Generate a Return on Your Warehouse Automation Investment

7th Jun 2018

A recent study by the Aberdeen Group found that around 60% of modern warehouses are still employing a traditional paper-based system – a staggering statistic for a number of reasons, not least as the supply chains of many organisations are becoming increasingly constrained by heightened customer expectations in the age of e-commerce and next-day – or even ‘same day’ - delivery. 

Given this somewhat startling statistic, we thought it timely to take a look into warehouse automation, the associated technologies and advantages of implementing WMS solutions.

Under Pressure

For an industry within which time and space are both sought after commodities, the pressure to maintain a robust, fault-free warehouse operation has escalated significantly. The term 'business-critical' has, of course, been around for some time, although it has in many ways taken on a whole new meaning for our warehouse and supply chain customers. 

Such tensions, both on the warehouse floor and in the boardroom – with a desire to cut costs and to create more efficient processes – are acting as the catalysts for innovations in warehouse automation solutions, as well as in warehouse management software. 

The Cost of Picking

Consider for a second that up to 60% of all costs to warehouse and supply chain businesses are in some way attributable to the inventory picking process, and the appetite for more control throughout this process will come as little surprise. 

Greater speed, accuracy and ultimately, a reduction in labour costs alongside costly errors, are all pressing and realistic ambitions for forward thinking warehouse and logistics-based businesses. Combined with robust and resilient network infrastructure, the automation technology available can - and does - transform warehouse and distribution operations.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): What is it?

Professional warehouse management software is designed and developed specifically to increase the visibility into warehouse operations through accurate and real-time data. This can then be used to make more informed decisions which can significantly improve the output of warehouse picking and packing operations. 

By assigning and prioritising tasks to the warehouse workforce, warehouse management software actively monitors and audits their performance, giving a complete digital view of the areas in need of improvement and ensuring that the highest levels of control are upheld throughout the entire process, from pre-advice, goods receipt and put-away, to picking, packing, and delivery. 

The ability to insightfully make plans and intelligent modifications to the automated warehouse is key to on-going growth and success. 

Through the utilisation of the data provided by a warehouse management system, time-precious businesses are able to alter their warehouse design and workflows to better suit their needs and requirements. 

This can be particularly useful within areas of industry which are both seasonal and reactionary to market trends, helping them to gain a real advantage as stock levels and consumer or customer demand inevitably fluctuate. 

Improved warehouse planning can also have a significantly decisive effect in the efficiency of the put-away and packing facets of the business, as the data can highlight inventory that should be placed nearer to the loading bays for faster dispatch, or even those items which are often sold together, resulting in increasingly more efficient order-picking. 

WMS and Warehouse Mobility Integration 

As we proclaimed in a recent article - Warehouse WiFi: What Makes Us So Great? - Integration of the composite parts which make up the automated warehouse really is the key to success. 

When building warehouse automation solutions, the compatibility of, and communication between, the ‘front-line’ technologies such as handheld terminals, barcode scanners, barcode label printers, and vehicle-mounted computers, is of paramount importance. 

Creating a fully automated warehouse will inevitably lead to crucial cost savings in areas of wastage and human error, which is all-too-often the collateral damage of inefficient paper-based systems. 

Warehouse automation and mobile data capture devices are becoming ever-more sophisticated as leading manufacturers such as Honeywell, Datalogic and Zebra continue to develop products that are aimed at simplifying the entire supply chain for the maximum productivity and return. 

In addition, advances in wireless LAN infrastructure is also allowing warehouse staff to roam more effectively, without the pitfalls of poor connectivity and hassles of repeated re-authentication of mobile scanning devices...or just plain old coverage or capacity issues. 

ROI on Warehouse Management and Automation Investments     

Realising not only financial but productivity returns on any warehouse management software, warehouse WiFi or automation investment will understandably be of high importance to any cost-conscious enterprise. But, generating a return can be thought of as having multiple layers; not only are processes made easier and incredibly more efficient but unforced, human errors are, for the most part, eliminated.

The ongoing insight and intelligence into the way the warehouse operation performs means that constant improvements can be made and, in the event of unexpected changes (whether internal or externally market driven) warehouse managers can be far more agile in their reaction.  

Of course, the potential disruption associated with reconfiguring a warehouse operation to accommodate the technology, not to mention the costs associated, can be a cause for uncertainty. However, safeguarding the supply chain against unscheduled disruptions and process errors can be the springboard to more efficient and streamlined operations.

What Next?

For advice on designing or upgrading your Warehouse, Distribution Centre or Manufacturing Plant WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.