Some are predicting that by 2025, the warehouse automation market will double in size, reaching $27 billion in value. The primary driver of this is the massive ROI that automated systems provide. Many managers see the benefits of using equipment like automated picking equipment, robotic palletizers, and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) that reduce mistakes and improve productivity. However, adding automation to a warehouse isn’t a turnkey process. If managers want to see a real return on their investment, they need to implement warehouse automation best practices and use tools that support and optimize the use of technology.
Six Warehouse Automation Best Practices
Switching to a higher-tech environment will create some challenges at first. Managers must develop an effective plan for the upgrade that includes implementing established warehouse automation best practices. Here are six to consider:
- Leverage continuous process improvement: Continuous process improvement is a philosophy that originally developed in the 1800s to help eliminate errors in production. It focuses on reducing waste by encouraging employees to cut out unnecessary process steps. Implementing continuous process improvement strategies in an automated environment encourages employees to come up with their own ideas to use technology more efficiently and prevent issues before they occur. It also empowers them to take ownership of the process, which enhances morale.
- Upskill workers: While labor needs may reduce as a result of automation, the average skillset needed in the workforce will become more advanced. Rather than hiring new employees with these skills, it’s wiser to upskill current employees and thoroughly train them to use the latest technology. Often, the companies providing the technology will offer their own onboarding processes to help facilitate the training of workers. However, managers should establish company-specific protocols for employees to help them adapt these skills to their specific job role.
- Create a data migration plan: Companies often overlook the data created by their old systems, both manual and semi-automated, as they transition over to an automated environment. However, this historical data is incredibly useful for gauging demand and improving production. There should be a detailed plan in place to migrate this data to the new system.
- Focus on end-to-end visibility: Supply chain managers should be able to track a pallet from the moment it enters the loading dock to the time it is released to the retailer. This end-to-end view helps managers better track their inventory as well as discover where issues like product damage or foreign material contamination occur.
- Automate in steps: Completely automating the entire warehouse all at one time will create issues for both workers and management as there may be too many new processes and technologies for employees to learn to use confidently at the same time. It’s wiser to slowly upgrade the warehouse in pieces, rather than changing everything over at once. For example, it’s best not to outfit your warehouse with a new automated stretch wrapper, robotic palletizers, and an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) all at the same time. Instead, introduce a single new technology, give employees time to gain confidence in it, and then introduce the next one.
- Establish new key performance indicators (KPIs): Key performance indicators help warehouse managers better understand their top productivity levels and whether they are under- or over-performing. However, old KPIs from a manual environment may not fit an automated warehouse. After all, the primary goal of automation is to increase throughput. KPIs should reflect those expectations.
It helps to add some tools to the warehouse that help support the new automated environment.
Following these warehouse automation best practices will ease the transition to automation and get in front of potential roadblocks. However, no process is ever perfect. That’s why it helps to add some tools to the warehouse that help support the new automated environment.
Tools for Simplifying the Journey to Automation
Older items like wood pallets and manual inventory management systems may not be able to keep pace with a higher-tech environment. Ideally, managers should consider adding three supportive tools to their warehouse.
- Warehouse Management System: A warehouse management system is a software program that tracks and optimizes warehouse production. Usually, it involves using unique pallet serial numbers in conjunction with a database to monitor the movements of individual pallets from the moment they arrive at the warehouse until they leave for the retailer. A WMS lets managers keep track of inventory movement in order to optimize processes.
- Radio-frequency identification (RFID): While barcodes, like RFID, also allow managers to log pallets into a software system, barcodes are much more labor-intensive to read using scanners. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags can transmit more information across longer distances and don’t require individual or line-of-sight scanning. Costco, a company that manages large amounts of inventory, found success using technology that leverages RFID readers on all their docks to log out pallets as they leave their facility. That saves the company time on manual checks and supports automation.
- Plastic Pallets: Automated equipment typically involves using belts and conveyors to transport pallets, but this can create problems when shipping platforms aren’t uniform in size or weight. Wood pallets can vary widely in this regard as they age, are damaged, or absorb moisture. Wood pallets are also known to leave behind nails, screws, and large splinters that can jam conveyor systems. Plastic pallets, with their light weight and consistent dimensions, are far better tools for use with automation.
Warehouse automation best practices should include the use of durable, high-quality plastic pallets.
Plastic pallets are perhaps the most valuable tools in an automated warehouse as they offer two features that support warehouse automation best practices: embedded RFID tags and a high level of consistency in size and weight.
Warehouse automation best practices should include the use of durable, high-quality plastic pallets. Embedded RFID tags work with Warehouse Management Systems to provide a thorough, detailed view of the pallets as they make their way through the supply chain, while their reliable construction keeps precise automation running smoothly. With supportive tools like plastic pallets, managers can reveal the true potential of automation in the warehouse and increase throughput substantially.
iGPS plastic pallets are excellent tools for supporting an automated environment due to their uniform dimensions, low weight, and embedded RFID tags. To rent our pallets for use in your modern warehouse, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.