Warehouse automation: avoid putting yourself in a bind

Picture of Posted by Bill Denbigh

Posted by Bill Denbigh

January 17, 2022

There is no shortcut when it comes to warehouse automation. If you want to automate a warehouse function, be prepared to invest the same time in planning, preparation and change management as you would for any other major warehouse project.

Many industry experts predict that there will be an explosion of interest in warehouse automation in 2022 as organisations continue to struggle with labour shortages, rising labour costs and space constraints. The only problem I see with this is the fact that not many supply chains are completely green in terms of automating their warehouses.

In a recent report from “More than 80% of warehouses have no automation. But over the past decade, about 15% of warehouses have become mechanised, while only 5% use true automation equipment and solutions.”

If you are considering warehouse automation, I encourage you to do some solid homework before choosing the system. The last thing you want to do is fail before you start. That’s why I’m sharing three steps to help you build a solid foundation for your warehouse automation journey.

3 important steps to prepare for warehouse automation

1. Get a grip on your stock data

To evaluate a warehouse automation project, you need accurate and relevant data. Document the size, weight and handling characteristics, if any, of all your products. You also need to know the size of the storage locations, usable space (not the same as size) and weight capacity. Then you need to document your storage equipment/hardware- with details. You should also draw up an inventory of your employees, their capacities, work rates and qualifications. And finally, you need an accurate picture of the transaction volumes your warehouse is capable of managing.

2. Understand your customers’ needs

Many organisations only consider the efficient use of space, labour and equipment when it comes to warehouse automation. However, a primary goal of any warehouse operation is also to meet customer expectations. You need to take the time to carry out an analysis of your customer’s needs and how you expect them to change over the coming years. With this level of detail, you can then match it back to the warehouse and what kind of warehouse automation project best supports those needs. Don’t forget to include any new services or products your organisation is planning and how they will also affect your warehouse operations.

3. Where are you today and where would you like to go?

Preparing the warehouse for automation is all about understanding the problem it’s solving. Any successful project is the result of a precise understanding of what is needed to achieve the goal. Make sure you keep track of demand patterns during this preparation phase to avoid surprises. Most importantly, align yourself with other members of your leadership team about the background of a warehouse automation project and where the organization wants to be after the project is completed.

Next steps

While the next phases of a warehouse automation project are important and contribute to the success of your organisation, it is a good idea to take your time and put extra focus in this preparation phase. This will help your project in the long run. If you don’t, you risk wasting time and money by creating a solution that doesn’t do what you need it to do.

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