Selecting the Best Automation Solution for Your Warehouse Operations

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By Tompkins Solutions

Automated material handling equipment and robotic solutions are becoming a top priority for many supply chain professionals struggling to overcome disruptions and keep up with the demands of changing industry trends. 

With the current warehouse space and labor shortages, many companies are turning to automation to help fill growing order volumes and meet carrier cutoff times. While automation can streamline many processes and increase speed and efficiency, the best solution will depend on your unique requirements, goals and objectives. Here are a few things to consider when evaluating automation for your distribution and fulfillment operations:

Warehouse space and layout. With warehouse space being a highly valuable commodity today, it’s important to consider how automation will fit into your existing layout. Assess and understand your current capacity and space constraints, including peak periods. Solutions such as automated storage and retrieval systems can help free up valuable floor space by utilizing vertical storage and operating in narrow aisles.

Volume. One of the most important metrics in determining if automation is right for your operations is volume. Define your planning horizon, sales forecasts and other key business metrics that may impact future volumes and requirements. Since peak volumes can be up to 20 times more than average throughput, it’s also important to understand the seasonality impacts of your business and select a solution with the flexibility to adapt and scale to meet changing demands.

SKU and order profiles. In addition to volume, SKU and order profiles also play a large role in determining the best type of automation for your operations. Gather data on SKU size (dimensions and weight), velocity (fast movers vs. slow movers) and flow, as well as the number of SKUs and items per order. Distribution centers that process orders for store replenishment will require much different material handling systems than fulfillment centers that ship e-commerce orders directly to consumers.

Costs. One of the biggest myths surrounding warehouse automation is that it’s too expensive. The reality is, while automation requires a significant upfront investment, it’s still a more affordable option for many high-volume operations due to the limited availability and increasing cost of labor today. When calculating the true value and ROI of automation versus labor, look beyond direct costs and consider additional savings and efficiencies gained such as increased efficiency, productivity, order accuracy and employee retention

Lead times. Steel and labor shortages are causing massive manufacturing delays across the industry, with lead times currently four to six months or longer for most material handling equipment. While the average installation and training time will vary widely based on the specific solution, it’s important to start planning as early as possible to ensure your operations can keep up with growing demands. 

Check out our other resources to learn more about how to optimize your distribution and fulfillment operations.

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