Streamlining Your Warehouse Logistics With Automation Technology
Originally published on June 22, 2023 by Erhan Musaoglu, Updated on June 22, 2023
By leveraging robots and other warehouse automation methods, Amazon has succeeded in optimizing inventory management, order processing accuracy, and cycle times.
The good news is this: you don’t have to be a large organization with an Amazon-like budget to benefit from warehouse logistics automation. This technology can boost the operations of even small and medium-sized 3PL, DTC, and B2C warehouses.
How? All your answers are here, including specific ways automation can benefit your logistics business and how to use automation to your advantage.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
What Is Warehouse Logistics Automation?
In simple terms, warehouse logistics automation involves automating inventory movement and processing into, within, and out of your warehouse. The technology reduces the need for human involvement in processing and moving inventory.
Businesses typically use warehouse automation to replace labor-intensive and repetitive duties, such as sorting inventory. An obvious example is how Amazon uses robots and automated conveyor systems to sort and move items within its fulfillment centers. These automated systems boost efficiency, speed, and accuracy within a warehouse.
However, warehouse logistics automation doesn’t have to be physical. Digital automation platforms, such as warehouse management systems (WMS), use data to reduce manual workflows. Such solutions streamline and optimize various processes to eliminate repetitive tasks like manually monitoring inventory or entering inventory details.
Let’s discuss some of the most common types of warehouse logistics automation tools, both physical and digital:
- Warehouse management systems (WMS): WMS software is a multipurpose tool that provides insights into operational performance and helps manage warehouse operations. A WMS solution’s exact features will vary between products, but such software usually has tools for inventory management, order processing, picking and packing optimization, warehouse organization, and data analytics.
- Predictive maintenance: Predictive maintenance involves using data to predict and prevent equipment failure with well-timed maintenance. It keeps systems working optimally, preventing unplanned downtime and costly production interruptions.
- Robotics: Robotic picking and sorting systems automate inventory sorting, storage, and retrieval. Modern robotic systems use robotic arms, sensors, and software algorithms to sort, store, or retrieve items according to specified criteria. Installing these systems can improve sorting accuracy and reduce manual labor within a facility.
- Automatic Guided Vehicles or Automated Guided Carts (AGVs or AGCs): These autonomous vehicles transport goods or materials within a warehouse. The vehicles use various guidance systems to navigate the warehouse safely to pick up and deliver goods, pallets, and other items to specified locations. Automating inventory transportation allows human workers to focus on more pressing tasks.
- Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Systems: These simple automation systems have indicators or light displays that show workers where to pick up and drop off items. The guidance system facilitates picking and sorting items by reducing errors and increasing efficiency.
Depending on your unique needs, you can use warehouse logistics automation to manage inventory, fulfill orders, or distribute, store, and handle inventory.
Why Is Automation Important in Logistics?
The demand for warehouse logistics services is on the rise, and if you want to keep up with customer demands, you need warehouse automation.
For example, by combining automation with machine learning, you can continuously adjust and improve operations to match changing requirements. An automated facility can predict and automatically adjust to keep up with demand changes during peak seasons.
This is just one benefit. Automation can also:
- Maximize productivity: Automating just one aspect of your operations can significantly boost productivity and performance within your warehouse. For example, many warehouse workers spend only 20% of their shift performing activities that generate business revenue. These workers spend the remaining 80% of their shift walking between duty posts. Automating the movement of items to and from workers will allow workers to spend more time doing valuable work.
- Increase uptime: Automated systems can operate continuously with minimal interruptions. After workers close for the day, your automated storage and retrieval systems can keep working. Also, if you have predictive maintenance systems, your physical automated systems are less likely to break down and cause unplanned downtime.
- Boost accuracy: Human error costs warehouses billions of dollars annually. Issues caused by human error include shipping mistakes, misplaced items, and inventory mistakes. Warehouses can combat these issues by automating order receipt and fulfillment, as well as functions that need manual or repetitive data entry.
- Reduce injuries and fatigue: Approximately 5.5 out of every 100 full-time warehouse workers experienced workplace injuries in 2021. Most of these injuries occurred while operating machinery or moving heavy items. Automation can reduce the risk of injury by eliminating duties that put warehouse workers in harm’s way. Also, reducing manual labor will lead to less workplace fatigue and better health among workers. It can also help improve the labor shortage many warehouses are currently experiencing.
- Save money: Labor expenses make up a large chunk of warehouse operating budgets. Automating part of your processes can lower monthly overheads because you won’t need as large a workforce as a non-automated warehouse.
How Can Your Logistics Be Automated?
Virtually any process within your warehouse can be automated with the right tools, including everything from putaway to sorting.
Putaway involves moving incoming goods from the dock to a resting or storage space until it’s time to ship them out. Ideally, you should store goods in an easy-to-reach location where workers can easily pick them up and process them to fulfill orders.
However, if you have various goods in your warehouse, how do you decide where to store what? Instead of relying on intuition, use an automated system like Logiwa’s directed putaway.
Our directed putaway software uses an algorithm to decide the optimal place to store specific items. The algorithm uses data, such as projected sales volume, item size, available space, and receiving and shipping frequency, to determine the best places to store each item.
Using such an automated system eliminates issues like misplaced inventory, wasted or underutilized storage space, and docking area congestion.
Order picking involves retrieving goods from within your warehouse to fulfill an order. However, human error during order picking can result in delayed or uncompleted orders and other issues that lead to customer dissatisfaction. Fortunately, you can automate order picking and prevent such issues with a WMS.
