What’s the case for warehouse automation?
Online order fulfilment is complex and brings inherent customer service challenges. Does that make it easier to make the case for greater automation of warehouses, asks Charlie Walker, marketing director, Walker Logistics Woodland, Berkshire, UK: For third party logistics services companies investment in automation has traditionally been hard to justify: the technology required a relatively high level of financial commitment over an extended period of time before evidence of payback began to appear on the bottom line.
This meant that unless a 3PL had a client that was prepared to commit to a contract of at least five years, automating any aspect of the goods-in, storage, order picking or goods-out process was rarely seen to be fiscally prudent. However, recent developments have made automation more scalable and flexible and, with the emergence of alternative products to the type of costly fixed assets that had historically been thought of as central to an automated warehouse project, payback times are being cut significantly. But while much of the new automated handling technology appears ideal for operators of single-user mega sheds where the day-to-day business activity predominantly involves moving and storing full pallet loads, online order fulfilment operations are more complex and bring inherent customer service challenges.
There is tremendous pressure on all aspects of a fulfilment operation – especially the picking process. Indeed, the higher frequency of lower volume picks coupled with the fact that a cheap item ordered online costs as much to pick and pack as a high-end product, means picking speed and accuracy is more important than ever. As a company that picks a wide variety of goods from a single lipstick to a complete set of garden furniture for nearly 50 very vastly different online retailer clients, should we look to automate a process that has always relied on manual workers?
To some degree we already have: we run sophisticated warehouse management software and our shop floor personnel all use the latest hand held data capture devices, which ensure that our pick-accuracy statistics are, we believe, among the highest in the sector. But the task of actually picking each order remains something that is undertaken by a worker. We operate a modern lift truck fleet as well as a range of other materials handling equipment, including state-of-the-art wave pickers and parcel conveyors, which we upgrade regularly.
Indeed, we have recently introduced wire-guidance technology to optimise the efficiency of the reach trucks that serve one of the latest additions to our client portfolio. Yet, we rely on trained forklift operators to drive our materials handling fleet. Like many online fulfilment services companies, our operational processes are a balance of technology and the traditional – or automation and manual labour – and, while developments in automation and robotics are moving forward with tremendous pace, we believe that, for now at least, there are no fully automated or robotic solutions that present a viable alternative to the way certain key tasks have always been performed within our business – such as order picking.
This means, I am really very pleased to say, that humans still have an essential role to play within our organisation.
In fact, we plan to add some 200 more permanent staff to our workforce when Walker’s new warehouse facility opens early in 2023.
But, when we consider that there are cost savings and efficiencies to be made by supplementing our workforce with technology – such as, for example, during end of line packaging and bagging operations which we are currently reviewing – we will not hesitate to invest.
- Solar lantern outdoor flickering hanging lights led flameless candles...
SALE PRICE: £10.50YOU SAVE: £2.00 ☀ Solar panel Flickering amber light ✅ Hanging clip IP65 waterproof ☀ Auto ON/OFF – The lantern will be […]
- Grill Cover, BBQ Cover BBQ Accessories Protection Cover Heavy Duty Rip-Proof,...
SALE PRICE: £10.99YOU SAVE: £1.00 Check Offer Price SKU: B07M6Q7XBD Dimensions: 28.6 x 25.4 x 4.4 cm; 160 Grams Check Offer Price
- Nioslier Kids Gardening Tools Set, Easy To Carry And Foldaway Children...
SALE PRICE: £15.85YOU SAVE: £2.13 Has rounded edges that make tools for kids safe. Includes watering can, gloves, shovel, rake, fork and bag. Have […]
- Ulalaza Solar Wind Chime Outdoor LED Color Hanging Dog lamp Mobile Solar Lights...
SALE PRICE: £13.99YOU SAVE: £1.00 【HIGH QUALITY MEMORIAL WIND CHIME】Equipped with sensitive light sensor as well as high quality and durable […]
- POHOVE Fly Repellent Fan, Bugs Repellent Fan, Portable Table Fly Fan, Indoor...
SALE PRICE: £17.99YOU SAVE: £2.00 KEEPS FLY OFF FOOD: Fly fan is a light-weight, odor-free fan you place on top of your outdoor or picnic table to […]
- Noma Solar Woodland Border Light, 30cm
RRP PRICE: £19.99SALE PRICE: £15.49YOU SAVE: £4.50 Woodland border light with warm white solar powered LED This product is powered using Noma’s […]
- 2018 Upgrade 4-Blade Heat Powered Fan for Wood Burning Stove Log Burner...
SALE PRICE: £23.91YOU SAVE: £5.98 Eco Friendly and Self Powered- Powered by heat, speed automatically controlled by temperature of the stove top. […]
- Bosch AQT High Pressure Washer Variable Fan Lance (Compatible with Bosch...
RRP PRICE: £21.37SALE PRICE: £19.99YOU SAVE: £1.38 Adjustable jet Compatible with Bosch Pressure Washers: AQT 45-15 X Check Offer Price Product […]
- Solar Disk Lights ,4 Packs Solar Powered Ground Lights Outdoor , IP 65...
SALE PRICE: £13.99YOU SAVE: £2.10 About this item This fits your . by entering your model number. 【DECKING LIGHTS WITH SENSOR】Because of the […]
- Garland GAL18MP3 3 x Mini High-Dome Propagators, Green, 13x17x13 cm
RRP PRICE: £11.65SALE PRICE: £11.09YOU SAVE: £0.56 Quarter-sized, high-domed propagator Shatter-resistant, Crystal clear, high lid Measurements: […]