Warehousing is an industry that is adopting robots and automation to great effect. Distribution centers and warehouses that use integrated warehouse management systems (WMS)—including robots, drones, autonomous vehicles, smart conveyors, and other technology—are safer, more efficient, and deliver a better customer experience.
The hype surrounding fully automated warehouses may have seemed overblown, but there is no doubt that technological solutions can address many persistent warehousing challenges. The future of robots and drones in warehousing looks bright.
One of the great benefits of automated processes is their efficiency. Drones and robots can pick orders and count inventory more quickly and accurately than human workers.
There are worker safety benefits to using these devices, too. Using robots or drones to count or pick merchandise stored in high places keeps workers off ladders and mechanical lifts, eliminating a safety hazard. Using this technology for repetitive tasks like cycle counting also keeps workers more engaged and less likely to suffer injuries.
A significant advantage to automated systems is their ability to operate in the dark and in a broad range of temperatures. Distribution centers could experience reduced throughput times and lower utility costs by using automated systems to conduct essential tasks when the workers are not on-site.
Warehouses are increasingly using drones and robots to carry out security functions. Camera-equipped robots could “walk the perimeter” just like a traditional security guard. Several robots and one human monitoring a video provides better security than multiple human guards, and at a lower cost.
If there is a security alert, a drone could get to the precise location faster than a person. It could explore the area and track any person trying to gain unauthorized access.
Using robots and drones for security assures worker safety, saves labor, and reduces the need to light the warehouse during overnight hours.
Warehouse automation systems are increasingly connected by the internet of things (IoT), which allows machines to communicate with each other and perform specified functions without human intervention.
Humans, robots, drones, conveyors, forklifts, and other automated devices and systems can provide each other with information essential to optimum warehouse performance. This capability allows warehouses to reduce their human staff and use their personnel to perform other tasks.
One clear indicator of the bright future for robots and drones is the effort tech companies are putting into developing this technology for warehouse use. According to a recent article on the business technology reporting website Techcrunch, investors are getting behind multiple projects for warehouse applications.
The article features reports on drones for inventory control capable of scanning up to 400 pallets per hour, including charging time. A start-up backed in part by Toyota ventures is developing a fully autonomous forklift. Other warehouse automation developers are finding increased investor interest in their ideas.
The hot investment market provides evidence that smart money thinks warehouse automation is here to stay and opportunities for innovative technological solutions will continue to grow.
It is one thing for Amazon to fully automate its warehouses, but most operations do not have the resources, or the desire, to do so. Using a 3PL provider could give smaller operations the efficiency and integration they need without a punishing up-front investment.
A 3PL provider offers customized, scalable solutions to improve your warehouse’s efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction. Providing expertise in all aspects of warehouse operations and cutting-edge technology, a 3PL provider could guide you into the future.