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Why does under-automation clog your throughput?

Article by Michael Trimmer

Under-automation is a serious problem affecting warehouses of all shapes and sizes all across the world. It is often not recognised as a systemic problem due to how disparate and distinct the individual symptoms are. It may not seem like the need to hire massive numbers of staff during peak season is intimately linked to the problems of storage systems that are built-in place. Yet in truth, they all come from the same underlying issue. Under-automation.

One of the most potent problems caused by under-automation is clogged throughput. Where the process of getting orders from storage to despatch gets severely delayed. Not because of unexpected issues or some kind of problem, but rather because of something every business is trying to do. Get as many orders as possible. This is order overload.

What is order overload?

Order overload is when the order volume your warehouse receives in a given time window exceeds your throughput capacity.

When too many orders arrive in too little time, delays start to mount up. The time it takes for the first few orders to get picked, processed, and put through to despatch ends up pushing later orders further back. Longer gaps between each order could make this manageable, but when a sudden surge of orders all arrive at once, the warehouse as a whole begins to slow down. Picks pile up, and items end up getting sent out more and more slowly.

This is especially an issue during peak season, but in truth order overload can strike at any time. This leads to the bizarre situation where a more successful business, attracting more custom, may end up looking less reliable to potential clients as they start shipping out too slowly.

What causes order overload?

The central cause of order overload is the disparity between the technology of demand and the process of supply.

Customers and clients have far greater access to a wider variety of transaction-empowering platforms. Not only does the internet make orders come in faster, but it’s also much more convenient. Everything from desktop computers to phones to watches have now become easy to use sales platforms. The ‘demand’ side of the supply and demand equation is better catered to by technological progress than ever before.

By contrast, the supply side remains relatively unchanged from models of the pre-internet era. The vast majority of warehouses are still locked into the manual processes model, with staff walking back and forth between shelving and storage racks that are fixed and built-in place. This walking consumes between 50%-70% of a pickers time.

Some larger businesses may have elaborate fixed automation systems, but these often require purpose-built warehouses. These can take years to construct, and offer very little flexibility in top speed or warehouse arrangement. If a product becomes more popular or in higher demand, storing it nearer despatch to move things along faster isn’t an easy process in a fixed warehouse.

With the demand side of the equation in technological overdrive, while the supply process is mostly stagnant, it’s no wonder where order overload comes from. Warehouses cannot keep pace with demand, and so processes have no choice but to be delayed. For the current crop of warehouses to eliminate the issue of order overload, something has to change.

How does flexible automation cure order overload?

Since order overload is caused by a technical disparity where ‘demand’ has many more advantages than ‘supply’, the logical solution is to level the playing field. This is what flexible automation accomplishes.

Consistent speeds

A major reason for order overload is the inconsistency of speed that naturally emerges in manual warehouse operations. This is always the case when having to combat problems like fatigue, distraction, and the other problems manual workers face, but it’s exacerbated further when order overload emerges.

A sudden spike in orders is going to make it much harder to keep a consistent speed. People will naturally get more tired and less effective as demand levels. Not only does this make the process slower, it also runs the risk of a drop in order accuracy and secure product handling. An over-reliance on manual processes during an order overload presents all kinds of dangers.

With flexible automation, your speeds remain consistent at all times. With a flexible automation solution from OW Robotics, speeds of between 1-2 metres per second are something you can always rely on. This consistency pushes you through order overloads with ease. No matter how thick and fast the orders come in, a flexible automation solution will always be fully able to keep pace to handle things.

Extra pick faces

With flexible robotics, a single freestanding shelving unit can move to the picking station with a maximum of four possible pick faces. This removes the need for large numbers of back and forth journeys that other fixed or static systems necessitate. Although only one face can be picked from at a time, short loops around the picking station are far faster than constant trading back and forth from storage to despatch.

Additionally, your system can stock commonly grouped items in a single storage rack, making order processes even faster. With multiple pick faces kept in close proximity, complex orders can be assembled quickly and processed expediently.

This speed allows orders to be processed far faster as demand rises, allowing for your business to power through order overload situations. Sudden spikes in demand become an important opportunity rather than something to fear.

Discover flexible robotics – discover Wise Robotics

To see for yourself how flexible robotics combats the issues of order overload, contact Wise Robotics today. Speak with our experts to learn more about industry 4.0 and the future of flexible robotics.

You can even visit us in person. Wise Robotics is proud to own and operate Europe’s first flexible robotics demonstration centre. See the robots in action, learn how they work, and why they offer so much in the way of improved efficiency.

Once you witness the capabilities of flexible robotics for yourself, you’ll understand the opportunities available when your under-automation is cured.

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