large machines will pick up and move items from the shelf to the loading dock automatically as soon as the order is received. This simplifies the picking and stocking process. Your workers won’t have to mess with forklifts or bend down to pick up packages.

You can also use conveyor belts to move your inventory across the facility and machines to prepare your packages for shipment. This reduces the chances of common mistakes and accidents that can lead to injury. It also limits the spread of foreign contaminants, including the deadly coronavirus.

Which Is Right for You?

Smaller warehouses tend to implement process automation. Every facility should collect data on its customers and operations. Use a warehouse management system to streamline the data collection process.

Even if you aren’t sure how to use it, you can refer to this information down the line. It’s also a good idea to keep records of your operations in case an item goes missing or your products never reach the end consumer.

Large warehouses and distribution centres tend to make use of physical automation. Managing that much inventory is just not feasible in many situations, especially if the facility contains hundreds of thousands of different SKUs. Workers could easily get lost in the aisles as they attempt to fulfil orders.

It’s usually best to have a machine do this work for you. You can retrieve a product in a fraction of the time it would take one of your workers. Smart sensors and scanners also reduce the chances of product damage. These machines apply a light touch to make sure your merchandise arrives at the loading dock intact.

Identify certain problem areas in your warehouse and create a set of performance goals. Are you looking to reduce your overhead expenses, or are you looking to improve order accuracy? Focus on what matters most to your customers and bring out meaningful change.

What About Cost?

Process automation tends to be much more affordable than physical automation. A warehouse management system costs much less than a robotic arm that physically moves your products from point A to point B.

If you’re looking to start small, process automation will be the right fit for your facility. You can start collecting data on your operations without investing in a massive piece of equipment. As time goes on, you can start to enhance other aspects of your operations based on the data.

Try to calculate the ROI of any investment. Don’t forget to include all the ways this technology will change your business, including reduced labour costs, improved customer service and better inventory management.

Other Ways to Improve Efficiency

If you decide automation is beyond your reach, there are lots of ways to increase efficiency without spending a fortune.

Use pallet containers to simplify the order fulfilment process. These lightweight, durable containers stack on top of each other for efficient product handling. The plastic pallet will keep your goods stable during transit. They are also completely reusable so you won’t have to spend as much on shipping.

When retrieving products from the shelf, use metal wire baskets to keep your inventory visible. Your workers will instantly recognize the contents and they won’t have to spend as much time sorting through different products on the shelf.

Warehouse automation is the future, but it’s not the right choice for every business. Keep these ideas in mind when comparing different solutions to the same problem.

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