Daily trends and hashtags tend to inject buzzwords and phrases into the public zeitgeist at a moment's notice. One day, the scandal of the moment attracts the dreaded “-gate” suffix, and the next day, a novel term like "coronavirus" is all anyone can talk about.
Warehouse automation doesn't carry near the number of implications as the novel coronavirus, but it's also a term that's just entering the popular lexicon and needs some clarification. Right now, warehouse automation is still early in its relevance, prone to convolution, and reliant on jargon and acronyms.
But ultimately, warehouse automation isn't just a strategy of the moment — it provides a legitimate boost to your bottom line, workflow and company trajectory.
What Warehouse Automation Can Do
The individual parts of the term “warehouse automation” are self-explanatory, but some layers to the definition deserve to be spotlighted. At its core, warehouse automation is the way particular equipment, storage and retrieval systems are used to automate tedious and time-consuming tasks previously handled by humans.
With warehouse automation integrated into your logistical workflow, you can devote human capital to more high-level and value-added tasks such as count, quality, and outbound load stability. Warehouse automation can also help ensure customer satisfaction and standardize processes meant to ensure capacity, accuracy and efficiency. And if peak periods look like they might overwhelm the labor on hand, automation allows you to keep pace with high demand and maintain consistency.
Though the benefits of warehouse automation are obvious, they're difficult to reap without educating staff members. Automation removes employees from the weeds of tedium and repetition. Therefore, it's vital to educate them on why applying robotics to those long-entrenched tasks is a good thing.
Defining warehouse automation requires laying out its wide-ranging impacts on your whole team, which can speed up buy-in from employees and maximize the payoff to your organization.
When to Implement Warehouse Automation
The what behind warehouse automation is just as critical as knowing when to apply it. To figure out whether it makes sense for your company, ask these three questions:
1. How important is physical labor to your company?
Will you need a quick scaling process to get to market? Would logistics quicken that process even more? Automation can help in each area.
If resource spend comes in at a certain amount, it might make sense to spend a little more to automate certain tasks and take some of that manual burden off your staff. If not, stick with traditional warehouse practices.
2. How standardized are your processes?
The questions around your processes’ levels of standardization can be answered with more questions. What's your current process? How would you like your process to look in the future? How customized is it?
Answer these questions and take stock of your in-house solutions related to inventory reception, return processing, packing, shipping, and more. Let all these factors figure into whether you choose to automate your warehouse.
3. How will automation help during peak periods?
Pay close attention to your peak protocols and see how well you can scale during high-traffic times. Sure, you have tools in place to respond to surges currently, but what if one arrives down the line?
Break down every part of the logistics process, from packaging to shelving to delivery, and ask yourself whether automation can simplify things. If the answer to one or more of those questions is “yes,” invest and don't look back.
Warehouse automation may be new to the scene, but it has considerable staying power when applied properly. Look at your facility's needs and capabilities, and figure out where automation can create buzz, boost efficiency, and spark bottom-line earnings.
Jan Bednar is the CEO and founder of ShipMonk, a technology company reimagining third-party shipping logistics.
Jan Bednar is the CEO and founder of ShipMonk, a technology company reimagining third-party shipping logistics. Bednar, a native of the Czech Republic, moved to America to attend Florida Atlantic University, where his entrepreneurial interests piqued enough to start BedaBox, a shipping startup that became the ShipMonk’s predecessor. Bednar lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida.