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Warehouse automation and contagion security strategy – COVID-19 and beyond

Article by Michael Trimmer

Maintaining continuous warehouse operation through pandemic-level situations

Flexible warehouse automation both can and should be, a key aspect of your warehouse’s long term contagion security strategy. Warehouse robotics and industry 4.0 are not just matters of efficiency, but also long-term robust operational stability.

While COVID-19 is an entirely new phenomenon, pandemics are not. For better and worse our increasingly interconnected world makes events like COVID-19 both more widespread and impactful. This means they need to be planned for, and since there are no timetables for these matters, that means long-term thinking.

For any warehouse looking to develop a general-purpose contagion security strategy, flexible robotics will be a keystone component. In addition, this technology will make your warehouse fully futureproofed, more efficient, and much faster, making it a cornerstone of any sensible long term contagion security strategy. The following are just some of the many reasons why

Reduced staff requirements

The biggest factor of consideration in any contagion security strategy is the staff population. Every member of staff is at risk of either catching or spreading any future virus or another contagion. The smaller the staff population, the lower the risk of contagion intrusion and spread.

Flexible automation gives you the option of a comparable, or even enhanced level of overall operational efficiency, with substantially less staff. In most manual warehouses, 50-70% of a picker’s operational time is spent moving items between storage and picking locations. Automating that process allows for a smaller overall workforce.

This reduces overall business expenses in general, but it additionally reduces costs caused by contagion-related business disruption. With less staff to bring any disease into the workspace, your business is much more likely to operate through pandemics without problems. Additionally, costs related to pandemic safety equipment and training will be reduced. This allows you to purchase higher quality equipment that will provide more comprehensive protection, making disruption even less likely.

At every stage of the process, a reduced staff population makes your business, and the staff themselves, much safer in any pandemic. This is why flexible warehouse automation is a key component of any long-term contagion security strategy.

Reduced staff interactions

Not only do warehouses utilising robotics require less warehouse floor staff, but the staff that are on-site will also need to interact far less than in a manually operated setting. In an automated warehouse using goods-to-picker systems, pickers are only required to operate at specific static stations, rather than continuously moving to and from various points throughout the warehouse. This means that an individual picker need only interact with a small percentage of the wider staff population, dramatically reducing their ability to spread contagions.

For 50-70% of their work-time, pickers in a manual warehouse are moving items between storage locations. In that time they are also moving in and out of close proximity to other pickers, as well as the wider body of the staff population. Intersecting with staff on pick routes, meeting different staff at picking and return stations, interacting with staff at goods-in bays, and so on.

With an automated warehouse, staff movements can reduce dramatically. The overall number of staff interactions can become far lower, substantially reducing contagion spread.

Simplified sterilisation processes

Keeping your warehouse as clean and contagion free as possible is remarkably easier when using an automated warehouse robotics solution.

In a manual warehouse, the difficulties presented by counter-contagion cleanliness mainly come in the form of disruption. Because the storage systems are in fixed places, cleaning any racks or bays means that not only are those storage units unoccupied, but that route through your warehouse space is blocked and alternative slower routes need to be found. Items need to be moved and rearranged, causing inefficiencies to mount up.

In an automated warehouse using flexible robotics, sterilisation and cleanliness are far easier to arrange.

Firstly, the actual process of cleaning will need to happen less often. Since less staff and less time will be involved in physically interacting with the storage units, the units themselves will be much cleaner and less likely to become a contagion vector.

Second, since the storage units are not fixed in place, they can be removed from the main body of the warehouse’s operating area without wider disruption. While items will still need some rearranging, this can be digitally monitored and managed automatically. Your staff will not notice the difference as they work at picking stations and other parts of the warehouse.

With a system that makes surface sterilisation much simpler, you have a better chance of maintaining complete counter-contagion security in your warehouse.

Simplified quarantine procedures

Pandemics sometimes make it necessary to quarantine items when they arrive. This will mean setting them aside in a specified area of the warehouse until you can be confident that any potential contagious agent is no longer dangerous. Such arrangements are far more easily managed with a flexible robotics automation solution.

In a manual warehouse, a quarantine space can become disruptive. Every other aspect of the warehouse operation has to be moved so as to avoid the quarantine space. Staff will need new training, new routes will need to be planned, and new systems have to be developed and implemented to factor a quarantine area as part of the operations. Every aspect of this is time-consuming and difficult.

With an automated robotic solution, you can easily meet the challenges brought on by quarantine procedures. With no fixed storage units, a flexible warehouse can be rearranged to feature a quarantine area much more quickly. With WMS managing routes and adapting to new and varying volumes of incoming product, this quarantine space can be managed without additional work from staff.

The end result is minimal disruption to your business’s overall operation. Your staff stay safer, your workplace works faster. Contagion security is maintained, and inefficiency is averted.

Robust warehouse operation

Flexible automation is the future of so many industries, and among the very biggest is the fact that it presents a much more robust warehouse operation model.

With the level of warehouse automation offered by industry 4.0, disruption will become both rarer, and easier to deal with when it happens. Your business can handle future turbulent times, as you implement systems increasingly impervious to outside events.

Contagion security is a crucial aspect of long term planning for any business using warehouses. With the automation model provided by OWR, you can be confident that you have a robust and minimally-disrupted operation that will stand the test of time.

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