Storage technology | where automation really pays off

How the right automation strategy in intralogistics can save money and significantly increase efficiency in Storage technology

Storage technology
Storage technology

When building or redesigning logistics systems, the question of the degree and type of automation inevitably arises at the beginning. Because a warehouse that is automated with foresight can be operated much more cost-effectively in the long term and also offers other advantages compared to conventional manual warehouses.
Basically, the type of warehouse is always a compromise between safety and efficiency: In a theoretical world in which every part is always available, warehouses would be unnecessary. Logistics concepts such as Just in Time and Just in Sequence are approaching this ideal, but they also show the limits, as the automotive industry recently had to painfully experience the border closings with the Czech Republic due to Corona: Here arose due to delivery delays Bullwhip effect, which ultimately messed up the supply chains from OEM to 3rd tier supplier.
Such effects can, in their two extremes, lead to a complete overload of the system on the one hand. On the other hand, it can happen that entire shifts have to be sent home due to missing orders. Both situations are sometimes associated with enormous increases in costs.

Intralogistics: How can my warehouse work more cost-effectively?

But smart, automated intralogistics can be a worthwhile alternative. In general, automation always pays off if the number of storage and retrieval is constant and at a high level. This is often the case in the B2B area, since here the flow of goods is more calculable compared to the B2C area. In addition, it must be taken into account that automation costs more money: In addition to the hardware components such as storage and retrieval machines and driverless transport systems, experts estimate that around 40 to 50 per cent on top must be calculated in order to optimally network such a logistics solution and integrate it into the existing IT and infrastructure to involve.

Industry 4.0: Award from ROI-Efeso and the magazine Production

Digital assistance systems, data analytics, artificial intelligence or machine learning are changing the value creation processes in the manufacturing industry at breakneck speed. Companies that manage to successfully integrate these digitization technologies, tools and systems into their value creation processes are among the pacesetters of Industry 4.0. Together with the trade journal PRODUKTION, it has been honouring ROI-Efeso with the Industry 4.0 Award since 2013 – one of the most important benchmarks for digitization projects and Industry 4.0 best cases. You can find out more about the award here.
But in addition to the classic automation solutions mentioned here, systems such as Autostore are now also available. With the help of picking robots, storage space can be saved in addition to full automation.
Of course, it should not be forgotten that these systems are also connected to the Internet and must therefore be secured against unauthorized access from outside.

If automation solutions are implemented across the group, synergies and thus significant cost savings can be achieved through standardized interfaces. In this way, a not inconsiderable savings potential can be created with a higher-level solution.

Tip: Is a combination solution worth it?

The big advantage is, of course, that with an optimally coordinated system, all costs are quickly amortized. Therefore, hybrid solutions are also recommended for systems with certain fluctuations, ie an automated area for the base load and a manual area for peak loads.

What influence does the load carrier used have

Another point that can be of crucial importance when automating a warehouse is the use of standardized load carriers: the fewer different boxes and pallets that have to be stored and retrieved, the easier it is to implement automation. It should be noted that many components in logistics, from storage and retrieval machines to driverless transport systems to conveyor and storage technology, are mostly designed for standardized transport containers. This makes planning a new system much easier and the individual components are cheaper to obtain and combine.
Such standardized systems can then be used in the automotive industry as well as in e-commerce or in the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, automation solutions are also feasible for individual load carriers. Examples of this can be found in furniture production or metal production. There, however, more engineering effort and higher costs can be assumed. But even this additional effort can ultimately pay off.

Returns management included

Finally, you should definitely take a look at the tiresome subject of returns management. You have to differentiate how far the product range of the returns to be processed goes: with large full-range stores, the individual warehouse worker is certainly not in a position to determine the quality of each individual return right away. Here, too, a certain degree of automation combined with smart technologies can help. An example of this is data glasses or special display systems at the workplace that provide the employee with important information for a return. For example, an employee who is responsible for processing returns is able to decide whether or not the product can return to the first cycle for jeans or a smartphone.

Industry 4.0 – An RFID module guides you through the Future Factory – Source: ROI-Efeso

Of course, such smart solutions are of crucial importance for an effectively working system not only in returns processing but also in the order picking process in general. Here, too, automation technology can help ensure that the systems are ergonomically optimally connected to the respective employees. This has now gone so far that the employee no longer comes to the shelf, but the shelf to the employee (moving shelves), which can be achieved through fully networked transport systems. In this way, in addition to increasing efficiency, picking errors can also be avoided, ie making a return in advance superfluous.
This is the only way to achieve a high level of acceptance and the resulting high efficiency of the logisticians. It is also crucial that the employee is provided with the information they need quickly at all times. Instruments from Industry 4.0 such as 3D glasses, voice systems, picking aids and monitors, which are networked via intelligent systems, are of crucial importance and will become more and more essential in the future of Storage technology

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