Making Warehouse Automation Affordable & Productive

Many manual warehousing, distribution and fulfillment operations hesitate to invest in automation to help address their labor challenges, assuming that the expense will put these solutions beyond their reach. But that assumption doesn’t apply to every system within the automation spectrum. In fact, there are a few well-proven, affordable automated solutions available in the market that quickly deliver an increase in labor productivity and efficiency, thereby significantly shortening their return on investment (ROI) period.

 

Before we explore those options, let’s first review some of the signs that it’s time to transition at least part of a manual operation into an automated solution:

3 Reasons Warehouse Operations Should Be Automated

  • A shortage of available labor. With the pre-COVID-19 unemployment rates hovering around 2-3 percent nationally, it has been difficult to attract and retain warehouse employees. Many facilities also struggle with high absenteeism rates among their workforce, leading to throughput inconsistencies. The associated costs of recruiting, hiring and training workers who ultimately don’t pan out can be as much as 150% of their salary.
  • An increase in overtime. With fewer available workers (and employees who don’t consistently show up), the associates who are onsite are often asked to work additional hours at higher wages in order to keep up with the work.
  • Missed shipping deadlines. Without adequate staffing, it’s challenging to meet customers’ service level agreements (SLAs). Not receiving their order on time can not only anger them, a recent survey found that as a result of poor customer service, 37% would change suppliers; 28% would post a negative online review; and 26% would complain via social media.
  • The addition of another shift. To avoid overtime and prevent missed shipping deadlines, many operations add a second (or third) shift, doubling or tripling their labor costs.

 

If your manual warehousing operation is experiencing these labor-related issues, then it’s time to consider a foray into affordable automation. There are three automated solutions that fall on the lower end of the expense spectrum that directly address these labor challenges: Motorized transport conveyor systems, Warehouse Design incorporating light-directed putwalls, and simple sortation systems.

 

A Modern Conveyor Design used to improve Material Handling Systems within Hi-Tech Warehouse Operations

 

3 Warehouse Automation Systems That Will Not Break The Bank

 

Motorized Transport Conveyor Systems

 

Simple, motor-driven roller (MDR) transport conveyor that moves items from point A to point B eliminates worker travel time as they move through a facility performing various tasks. Research has found that workers spend up to 70% of their time walking around, transporting goods from receiving to storage, walking up and down aisles to pick products, pushing carts from picking to packing, and so on. By assigning them to specific areas (or zones) within a facility where they pick required items then place them on a conveyor to carry the items off to packing automatically cuts worker travel time significantly. Instead of walking, associates spend more time on picking, making them more productive. Additionally, MDR conveyor powers specific sections of the equipment as needed, reducing energy consumption, minimizing wear and associated downtime for maintenance and repair, and running at low noise levels. All of these benefits further contribute to cost savings calculations.

 

Warehouse Design Incorporating Light-Directed Putwalls

 

Equipped with small modules that illuminate with a combination of lights, numbers, and arrows, putwalls are a series of divided shelves. Each opening typically represents a unique order; when an operator scans the barcode of an item, all the modules mounted above the cubby positions whose orders that require that item light up to direct the placement and quantity of that pick. Often implemented in conjunction with transport conveyor, putwalls allow an operation to utilize different picking strategies such as wave picking, where multiples of the same item required for several orders are picked simultaneously, then separated into discrete orders. With a light-directed putwall, a single operator can fill as many as 20 orders at one time while remaining in one area, saving time. With the light modules, an associate no longer has to read packing lists to match picks to orders, also bolstering productivity. Putwalls are often mounted on casters, allowing them to be easily added or removed from a packing zone as needed.

 

Warehouse Operations with Simple Sortation Systems

 

Ideal for sorting anything from 1,000 to 8,000 units per hour, simple sorters such as push-tray (with integrated bars that push a load off to the side) or bomb-bay (with a base that splits in the middle and swings open to drop the load down) styles can also be among the most cost-effective for warehouse operations. Both sorters readily accommodate products in a variety of dimensions, shapes and weights; both can be easily expanded into additional areas within a facility as an operation’s needs change. Utilizing one of these systems within your material handling solutions can dramatically improve productivity by automatically sorting items into discrete orders, allowing workers who previously sorted these items by hand to be reallocated to other tasks.

 

We’d love to talk with you about applying one or more of these affordable automation solutions to your operation to increase your workforce’s productivity. Want to learn more about how DCS can help your operation? Connect with us.

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AUTHOR:

Satyen Pathak, Account Executive, satyen@designedconveyor.com

As an SME in material handling, Satyen has an extensive background in creating solutions for the retail/e-comm, Parcel, Post, and baggage handling market verticals. He has worn several hats including Product Management, Applications Engineer, Technical support and most recently as an Account Executive with DCS. Satyen has conducted numerous educational speaking engagements and has sat on committees for MHI providing directional insight for the industry.