What is Warehouse Automation, and how can it benefit your Business?

For businesses that deal with large volumes of products, warehousing management can be both a challenge and an opportunity. It's challenging because there are so many moving parts to a supply chain, each with the potential to cause inefficiency and slow down the overall process. However, it's also an opportunity because your company can benefit significantly from streamlining and automating certain portions of your supply chain. One way to do this is by incorporating warehouse automation into your supply chain. So what is this all about? This article seeks to shed light on what warehouse automation is and how it can benefit your business.

What is Warehouse Automation?

Warehouse automation refers to the use of technology that assists with the movement, storage, location identification, and retrieval of goods in a warehouse. Inventory management systems are typically used in conjunction with warehouse automation because they assist with the determination of which items should be put where and when. Supply chain management systems may also be utilized to ensure that orders are filled efficiently and delivered on time. Lastly, autonomous mobile robots may be used for tasks such as retrieving items from shelves or transporting them around the facility. These types of robots are typically equipped with special sensors that allow them to avoid collisions while moving around.

Types of Warehouse Automation

Warehouse automation involves any type of technology that helps increase productivity in a warehouse setting. These include;

Goods-to-Person (GTP)

This type of automation seeks to boost efficiency by removing the need for humans on the floor. An autonomous mobile robot will be used to deliver goods from a storeroom or inventory storage area and bring them to an operator's workstation, with minimal human interaction necessary. For this type of warehouse automation, there are many benefits, including increased capacity, improved inventory management, reduced labor costs, and more efficient delivery times. When this option is applied well, warehouses can optimize their space usage and adjust their processes accordingly to create room for new systems as they become available.

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

This category of warehouse automation includes vehicles like forklifts, automated guided vehicles, and co-bots. AGVs use onboard sensors and navigational control software to autonomously move through the warehouse without a driver. They also use laser guidance technology to identify when items need to be picked up for loading onto another vehicle or for shipment out of the warehouse altogether. The main benefit of AGV implementation is that AGV trucks require only one operator per truck. One person can manage all deliveries using just one vehicle at a time, eliminating congestion and freeing up other resources.

Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Systems

This type of automation includes a lighted pick face. When a product has been packed onto an order, it will cause that light to turn on. The warehouse employee working in that section then sees which item needs to be picked up, grabs a cart or other transportation device, and moves it over to where they see their items are ready. This helps streamline inventory management further because employees only pick up what's necessary at any given time.

Automated Sortation Systems

This type of automation involves a warehouse equipment device that automatically sorts packages. This takes a lot of time out of inventory management because packages are already sorted in their respective places. The operator doesn't need to spend time re-sorting items or organizing them into an order. In fact, sorting tasks are generally completed by machine. Humans do not have to physically interact with these machines either, so a level of safety is ensured, and there's no risk of injury due to heavy lifting or repetitive movements.

Automated Storage (AS) and Retrieval Systems (RS)

This type of automation includes autonomous mobile robots that deliver goods to operators and take away their finished orders. Employees may only need to occasionally stock shelves if AS/RS systems are installed, which saves time and energy. Likewise, RS systems will retrieve items from store rooms or inventory areas after they're identified by AS. This automation is often seen alongside GTP as a way to eliminate excess walking and manual labor. With less time needed for physical activity, warehouse workers are free to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

AMRs, or autonomous mobile robots, can perform tasks without human oversight. These robots might move products around a storage area to make room for new incoming deliveries. They also may act as order pickers, retrieving items that must be shipped out from various locations in a warehouse for human employees to pack onto their orders. Depending on a company's needs, AMRs could free up time for workers who would have spent time on manual inventory management tasks like stocking shelves.

Voice Picking and Tasking

Voice picking allows warehouse workers to save time by instructing a computer to perform an inventory management task. For example, a worker might call out how many items they need to pick up. The computer system understands these spoken instructions, so there's no miscommunication or waste of time. This is a useful form of automation for smaller businesses that don't have time or can hire additional staff members. The downside, however, is that voice picking only works for items located close to the user. This means it's best used for small-scale and low-value items.

Step-by-step Guide to Automating your Warehouse

There are five easy steps to follow when considering warehouse automation. These include;

1. Develop an implementation committee

You need to create a group of people representing the various aspects of your business that will be impacted by the decision to automate. The group should include the management, engineers, technicians, warehousing personnel, purchasing, and salespeople. They should be given access to enough information on the topic to make intelligent decisions on whether or not they should proceed with automated warehousing.

