10 Trends in Warehouse Automation & Management in 2020
The economy is growing stronger, with reports about more jobs being added every month. What those numbers don’t show, however, is that the warehouse and manufacturing industries are struggling to fill jobs on a daily basis. This negatively impacts operations, productions and ultimately their bottom line.
However, many companies are discovering an important solution to labor challenges — as well as to a wide range of other common warehouse challenges — thanks to ongoing advances in robotics and automation.
Though workers may worry that automated systems or warehouse robots will replace them on the job, the addition of automated systems in warehousing and manufacturing will actually improve the lives and jobs of everyone who works there — from the laborers to the foreman to the company owner. Worker safety is enhanced and morale can benefit too, when automated devices handle stressful, repetitive tasks, thereby freeing workers to focus on more value-added activities.
As warehouse automation continues to grow, so do other innovative warehouse solutions. These 10 trends in warehouse management and automation are changing the face of the industry, and the way manufacturers, distributors and other warehouse operators do business in 2020.
- Warehouse Robotics
- Gamification of the Warehouse
- Automating the Picking Process
- Same-day Shipping
- Automated Cleaning Machines
- Big Data
- Internet of Things
- Wireless Fleet Management
1. Warehouse Robotics
Robotic autonomous forklifts are now hard at work in a growing number of warehouses and distribution centers — powered by amazing new technology that enables companies to reduce labor costs, optimize workflows and increase the bottom line.
However, many companies have adopted a wait-and-see approach when it comes to reaping the benefits of warehouse robotics, impressed by the game-changing capabilities but uncertain whether the added expense would make it a worthwhile investment.
Well, the good news is that as technology continues to evolve, calculations around return on investment (ROI) are now more favorable than ever. Here are a few noteworthy stats relevant to warehouse robotics:
- In a typical U.S. warehouse, an estimated 65% of the budget is spent on labor, a figure that is said to be growing by as much as 3% each year.
- Industry leader Hyster-Yale estimates that warehouse robotics can drive a 70% reduction in overall operating costs.
- The time frame for realizing ROI from a Balyo robotic forklift in a three-shift, round-the-clock operation can be as little as just 13 months.
In the world of automation, AGVs (automated guided vehicles) and AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are robotics innovations that are delivering new efficiencies in warehouse management and operations.
AGVs and AMRs come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities, each designed to support a function of a warehouse or manufacturing system. Some types of AMRs and AGVs include floor cleaners, forklifts, pallet movers and more. Two of the leading developers of the warehouse robots are Balyo Robotics and Fetch Robotics.
Balyo Robotics: An international software robotics company with its headquarters in France and U.S. offices in Boston, Balyo manufactures software and systems that can be used to upgrade traditional forklift equipment to offer autonomous robotic functionality.
Fetch Robotics: This California-based firm is taking material handling to the next level with its “On-Demand Automation” philosophy by using AMRs to handle the heavy loads (see video). The Fetch Cloud Robotics Platform allows customers to scale and control all operations with the click of a button. With no infrastructure changes required, the Fetch platform enables end users to control material flow, mitigate employee risk for injury and increase the efficiency of their operation.
Warehouse robots can work independently, of course, but they can also work next to and in tandem with their human counterparts. The term “cobotics” refers to combining some of the key capabilities of robots such as precision, speed and repeatability, with people-specific skills such as knowledge, analysis and decision making.
4. Gamification of the Warehouse
Because many in the world of warehousing and manufacturing are struggling to find qualified employees to fill the many open jobs, some warehouse operators are experimenting with new ways to incentivize current and prospective workers.
Gamification of the warehouse is the idea that traditionally boring tasks in the warehouse, particularly picking, can be turned into a game with incentives. Gamifying the picking process could mean offering points for the employee who fills the most orders or for the employee who completes the most assemblies at their station. It’s up to the discretion of the warehouse or manufacturer as to what tasks are gamified, but there are even dashboards and programs to help implement these new tools.
Taking it a step further, many believe that gamification of the warehouse will turn the interaction of robots and humans in the warehouse into a collaborative game. The overall goal is to make the warehouse and work environment a safe and welcoming space that intersects human labor with automation.
5. Automating the Picking Process
Did you know that picking is the most time-consuming warehouse activity, accounting for countless work hours and more manpower than any other aspect of warehouse operations? The worst part is the traveling from aisle to aisle, product to product that eats up the most production time for employees.
