Business leaders are increasingly interested in applying order-picking automation to warehouses. An increase in online shopping, customers’ desire for faster delivery, two years of logistics woes and a global labor shortage have spurred warehouse managers to explore automation to expand their businesses. Here are some compelling ways that automation can make order picking easier and faster.
Most companies pursue growth at multiple points of their evolution. However, there often comes a time when hiring more people is no longer feasible. That can support growth, but it usually can’t help companies meet all their goals. However, warehouse picking efficiency can allow a company to make significant gains.
Consider the case of Pitman Creek Wholesale, which specializes in fishing tackle and lures. Its sales had increased 600 percent in eight years. In addition to running a growing e-commerce arm, the company distributes its more than 300 brands to thousands of retailers.
The company invested in several automated technologies to improve warehouse picking efficiency. For example, pickers get instructions on which zones to go to on an iPad, and a conveyor brings the most frequently picked items to places where pickers can easily access them.
Plus, warehouse managers assessed how they could automate processes so that pickers did not have to spend as much time walking during their shifts.
Managers rearranged the conveyor system so pickers could reach 97 percent of orders without going beyond the eight rows nearest the conveyor. The company also uses a warehouse management system (WMS) to direct pickers to the right zones, helping them make the most of their time and efforts.
When decision-makers assess the best ways to improve warehouse picking efficiency, it’s important that they consider where things are now and where the most room for improvement exists. From there, they’ll be in a good position to figure out where and how to take action first.
Robots could add to picking efficiency gains
Many warehouse supervisors are including robots in their assortment of specialty equipment. Since robots excel at repetitive tasks, using them for picking can reduce error rates and assist with various duties in a facility.
In one case, autonomous mobile robots (AMR) were the key to speedy picking in a shoe warehouse where managers needed help keeping pace with e-commerce demand. The robots could move and distribute pallets and racks weighing as much as 1,000 pounds, sending them to the right picking stations for employees.
Warehouse leaders said the AMRs caused an immediate four-fold jump in efficiency. It was especially helpful that they could control the robots through a system that worked with the existing warehouse management system.
Robots don’t automatically make warehouses run more smoothly, and it often takes time to optimize how they work. But, when better warehouse picking efficiency is the goal, these increasingly advanced machines can ensure gains.
However, warehouse layouts should support order picking automation. They may need to be rearranged so robots have a clear, unobstructed path for movement.
Alternatively, it may be necessary to change aisle widths or make other minor changes for maximum effectiveness. Those alterations should pay off in the long run.
Automated picking is complementary to other efforts
Pursuing changes that increase automated picking efficiency is worthwhile, but it’s not the only option. For example, people could use inventory planning software to help forecast demand spikes. Many of those options use artificial intelligence to give users insights they couldn’t get without technological help.
Automation can also come into the picture just before goods leave a warehouse, such as analyzing the best carriers and rates depending on certain parameters. Some specialty packaging platforms use automation to select the right box size and how much padding a product needs to arrive at its destination intact.
People should ideally see order picking automation as only one part of a large and varied landscape of technological options. It’s certainly worth exploring, but individuals may find there’s no reason to stop at picking when they prioritize automating the workflow.
A good starting point is to ask employees about the biggest obstacles they face while doing picking tasks or any other warehouse duties. Their insights might unlock new perspectives that leaders had not previously considered. The workers will also appreciate that managers took the time to get their thoughts.
Automation improves accuracy
No automation solution will fix every issue that slows a warehouse team down with its picking processes. However, as the examples here show, automated technologies can cause impressive changes that get leaders closer to their goals.
When people can pick the correct items faster, parties throughout the supply chain benefit. It will take significant time, effort, and financial resources to optimize the best picking automation platform for your business. However, dedication to the eventual outcome will pay off.
Electronics distributors have been investing in warehouses with fully-automated sections which don’t need heat, light or human interaction, increasing energy — as well as order-picking — efficiency.