2. Gather essential data

Prosperous warehouse automation depends on data gathering. Collecting data is the most crucial step in any successful deployment project because, without good data to analyze, you cannot know what needs improvement in the process, which parts of a system might need enhancement, where new problems may arise, etc. Collecting data allows you to identify bottlenecks, track progress, measure quality improvements and generate more robust reports.

3. Assess your inventory controls

With a good handle on your data, you will now need to see what current processes are in place for inventory. This will include such things as where items are stored, how they are moved through their path in a warehouse, and what paperwork or records are required for each step. Again, after assessing these factors, look for pain points where improvement might be possible and potential opportunities for cost savings.

4. Execute (WMS) warehouse management system

A WMS, or warehouse management system, takes data you have collected and organizes them so they are both manageable and accurate. As previously mentioned, managing your data is a huge part of implementing a successful automation project. The warehouse management system will use software to manage each inventory step while automating routines that do not require human intervention. It can improve efficiency, reduce errors and increase productivity. Understanding the difference between basic warehouse technology and a true automated warehouse management system is essential. Basic warehouses rely on barcode scanning technology combined with paper-based work instructions, but an automated system replaces all manual tasks involving humans with automatic ones while maintaining its human-friendly interface.

5. Decide the type of warehouse management system you need

There are many types of warehouse management systems, each with unique features. You will want to consult with an expert who can guide you through all of your options based on what you have learned. This will help eliminate confusion and make sure that you are selecting a system that is perfectly suited to fit your business needs, one that can handle any sort of growth in which you may see in the future, as well as one that offers comprehensive reporting tools for easy data tracking, analysis, and troubleshooting.

Benefits of Warehouse Automation

Faster order processing

The integration of warehouse automation with a warehouse management system allows for faster order processing. By fostering order processing, the need to hire more staff to help will be lessened. It also helps reduce the risk of human error, leading to a lower return rate and greater customer satisfaction.

Smooth payment processing

This means that your customers are charged correctly and billed according to their preferences (weekly, monthly, or annually). When a customer submits an order with you, they will be charged as soon as possible. This reduces instances of double billing for early payment discounts. There's no need to worry about collecting late payments from customers who've forgotten to pay. Lastly, there's no need to worry about updating payment info on your own systems when changes occur on the credit card issuer side because all these updates happen automatically in real time.

Transparent customer communication

It provides an easy-to-use interface, so you can easily communicate with customers. If a customer submits an order that will cause a backorder, you can send them a notification letting them know when they should expect their shipment to arrive. Also, if there's going to be any delay in shipping or billing for whatever reason, you can communicate with customers about what's happening in real time. Not only does this give customers peace of mind, but it'll also keep them satisfied and loyal.

Accurate scheduling

By integrating warehouse automation with a warehouse management system, you can track all of your employees' hours in real time. You know when they clock in, log breaks and lunch times, and finish their shifts. With so much data at your fingertips, you'll be able to schedule workers based on peak hours during which they will be most productive. When scheduling workers, you can also maximize their potential by considering that some of them might have additional responsibilities like deliveries or other tasks.

Efficient inventory management

You can monitor the current inventory levels of every item in stock at any given time. You'll also have access to a history of all inventory movements to easily determine where any shortages or excesses occurred. In addition, you can track things like return rates for particular items, which informs your future purchasing decisions and helps prevent the costly overstocking of certain items.

Preemptive predictive maintenance

With real-time data, you can avoid problems by performing predictive maintenance on certain equipment parts before they cause any breakdowns. For example, if you notice that an automated conveyor belt system's brushes are wearing out more quickly than usual, you can anticipate a potential breakdown before it happens by ordering a new part. This will enable you to minimize downtime and satisfy customers with quick delivery times.

Drawbacks of Warehouse Automation

High initial investment

Using warehouse automation will reduce the cost of labor, but an upfront investment is needed to purchase the technology first.

Needs Technical Skill and Retraining

While some warehouse automation has become easier to use over time, many companies still require an employee with a high level of technical skill to install and maintain these systems. Even after an organization invests in a system, employees may have to undergo additional training to properly use it.


Devices and machines will require maintenance regularly, which will cost money. In some cases, employees may need to be retrained to handle these tasks. Maintenance schedules should also include time for troubleshooting if problems arise during operations.

The Bottom Line

Warehouse automation offers endless benefits for any business with a large inventory. It saves space, saves time, improves quality control, and reduces the likelihood of human error. Ultimately you will be able to enjoy significant savings in overhead costs. You will have more free time to invest in other aspects of your business that need work or are waiting on your attention. You may even find new opportunities that were previously out of reach due to the intense labor-intensive nature of your company's previous way of doing things!