Warehouse Automation: Mapping Your Route to Success
As you look to streamline operations and boost efficiency by implementing or scaling mobile automation across your network, you may be wondering where to start. With careful planning, clarity on your business requirements and operational goals, and the right automation partner, your warehouse will quickly achieve the benefits of increased productivity and reduced operation costs that mobile automation such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can provide.
In this blog series, we will take a look at the steps needed to ensure automation implementation, adoption, and success—so your operation can achieve its goals and continue to grow.
Embarking on Your Automation Journey
As e-commerce and logistics companies face ongoing labor scarcity and the need for rapid order fulfillment, businesses must now embrace warehouse automation as an imperative, not an alternative. With more than 85% of supply chain leaders in a 2023 survey¹ planning to implement some form of automation within 12 months, there is a recognized need for the benefits that warehouse automation provides. However, not everyone is experienced or prepared for automation, with 70% of companies in the survey having never deployed an autonomous mobile robot.
Automation technology and purchase options have advanced to offer lower capital, easy-to-implement automation that can quickly have an impact. However, with any change to the status quo, there will always be inherent risk. With careful planning, a well-thought-out strategy, and the right automation partner, your warehouse will quickly achieve the benefits of increased productivity and reduced operation costs that mobile automation solutions can provide.
Step 1: Assess
Internal Assessment: A Fundamental First Step to Investing in Warehouse Automation
The better you understand your operational warehouse workflow, the easier it will be to identify processes that will benefit the most from automation and provide the most impact. Internally assessing your current operations should be a comprehensive effort, evaluating all aspects of material movement will highlight inefficiencies and pain points that are slowing down workflow and impacting the bottom line. By taking this important first step, you will reduce costly mistakes and maximize the benefits of automation: setting your business up for long-term success and scalable growth in a constantly changing and highly competitive landscape.
Start with data collection
Gathering relevant data that accurately depicts your operations will set the foundation for effective analysis and provide quantitative examples of current outcomes and possible constraints.
Examples of meaningful data include:
- Order profile: Single vs. multi-unit orders, order volume, and order lines (how many distinct SKUs on average make up an order), particularly during peak season
- Inventory profiles: Stock keeping unit (SKU) counts, categories, and velocities, and inventory turnover rates
- Warehouse layout: How does work flow through the existing infrastructure, what equipment restrictions do you have in terms of zone access? How much volume is flowing through each zone?
- Efficiency metrics: Throughput, order accuracy, and on-time shipping percentage (%)
- Current order picking method: Zone picking (or “pick and pass” picking), batch or multi-order picking, wave picking, or cluster picking
Analyze your current workflow
Review your end-to-end processes from induction to pack-out, identifying inefficiencies for maximum automation impact.
- Labor utilization and availability: Measure your team’s value-added versus non-value-added activities and their impact on productivity. How are the non-value-added activities (e.g. travel, rework, or setup) impacting your achieved productivity?
- Examining workflow: Where are your bottlenecks? What are the activities required and are they keeping up with your ideal throughput and productivity goals?
Document Top Pain Points
Identify areas in your operations that cause inefficiencies and breakdowns in the process. Evaluate the data and workflow analysis to call attention to bottlenecks and decreases in productivity.
- Quantify the cost of errors: Determine and quantify order fulfillment errors and cost of these errors to your operation. Ask yourself: How easy is it to onboard new people to your processes? Are there any places, people, or products where errors are occurring more frequently? Does your system support quality assurance at every step of the process? Where is there room for error, and what is making it easy for users to create errors?
- Prioritize the impact of inefficiencies: Aligning your data and workflow analysis and ranking areas of improvement will help you to determine the right type of automation for processes that are hindering performance. Look for things like: non-value-added travel time, increased picking time, longer cycle times, safety issues, and tasks that require increased labor to complete.
- Identify and prioritize potential wins: Estimate the cost of downtime and inefficiencies to help prioritize the areas that will have the most impact and deliver quick return on investment (ROI). Leverage current allocated labor, cost per full time employee (FTE), and labor utilization as inputs.
Why Pause to Assess?
Thoroughly assessing your current warehouse operations will enable you to make informed decisions about which processes to automate and which automation solution will have the most impact on your business. This assessment will better equip you for discussions with possible automation partners, supporting the need for automation with your internal stakeholders, and demonstrate a need for investment.
It is also important to consider not only where your business is now, but where you want to be. As you assess your current operations, consider that this will be an ongoing effort as your business grows and technology continues to advance. The more you understand the details of your warehouse, the better your automation strategy and ultimately your outcomes will be.
Finding a “True” Automation Partner
Choosing the right partner is crucial for automation success. Going beyond supplying automation, a true automation partner understands your operations as well as you do: identifying areas for improvement, working with you on solutions that support your areas for improvement, validating that the solutions work, recommending growth areas, and ultimately delivering results. In this blog series, we will explore the process of establishing your automation strategy and connecting with a partner who can help you achieve your objectives.
Onward Robotics is a full-service robotic automation partner, providing the latest in mobile robotic technology and working with you and your team to bring technology and people together for continuous and fast fulfillment. Check out our Meet Me™️ solution, and contact us today to learn how we can help move your fulfillment onward.
- “Warehouse Automation: The Drivers, the Barriers, and the Trends for 2023” · Supply Chain Brain, July 2023