To alleviate this situation and reclaim some of that valuable time, many warehouses are introducing picker robots into the workforce. The automated picker robot gathers product and brings it to a central location, where human employees can then fulfill orders much faster. Separating the traveling task from the picking task substantially increases productivity.
6. Same-Day Shipping
While same-day shipping isn’t necessarily a new trend in warehouse management, the tools required to keep up with the demands are. Warehouses must reconfigure and improve efficiency to meet these needs, which has resulted in the automation of processes, improved warehouse management systems and more.
Innovative warehouse solutions for same-day shipping include AGVs for pallet and product transport, robotic arms for assembly and lifting, barcode scanners for inventory automation, robotic forklifts to move pallets of product to shipping and more. This will improve efficiency and get products shipped faster, resulting in happier customers.
7. Automated Cleaning Machines
Autonomous vehicles have revolutionized the way warehouses operate, from shipping and receiving to picking and assembly. But did you know that warehouse cleaning can now be automated, too?
For example, check out the Minuteman Max Ride 20 RoboScrubber, powered by BrainOS®, represents the next generation of robotic floor care. BrainOS’ advanced vision-based AI system enables the robot to navigate complex, real-world warehouse environments. The machine is designed to work safely and efficiently alongside employees and can still be used manually if needed.
8. Big Data and Analytics
Warehouse automation trends are about improving efficiency and ultimately improving the bottom line. To find the areas of your manufacturing or warehouse operations that can be improved, you need to be able to analyze performance data. If you think about the amount of data that is produced from machines and in warehouses on a daily basis, it’s a potential treasure trove of valuable insights.
These massive data sets are what is known as big data. While such data was once too cumbersome and unwieldy to process and make sense of, advancements in big data analytics are now helping businesses and manufacturers harness their own data in order to identify operational inefficiencies and improve upon them.
One prime example is the use of barcode scanners on a product moving through a warehouse. Each step of the process from picking to shipment is scanned, and operations can see where time is being lost or what is holding up the system. Big data analytics solutions can highlight valuable information from daily operations, helping warehouse management make data-driven decisions that improve overall performance.
9. The Internet of Things (IoT)
For automation in the warehouse to be as successful as possible, multiple moving parts must be communicating with each other all the time. AGVs and AMRs, warehouse management systems, inventory, human employees and more, must all be on the same page so that automated operations run as smoothly as possible. What makes this happen? The Internet of Things (IoT).
Using IoT technology, it is now possible to connect all of your devices and systems, keeping them in sync while also collecting important operations data. This makes it easy to see everything at a glance, 24/7 — inventory and production levels, what shipments are going in and out and so much more. Everything in your warehouse is now traceable, tracked and coordinated to achieve maximum operational efficiency.
One technology that leverages IoT capabilities is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which involves attaching an RIFD tag to individual packages or entire pallets in order to easily, automatically track the item’s exact location at any moment. With such capabilities, RFID offers the promise of greatly expanded visibility into your inventory.
10. Wireless Fleet Management
Another way that the IoT is revolutionizing the world of warehousing is through wireless fleet management (also called forklift telematics) — new technology that uses sensors to accurately track every truck in your fleet in real time through an online portal.
Industry-leading wireless fleet management systems developed by Hyster and Yale (the Hyster Tracker and Yale Vision) offer a 360-degree view of all of your equipment, delivering detailed information about which trucks are active, where they are, which ones need scheduled maintenance and more.
Wireless fleet management involves installing modules equipped with sensors, GPS and telemetry technology onto your machines, enabling them to collect incredibly helpful, actionable data that provides new insight into countless aspects of your operations. The system can also generate instant alerts about any vehicle impacts that could cause damage or injury, and can provide valuable information about potential problem areas in a warehouse or outdoor work environment.
Implementing the ideal automated warehouse systems and solutions for your business can appear to be a costly and difficult undertaking. But now that warehouse operators have so many opportunities to increase efficiency through automation — barcode scanning, handheld tablet computers, automated storage and retrieval systems, automated conveyer solutions and pallet flow systems and ever-more intelligent warehouse management systems — the benefits of warehouse automation are undeniable.
If you’re looking for an experienced warehouse automation partner, we should talk. The experts at NITCO have been helping warehouse operators and manufacturers of all shapes and sizes gain efficiencies and boost revenue through a customized approach to automation that focuses on your unique needs and goals. Contact us today to start a conversation about how your business can benefit from automation.
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