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Materials Handling – Fixed Vs Flexible Vs Manual

Article by Megan Gee


To make any warehouse work, you need a robust materials handling system. While your picking systems have to be efficient, and/or your manufacturing processes must be excellent, neither will work well unless every item is move with adept accuracy and superlative speed. Whether it is movement from goods-in to general storage, or between various stations to prepare as part of the picking/despatch/manufacturing process, your materials handling system has to be always operating optimally. In the 2020s and beyond, optimal means automated.

There are two main types of warehouse automation, both of which can perform materials handling functionality. The only way to fully grasp why flexible warehouse automation is best, is to clearly contrast it against both manual processes and fixed robotics.

If you are considering the need to improve the materials handling aspect of your operations, flexible warehouse automation is the optimal choice. The comparison below makes it clear why.


In every materials handling system, storage is a central component. The contrast here between fixed vs flexible vs manual is abundantly clear

Manual operations storage

Static storage systems built in place – accessible via large and wide walkways for staff. High space consumption and low storage density

Fixed robotics storage

Static storage systems built in place – accessible by rails/tracks for automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). Medium space consumption and moderate storage density.

Flexible automation storage

Freestanding storage racks built with underside space for AMRs to pass through rapidly and easily. Maximum space utilisation.


What systems/equipment/processes do your warehouse need to make a given operation function correctly? Some systems need more than others, and that has the potential to be a problem. Discover which of the following provides the best infrastructure options for your materials handling solution.

Manual operations infrastructure

Paper lists, voice headsets or handheld terminal equipment, alongside large walkways. Significant training requirement. High probability of error.

Fixed robotics infrastructure

Large metal rails or bulky tracks built into/around static storage apparatus. Carrier apparatus designed for a single/small set of pallet types – adaptation highly disruptive. Substantial installation time commitment. Low error probability.

Flexible automation infrastructure

Flat DM codes and sensor reflectors affixed to the floor and walls, easily rearranged/swapped out freestanding racking. Adaptable for pallets, and products of all sizes and types.


What happens when you want your warehouse to handle materials more quickly? If you hit a peak season, or demand in general for your sector starts to ramp up, how is your operation equipped to respond? By understanding the different responses between manual operations, fixed robotics, and flexible automation, you can quickly discern why the latter has all the advantages.

Manual operations acceleration

Temporary staff must be hired, trained, and deployed. Overall accuracy levels tend to drop over this period.

Fixed robotics acceleration

Acceleration is impossible after the initial deployment and installation of a fixed robotics solution.

Flexible automation acceleration

Additional robots can be deployed into an existing grid on a temporary basis. Overall accuracy levels remain unaffected.

Clarify the contrast

If you want an even better understanding of the contrast between manual operations, fixed robotics, and flexible automation, read the latest white paper from WR today. In “Maximum Advantage” we examine how much change warehouse automation can deliver to your materials handling system, and how much better served your business will be as a result.

Discover why your business faces a stark choice in the not-very-distant future. When looking at industry 4.0 and flexible warehouse automation, you must answer a simple question. Do you want to compete using this technology, or do you want to compete against it?

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