WMS platforms enable you to select and implement a picking strategy that reduces walking time and prevents wasted labor. Effective picking strategies include wave picking, batch picking, and zone picking. You can also use a WMS to automate tasks like order picking lists and packing lists.
Dimensioning involves measuring the length, width, and height of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and fulfillment orders. Your warehouse can use the information to organize each item’s storage or handling. Automating dimensioning with a WMS will speed up processing SKUs for storage or order fulfillment.
Carrier Rate Shopping
Carrier rate shopping involves researching carriers to find the most affordable shipping rates without sacrificing quality. Lowering your shipping rate costs will help your warehouse save money and protect your revenue. However, manual carrier rate shopping can be tedious, time-consuming, and inaccurate.
On the other hand, automating the process can give you accurate and real-time information quickly. You can find rate shopping tools in most high-quality, full-scale warehouse management systems, such as Logiwa WMS.
A shipping label is a sticker placed on an order’s shipping container or box. The label states the order’s recipient, destination, origin, weight, and other relevant information.
Manually creating and printing labels for each order is time-consuming and inefficient. With the right logistics software, you can generate labels automatically.
A sortation conveyor system uses data to route packages to their appropriate destinations within your warehouse. The Goods-to-Person (GTP) solution eliminates the need for personnel to move around to retrieve items so they can focus on processing orders.
Warehouse Logistics Automation Best Practices
Ready to take advantage of logistics automation? Below are the best practices you should follow to get started.
1. Start With Workflow Automation
Automating workflows is typically the first step in warehouse logistics automation. It involves using technology to streamline and manage tasks and activities within your warehouse. Some workflows you can automate include:
Automating these workflows will help standardize processes, eliminate guesswork, and reduce error rates.
2. Implement a Warehouse Management System
An effective warehouse management system is the foundation of every successful warehouse automation initiative. With the right WMS, you can monitor and control every automated process or technology within your warehouse. Besides providing centralized control and visibility, such a system allows you to achieve:
It also provides data analytics for continuous improvement of your processes and operations.
3. Consider Robotic Solutions
Warehouses invest in robotics technology to handle repetitive and dangerous jobs. These robots can work tirelessly, leading to increased productivity. Also, since you don’t have to pay robots salaries, installing such a system can boost your company’s long-term profitability.
Examples of robotic solutions for warehouse logistics include:
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): These wheeled robots use sensors and cameras to navigate within a warehouse. They are useful for retrieving and delivering inventory to pickers, moving racks or pallets, and more.
- Robotic picking systems: These robots have arms for picking and sorting items. You can deploy these robots independently or alongside human workers to improve picking accuracy and speed.
The Future of Warehouse Automation: 4 Trends
More 3PL, B2C, and DTC warehouses are embracing automation in their facilities. In fact, projections indicate that the warehouse automation market will grow from $21.7 billion in 2021 to $93 billion by 2031. Below are some of the latest trends driving warehouse automation growth.
Today’s warehouse robots are far more advanced than what was available a few years ago. Combining a WMS with robotics allows you to automate multiple processes and optimize operations within your facility. The WMS provides the means to monitor and control all your warehouse robots in one place.
Some warehouses have even started incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into their warehouse robotics systems. A 2021 Retail Info Systems study revealed that retailers plan to supercharge warehouse and DTC operations with AI investments.
Most of the investment will go into AI for predictive inventory planning, labor planning, and robots for picking and material handling.
2. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of internet-connected devices with sensors, software, and other technologies for connecting with other devices. More warehouses are relying on such devices to automate their facilities. For example, robotic units like AGVs and AMRs controlled by a WMS rely on IoT to fulfill tasks.
You also have smart shelves that broadcast inventory information and provide low stock and theft alerts. Since these devices connect to your network, you can monitor and control them remotely to track and optimize processes.
3. Predictive Analysis
Predictive analysis involves using analytics and algorithms to identify patterns and predict upcoming events regarding warehouse operations. For instance, predictive analysis can forecast demand spikes or when inventory will run out.
With such information, you can anticipate potential issues, maintain strategic inventory levels, and plan effectively for busy seasons.
4. Smart Internal Transportation
As mentioned, warehouse workers moving around to retrieve items takes up most of a worker’s shift. The bigger the warehouse, the longer the trips to retrieve items.
Modern warehouses combat these issues with smart internal transportation systems, such as AGVs and AMRs. Automating product movements with these systems allows pickers to focus on more valuable tasks.
How Logiwa Can Help
Do you want a warehouse management system software that can help you streamline warehouse logistics automation? If so, Logiwa WMS can help. Our cloud-based WMS software helps high-volume DTC, B2C, and 3PL providers automate and optimize the entire order fulfillment lifecycle.
The Logiwa WMS dashboard provides total visibility and control. This allows you to perform complex tasks, such as optimizing order processing, and simple tasks, such as reprinting shipping labels.
Even better, Logiwa WMS integrates seamlessly with over 200 accounting, shipping, and ecommerce services. It also integrates with leading robotics providers, including Locus Robotics, Dematic Robotics, and 6 River Systems.
The integrations boost efficiency and simplify control by allowing you to manage your entire warehouse from one device. Lastly, our mobile app allows you to track and manage your warehouse operations remotely from the comfort of your mobile device.
Take Advantage of Automation Within Your Warehouse
Get started with Logiwa today to create a fully digital warehouse optimized for safety and efficiency. Our software simplifies updating your warehouse automation rules, moving inventory, and adding new clients.
Also, thanks to our integration and configuration options, onboarding is easy and takes only a few weeks instead of months. Don’t just take our word for it. Request a demo today and experience Logiwa’s automation capabilities.