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Types of warehouse automation

Article by Megan Gee

What are the different types of warehouse automation?

It’s not easy to define warehouse automation. It often looks different for every business. Each type has its own unique features that vary in size, shape, and capability. But at its most basic level, warehouse automation can be categorised into two broad types, with multiple areas falling under each category:

Digital warehouse automation

Digital warehouse automation relies on software and electronics to reduce or eliminate manual processes.

Physical warehouse automation

Physical warehouse automation includes the various forms of mechanised automation that have a physical presence on site.

Both types of automation ultimately reduce costs, minimise the risk of human error, relieve manual labour, and improve safety – among several other benefits.

But what do these types of warehouse automation look like specifically?

Warehouse management software (WMS)

A warehouse management system exists to tie together the data, information, and workflows in a warehouse. These can vary from best-of-breed platforms focusing specifically on WMS, through to supply chain management systems that handle procurement, freight, logistics, and transportation management. Then there’s ERP, an all-in-one solution that brings together your warehouse management, supply chain, as well as your accounts, sales, customers and more.

 

Handheld terminals (HHT)

Handheld terminals provide a fast and effective way to book goods into a warehouse. As well as creating, assigning, or amalgamating picks, users can perform stock takes and flag any stock issues. This data will often be fed back to a WMS, where managers are given visibility of what’s happening across the warehouse.

 

Machine learning 

In a warehouse environment, machine learning can be used as an alternative to traditional planning that rely on multiple workflows and engineering. Instead of the usual methods, machine learning can be used to predict how long it will take to complete a given task by comparing streams of existing data. The data can come from several sources, including warehouse management systems and handheld terminals.

 

Types of physical warehouse automation

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs use magnetic strips, cameras, or sensors to navigate through the layout of the warehouse. AGVs are best suited to large, simple warehouse environments that transport materials directly to production lines. Unlike AMRs, AGV’s aren’t as suitable for warehouses with lots of human traffic and space constraints.

 

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

More flexible than AGVs, AMRs use localised positioning systems to create effective routes through a specific warehouse. They use advanced laser guidance systems to detect obstacles, so AMRs can safely navigate dynamic environments with lots of human traffic. They are easy to program with routes and easy to implement quickly.

 

Sortation Systems

Sortation is the process of identifying items on a conveyor system and diverting them to a warehouse location using radio-frequency identification (RFID), barcode scanners and sensors. Companies use automated sortation systems in order fulfilment for receiving, picking, packing, and shipping.

 

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

AS/RS is a form of goods-to-person fulfilment technology that includes automated systems and equipment like material-carrying vehicles, tote shuttles and mini-loaders to store and retrieve materials. Typically utilised by high-volume warehouse applications with space constraints.

 

Goods-to-Person (GTP)

Goods-to-person fulfilment is one of the most popular methods for increasing efficiency and reducing congestion. This can include AMRs, conveyors, carousels, and vertical lift systems. This type of automation is designed to deliver the right item or SKU, at the right time, and to the right operator or workstation. Goods-to-person technologies increase productivity, throughput, and labour utilisation by eliminating wasted walk and search time.

 

Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Systems

Pick and put-to-light systems combine mobile barcode scanning devices and digital light displays to guide warehouse pickers around a warehouse – whether that’s where to find an item, or where it needs placing. As you can imagine, this significantly reduces the amount of time warehouse staff spend walking and searching for locations.

 

When it comes to deciding the best types of warehouse automation for your business, Wise Robotics is backed by over thirty years of experience in the warehouse management and automation industry. If you’re still new to warehouse automation, get in touch to discuss the future and potential of your own operation.

 

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