When looking at different options of storage for our factory or warehouse, our utmost goals are ease of access to products, maximizing space, and safety. However, with the massive variety of bulk storage and robotic options, it can be incredibly overwhelming to decide which storage system or combination of storage systems ideally suit your needs.
Even though a significant amount of effort and time is dedicated to efficient warehousing storage solutions for palletized inventory, optimized bulk inventory storage often tends to be overlooked. In this comprehensive guide, we'll look at the different kinds of warehouse robotics systems and the top ways to boost efficiency.
What is Bulk Storage?
Bulk storage is the storage of supplies and equipment in significant quantities, ideally in a warehouse setting. The goods are typically stored without any packaging in original containers.
Bulk storage might refer to the storage of industrial-grade supplies like construction materials or even liquid products like petroleum. It may also refer to the storage of food.
Generally speaking, bulk storage calls for fewer storage bins and provides quick access to containers, with storage layouts in rows and blocks.
Types of Bulk Items and Containers
- Super Sacks: Usually for flowable, dry material. They can be stored on pallets but with caution due to movement, weight, or product overhang.
- Storage Tanks, Drums, Vats, and Silos: Perfect for liquid storage.
- Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs): Designed for a variety of different materials, from hazardous materials to food-grade bulk liquids.
- Assembly Parts/Large Equipment
- Lumber/Building Materials
Bulk Warehouse Storage Options
Usually, warehouse inventories are stored on pallets whenever possible. These palletized loads are relatively easy to handle with traditional equipment (pallet jacks, forklifts, etc.). They are more convenient to store on pallet racks, efficiently using cubic space.
Still, it is vital to remember that not all products can be palletized. In this case, different types of storage solutions are recommended. Some of these include:
Floor stack is one of the most fundamental kinds of warehouse storage and doesn’t call for any type of storage equipment. Objects are placed straight on a single pallet or on the floor and stacked atop another in blocks. It is incredibly space-intensive and calls for vast areas for storing significant stock quantities.
When you eliminate loads from storage lanes, the space stays unfilled until the whole lane is cleared. This calls for in-depth planning to predict the input and output levels of stock and use the area efficiently.
Pallet racks can often be used for bulk containers or modified for non-palletized inventory, depending on the specifications and size of the containers. For instance, drum cradles are mainly engineered for storing drums.
Drum cradles are a brilliant storage solution for round-shaped inventory like rims, wheels, and drums. They have an ergonomic design that uses two triangular supports joined to the rear and front brace that fit nicely over the top of the rear and front beams.
What Are Warehouse Robotics?
Warehouse robotics uses automated warehousing systems, specialized software, and robots to transport materials, automate/streamline different warehouse processes, and perform various tasks.
Recently, robotics has gained a lot of importance in distribution centers, supply chain, and warehouse management circles. It still plays a crucial role in warehouse automation. Warehouse automation refers to the process of automating the movement of goods into, out of, and within the warehouses to customers with little human aid.
A business can minimize or eliminate many of its labor-intensive tasks involving manual analysis, data entry, and repetitive physical work as part of its automation project. For instance, warehouse employees might load an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) with heavy packages.
The robots will carry the goods from one end of the facility or warehouse to the shipping zone. Amidst this, software records that inventory’s movement, keeping all records current. These robots significantly enhance the speed, efficiency, accuracy, and reliability of this task.
Types of Warehouse Robotics
The significantly competitive business landscape and ongoing technological breakthroughs force contemporary warehouses and facilities to consider adopting and using robotics seriously.
With their ability to enhance accuracy, productivity, and operational efficiency, warehouse robots are not just must-have accessories. Instead, they’ve become essential to efficient warehouse tasks.
All kinds of warehouse automation add significant value to warehousing tasks by automating the implementation of repetitive, menial tasks. Hence, this enables human workers to focus more on other complex tasks. Here are the most popular types of warehouse robotics, along with their uses.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
AGVs help in transporting inventory, supplies, and materials within the warehouse facilities. They’re used in many tasks to replace manually-driven pick-carts or forklifts.
Some automated guided vehicles autonomously steer the warehouse facilities by following set routes that are marked by tracks, wires, sensors, magnetic strips rooted in the floor or other physical guides.
