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Warehouse Automation – How to optimise your pick and pack

Is your warehouse automation fully optimised when it comes to picking and packing?

Picking and packing operations in a warehouse drive order fulfilment. The process starts by collecting items from their storage location, sorting them as required, packing items into suitable containers, and labelling them for shipping and delivery. Technology tools are transforming how we pick and pack. One of the main challenges to a smooth order fulfilment process is the poor visibility of information throughout the process. By automating repetitive tasks and improving communications you can create a more optimised warehouse.

Benefits of automation

The aim is to pick, pack and dispatch items using the fewest resources at the lowest cost. Provided you have an efficient warehouse design and layout, you can increase productivity, reduce costs, speed up order delivery, and avoid costly errors. The recent growth in order volumes, especially in e-commerce, means more staff are needed, pushing up costs. Organisations are investing in various automation tools because manual processes are slow, resource-heavy, and no longer fit for purpose. Automated tools mean fewer mistakes and higher productivity. Automated equipment can work 24/7, without requiring breaks. 

Automation tools

Automation includes physical driverless equipment such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), collaborative robots and machine-driven packaging systems. AGVs can replace forklifts and are practical and affordable in smaller warehouses. Automation equipment allows workers to concentrate on more complex tasks such as planning and problem-solving, away from having to do boring routine tasks. 

Automation also includes technology tools that improve communications. Devices such as mobile handsets, wearables, temperature sensors, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanners are already widely used. Scanner-carrying drones increase the speed and accuracy of stock counts by navigating warehouse shelves electronically. Mobile handheld devices, often using Android and Bluetooth applications are used extensively for two-way communication via voice or text. Smart glasses are equipped with cameras that automatically recognise barcodes.

Voice picking is a method that uses an intelligent voice agent and speech recognition software to direct workers through their tasks. Other applications include pick-to-light. Lights visually indicate the picker’s next location and the quantity to pick and where to pack it. Communication between IoT devices in real-time reduces human error and provides visibility to the order fulfilment process.

How to make the first move towards automation.

Taking the first step towards automation means identifying your needs, optimising your layout, and then accessing and comparing the benefits of the best tools available. 

  1. Establish the right picking process for your business. The main picking methods are:
  • Piece picking – simply picking and packing one order at a time
  • Batch picking – picking multiple orders from the same warehouse location using the most efficient route to save time
  • Zonal picking – picking within a designated zoned area and combining picked items across zones to dispatch
  • Wave picking – combines batch and zonal picking.
  1. Review your warehouse design and layout

You need to be constantly improving your warehouse layout to ensure the most efficient picking routes, storage locations for each SKU and the transfer from picking to packing. The most popular products should be as close as possible to the packaging and dispatch area. Place products that are often ordered together in the same area of the warehouse. Each of these small steps reduces the risk of errors and delays while maximising the productivity of workers. 

More about warehouse design and layout here.

  1. Investigate suitable automation tools and equipment

When assessing options, consider how they will facilitate efficient movement across your warehouse space. This is an ideal time to review existing processes before making any decision. Test various equipment options to see how they will speed up the process and how safe they are. After selection, consider how to manage the integration process.

  1. Integration

Automating elements of the picking and packing process and integrating them means faster order processing and improved safety for workers, leading to greater customer satisfaction.  A warehouse management system (WMS) provides the integration of physical and communication tools, providing better visibility into the order fulfilment process. A WMS will provide real-time insight into the status of any order giving workers greater confidence in the process. You can cut order-to-delivery times while improving accuracy and customer satisfaction.

WMS software brings together the benefits of accessibility, analytics, and real-time to drive up order fulfilment performance. You can track productivity metrics such as time saved from order receipt to dispatch and % of errors, i.e., order picking accuracy. 

More about WMS here. Whatever your budget, there are affordable integration solutions available that will streamline your operations.

The future of the order fulfilment process

Artificial intelligence is already behind the transformation of order processing. Natural language processing is making voice-picking a real solution so that workers can operate hands-free and more safely. Another innovation is using augmented reality (AR), where a person’s headset can light up the image of the item and take the wearer to its location. It can also display a list of items, their location, and the fastest route through a warehouse to the packing location. There is no doubt that automation will continue to drive efficiencies in the warehouse.

How can we help you?

SCCG (THE SUPPLY CHAIN CONSULTING GROUP) has extensive experience in warehouse automation for mid-size operations and can get your business to try diverse types of picking and packing solutions. Using the right tools, your warehouse can speed up the process and make the operations more accurate.

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