Improving business efficiency with modern warehouse technology
The traditional concept of a warehouse is well known, but the technology used in modern warehouses is a far cry from many people’s perception. Warehouses and distribution centres face many challenges in terms of lack of storage space, increased labour costs, and numerous small orders that need to be fulfilled in a short space of time. To meet these needs, modern warehouses use a number of highly advanced automated technologies that help reduce long-term distribution and logistics costs. Here’s a quick look at some of the main technologies they use.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
A key technology in modern warehouse logistics, AS/RS systems help with bulk storage, order picking and order consolidation. These systems enable storage density to be increased by up to 60% and they save on floor space as they can be stacked higher than conventional warehouses.
Order picking accounts for up to 60% of warehouse costs so being able to process orders quickly and accurately directly impacts on customer satisfaction. AS/RS systems are 99.9% accurate, they help save on labour, increase productivity and they don’t damage the product.
Pick-By-Light and Pick-By-Voice
Finding items in a large warehouse can be problematic but many modern warehouses use modern picking systems. Pick-by-light uses a series of coloured lights to lead pickers to the goods they need, and pick-by-voice uses information sent over a headset to the picker. This system allows the workers to keep both hands free for their work, helps them find the optimal route to the item, and is useful for quality control. Pick-by-vision, where pickers use information in their goggles, is being developed.
Modern warehouses use robotic technology and software to bring products to picking stations and as a palletiser – something that stacks goods and products onto pallets. Manually stacking pallets can be labour intensive and expensive, and it puts significant stress onto workers. Articulating arm robots act as palletisers and can also de-palletise and re-palletise layers.
Layer Forming Palletisers
An alternative to robot palletisers is layer forming palletisers. Whereas robot palletisers are more flexible, handling multiple production lines at once and handling multiple objects, layer forming palletisers excel where there is a single line moving at a fast pace, in the beverage industry for example.
Safety is paramount with both types of palletisers, and humans are not allowed within the cells while the machines are working.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) allows for the contactless scanning of goods, meaning the contents of an entire pallet can be read once the shipment passes a specific checkpoint. RFID can be implemented at pallet, case or unit level. Ideally, having it at unit level, so every customer purchase could be tracked, is the medium- to long-term aim, although it’s currently more expensive than using barcodes and therefore less used.
Various types of conveyors are used to move products within a warehouse and to store and retrieve products. Overhead conveyor systems are used in fashion warehouses and for installation and machinery manufacture, and they can be used for cooling or drying items. Wheel conveyors are commonly used for front-end tasks such as loading and unloading of vehicles, and electric trolley conveyors are used in all areas of the warehouse and are excellent for short trips.
Automated warehouse systems use forklifts to load trucks, and they are equipped with RF equipment so the operator can feedback information to the warehouse management system. Operator-less transport systems are also used to transport large loads over short to medium distances. They are equipped with a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) which controls all machinery and responds to conditions using photoeyes and proximity sensors.
While warehousing is often the unseen element of a supply chain, both product manufacturers and retailers need an efficient, reliable system in order to get the right product to the right customer, quickly and cost effectively. Investing in modern warehouse technology pays off in the long term through significant cost savings and improved customer satisfaction. In a world driven by the desire to cut costs while retaining high customer expectations, modern warehouse technology can help to meet these demands.
To find out more about how ByBox delivers high quality technical and logistical support services to businesses, visit our website.