Other AGVs use lidar, cameras, infrared, and several cutting-edge technologies to identify obstacles, navigate workspaces, and prevent collisions.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
AMRs are more flexible than AGVs, and they use GPS systems to generate effective routes via a warehouse. They use cutting-edge laser guidance systems to locate obstacles. Thus, AMRs can direct dynamic and challenging environments with a lot of human traffic quite safely. Moreover, AMRs are easy to program and implement quickly.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)
ASRS refers to a set of computer-controlled systems that help computerized inventory management and store and retrieve goods and inventory on demand. These systems are designed to expedite product retrieval and placement and are typically paired with warehouse execution software (WES).
They work either as shuttles or cranes on fixed tracks. They can easily pass by vertical heights and product aisles to deposit or remove items. ASRS systems are used in warehouse settings to speed up the materials handling operations and order fulfillment processes.
“Cobots” or collaborative robots
Collaborative robots (cobots) are semi-autonomous mobile robots that help humans carry out diverse tasks in the facility or warehouse setting. Some cobots follow human pickers around the floor of the warehouse, acting as mobile storage bins for picked orders. Others direct operations through the facility or warehouse, transporting loads and leading associates.
Cobots are equipped with sensors that enable them to differentiate between boxes and obstacles, thus guaranteeing accurate direction-finding through the facility. In addition, they help speed up the order fulfillment process by delivering picked orders to employees in other areas in the warehouses like packing or sorting stations.
A goods-to-person (G2P) technology works on the same principles of an ASRS system. This technology leverages automated storage systems to take the items to stationary pick stations where orders are fulfilled by human operators.
While goods-to-person systems have the potential to deliver significantly high returns on investment (ROI), they do call for major infrastructure modifications, which contribute to downtime and high capital investments during adoption.
Voice Picking and Tasking
Voice-navigated warehouse processes, also called pick-by-voice, use mobile headsets and speech recognition software. It creates optimized pick paths to navigate workers where to pick up or place a particular product.
This technique eliminates the requirement for handheld devices such as RF scanners. Hence, pickers can focus on their tasks with enhanced efficiency and safety.
Articulated Robotic Arms
Articulated robotic arms are multi-jointed limbs that are used to control the products within warehouses and distribution centers. They are basically a kind of pick and place robot. Since these arms can turn, move, maneuver, and lift items, they can be used in a series of warehouse operations:
Automated Sortation Systems
Sortation refers to the process of recognizing items on a conveyor system and averting them to a warehouse area using sensors, barcode scanners, and RFID. Companies use automated sortation systems (ASS) for picking, packing, receiving, and shipping in order fulfillment.
Everyday Use Cases of Warehouse Robotics
It is evident that robotics play a significant role in warehouse automation and continue attending to the most prevalent challenges in supply chain management (SCM), including:
- Rising wages and employment costs
- Changing order profiles
- Decreased availability of labor in the market
- More complex order fulfillment strategies
However, there are many things robots can be used to do in particular, and they can help around in the following warehouse tasks:
Picking is one of the most common warehouse tasks carried out by warehouse robots. A significant part of order fulfillment and replenishment entails moving from one product aisle to another to bring out the order items or settle down products in storage shelves or bins.
Order-picking robots minimize order processing times and related costs by decreasing the travel time across the warehouse.
Even though sorting is relatively simple for human workers, it can be quite a challenging task to automate. Warehouse sorting robots usually have arms, conveyors, sensors, cameras, and algorithms to recognize the items correctly before sending them to the correct storage or bin area.
On the other hand, AI-integrated sorting systems combine with picking robotics to guide the warehouse associates to correctly sort batch-picked items into sort walls.
Robots deliver substantial value to warehouse operations by eliminating/mitigating errors, reducing overhead and operating costs, speeding up order fulfillment, and facilitating better inventory management. Some warehouse robots can automate the stock replenishment workflows, minimizing backorders and stockouts via automated re-ordering.
These computerized systems basically overlook and monitor inventory levels and immediately send out alerts when the stock count crosses below the minimum threshold point. However, other automation systems such as AGVs can also navigate workers in the replenishment process when the new stock arrives.
Warehouse robotics also incorporate automated systems like bagging machines and cartonization software that help hasten the packing operations. These computerized systems work with features like the products’ overall dimensions and weight to calculate the perfect carton size for orders and guide associates to the right job.
Carrying items from one end to another in the warehouse is physically demanding and exhausting. It decreases the amount of time workers can spend doing more value-added tasks in the order fulfillment process.
Robotic transportation systems like conveyor systems, monorails, and automated guided vehicles can help transport goods and pallets from one area to another, thus minimizing a significant amount of human footprint and the associated stress AGVs help to transport order items from the picking points to the sorting locations.
