Logistics are a critical function for any e-commerce operation. Warehouses act as the central node for it. Warehouses hold the product inventory till it needs to be shipped to customers. Warehouse operations include storing and picking inventory, transporting inventory, sorting, and shipping orders. It’s a cost center and an unavoidable cog in the operations of an e-commerce company. Making warehouse operations efficient will improve the profitability of the firm.
Warehouse operation challenges
Warehouse operations come with their own set of challenges. Some of the common ones observed across warehouses of all sizes are:
- Low inventory turnover;
- The high picking error rate;
- High employee costs;
- Inefficient labor management;
- Inefficient order management;
- Low utilization of warehouse capacity;
- Warehouse maintenance;
- Seasonal demand;
- Substandard quality control.
These challenges severely impact the efficiency of warehouse operations, leading to higher running costs and lower profitability for the firm. If you look at the common warehouse challenges, most of them are related to employees in one way or another. Solutions oriented to improve employees’ work and organization will help make your warehouse operations efficient.
Warehouse operations can be automated in different ways. This includes the use of robots, collaborative robots, automated guided vehicles, software, and artificial intelligence. Common tools that help with warehouse processes automation include:
- Picking robots: These robots help to pick inventory from warehouse shelves and place them on order-picking carts or AGVs. Picking errors are minimized with such robots.
- Sorting robots: These robots sort inventory according to requirements without human intervention. There are different types of sorters available. The one suited for your needs is determined by the type of inventory you handle.
- Automated guided vehicles (AGV): AGVs are automated transportation systems that move goods from one part of the warehouse to another without human operators. AGVs include automated picking carts, towing AGVs, AGV forklifts, etc.
- Collaborative picking carts: Such picking carts have automated guidance and are fitted with screens to display the items waiting to be picked. Warehouse employees can view the screen and accurately pick inventory.
- Warehouse management system (WMS): This software helps to organize processes and employees in the warehouse. It ensures warehouse operations run smoothly without a hitch.
- Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS): CMMS helps to manage and coordinate maintenance activities within the warehouse. CMMS solutions assist in automating the maintenance processes of your warehouse.
Some specific use cases of your warehouse might need specific tools other than the ones mentioned above. But for most warehouse operations, these automation solutions help to improve and organize them.
Automation is the way forward…
Automation in warehouses reduces the reliance on employees to perform processes accurately and efficiently. The various tools for automation also assist warehouse employees in performing their tasks. For example, employees in a warehouse using CMMS solutions can access standard operating procedures for any tasks stored in the cloud. This accessibility from any device helps them to gain useful and relevant information when it’s required.
Another example is collaborative picking robots. Employees don’t have to push the cart around the warehouse with significant physical effort. Picking carts can move automatically to any point in the warehouse. Rather than being tagged to a cart, employees are tagged to a warehouse section. They can pick products when a cart reaches their region. These carts have screens that display the items that need to be added to the cart. This feature reduces the errors employees make during picking.
Automation solutions help to reduce the number of errors committed in the warehouse. It also helps to streamline operations by reducing the time required to perform various tasks. The reduced reliance on employees with automation is another added advantage. The improved efficiency and reduced cost due to automation help to improve the profitability of warehouse operations.
Your e-commerce business should actively look to automate warehouse processes. The only challenge is the high initial investment required to implement automated solutions. There’s the option to rely on 3PL operators that rely on automation in their warehouses. This will be reflected in their pricing structure. Directly or indirectly, warehouse automation has to be part of your e-commerce operation.