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Warehouse Automation Solutions.
A skilled labor shortage has afflicted the logistics industry for several years. The warehouse labor shortage in 2020 has been compounded and complicated by COVID-19, which has made the public increasingly reliant on ecommerce. When labor shortages prevent businesses from meeting order fulfillment expectations, operations leaders look to warehouse automation.
Here are a few key automated material handling solutions for transport, storage, and picking that can overcome modern challenges 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.
1. Transport: Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Automated guided vehicles, commonly referred to as AGVs or self-guided vehicles, perform key roles in inbound and outbound handling. Warehouses and distribution centers use them to move inventory from receiving to storage, and from long-term storage to picking and shipping areas. Available in many different sizes, types, and navigation options, AGV solutions are ready for nearly every inventory type, regardless of dimensions, weights, and temperatures:
- Pallet transport AGVs, also known as fork-style 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 include safety features for better ergonomics and hazard reduction. Muratec AGVs offer multiple navigation options, including basic tape-guidance as well as the smart self-guided Premex XIO model, which is equipped with a high precision safety laser scanner to detect and respond to obstacles in its travel path.
2. Storage: Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
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. Explore high-rise AS/RS solutions.
- 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. Explore goods-to-person (G2P) AS/RS solutions.
- 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. Explore shuttle AS/RS solutions.
AS/RS systems support a wide variety of materials and goods storage and can operate in different facility types and conditions, including cold storage. In cold supply chain handling, AS/RS solutions alleviate personnel from having to work in frigid environments and allow refrigeration systems to operate more efficiently.
3. Picking: Automated Sorting & Sequencing
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 an AS/RS and a transport 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 reduce cycle times. Explore more automated material handling solutions.
Additional Considerations for Warehouse Automation Success
For maximum return on investments, automated material handling equipment is often integrated into larger systems and designed with flexibility for future growth. To ensure success and reliability, consider partnering with an integrator and automation providers 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 accommodates the need to balance automation costs and productivity, minimizing downtime and maximizing investment value.
Do you have more questions about which warehouse automation solutions will best tackle your labor shortage challenges? Contact the Muratec experts.