Generally, monorails are used to move pallets around, while conveyors can conveniently transport bins, boxes, and items.
5 Ways to Improve Warehouse Productivity and Efficiency
Present-day warehouses have different concerns than the warehouses of the past. Thus, it is vital to understand the role served by technology. Warehouse efficiency and productivity have always been important, and it is critical to have suitable systems.
The supply chain trends towards swift delivery and direct-to-consumer sales are emphasizing more on warehouse operations. The need to boost efficiency and achieve a greater performance level is crucial, and the right technologies can help .
Warehouse management software (WMS) and warehouse automation systems (WAS) have existed for many decades. They continue improving with other technological advancements like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Earlier, warehouse systems mainly focused on moving bulk goods and minimizing labor. Today’s warehouses require greater flexibility. While both speed and efficiency are crucial, the enhancements must deal with smaller quantities of a vast range of goods productively and quickly.
Also, looking at the jobs your employees do in your warehouse or facility will help you determine if they could make any changes to boost their efficiency and productivity.
Mechanization in Warehouses
Material handling technologies like ASRS systems, conveyor systems, and robotics play a vital role in getting cases of pallets of inventories into, out and around to the shipping area.
However, equipment and facilities that back the warehouse operations’ pick-pack-ship area are more important in the present-day environment.
Current facilities like pick-to-light, carousels, and gravity-feed racks are being substituted or supplemented by robotic systems that carry the goods straight to the packer just when there is a need to fill an order.
These automation systems are directly tied to inventory and order management systems, which have grown to support this extent of end-to-end information management.
The Importance of ERP
Choosing the right ERP system is the ground base of a well-operated warehouse. It needs to seize and handle order information, interact with robotic and material handling systems to create a smooth order fulfillment process and keep a close track of inventory together with the WMS.
The best ERP systems convey through to the process of shipping. This may either be a transportation management system or software made available by packaged delivery partners like FedEx and UPS to take care of load planning, routing, and scheduling, along with optimized cargo.
Using Existing Software in Modern Warehouses
Warehouse operations can be highly flexible and efficient between mechanical automation and complete, unified software systems. The good news is that the existing software and systems can serve as the base. Most of these mandatory systems can be adapted and upgraded to work with newer improvements.
This indicates that companies do not necessarily have to take out and entirely replace their current ERP, transportation management, warehouse management, and material handling systems, provided that they are up-to-date with the developers’ improvement and maintenance releases and are designed for integration.
Reduce Time Waste in Your Facility
When you want your employees to boost their efficiency and productivity, consider making it easier for them to do so. Many ways you change productivity levels intersect with methods to enhance your operations.
If you haven’t done anything to make your workers’ jobs more manageable, you simply can’t expect them to enhance their labor output for incentives. A few ways to alleviate wastage of time include organizing your warehouse, so employees do not need to travel far off to pick the correct goods and carry them all the way over to the loading area.
The steps taken by workers add up over a day to minimize their efficiency and productivity. As a result, here are some things by which you can arrange the warehouse and minimize time waste:
- Place Items Strategically
Place the more frequently used items in easily accessible racks or shelves closer to the dock. The rarely shipped items can be kept in less accessible spots.
- Get Employee Feedback
Ask your workers where they see room for improvement in your warehouse or facility. Use this valuable information to find out how you can modify your facility to make their jobs more productive and efficient.
- Use Cross-docking
Each product that makes its way to the dock doesn’t need to go into storage. This is where cross-docking can be done, as it enables you to swiftly send out goods that have arrived recently. You’ll also save money and labor by opting for this newest warehouse enhancement technique.
- Organize workstations
In well-organized workstations, it is important to clearly label the tools needed by workers. Providing your workers with the best quality tools lets them grab a device or machine such as scanners and know it will work.
Have workers regularly carry out inspections on tools for signs of wear and tear. Get rid of items that require repairing until they get fixed. This might save a lot of frustration and time by keeping employees from going back to the workstations frequently to replace tools.
- Improve safety
Safe workers will not require time off for workplace or work-related injuries. In addition, you may boost productivity and loyalty by enhancing safety in your workplace.
- Train Managers
Enhance manager training to aid workers in boosting productivity and help you look for areas in the warehouse that call for improvements.
Incentivize Your Workers
It's quite likely that half of your workforce directly oversees the picking and packing operations. As a result, you can incentivize these employees with other perks and bonuses for reaching the production levels by giving them objectives to work towards.
You can raise the productivity and efficiency of your workers considerably with strategically created monetary rewards for performance increases.