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Warehouse automation refers to the use of technology to improve the efficiency and accuracy of warehouse operations. There are several types of warehouse automation, including: 

  • Material handling automation: This type of automation involves the use of machines and equipment to move materials within a warehouse. Examples include conveyor belts, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and robotic palletizers. 
  • Storage automation: This type of automation involves using technology to optimize the storage of materials in a warehouse. Examples include automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), automated stacker cranes, and pallet shuttle systems. Picking and packing automation: This type of automation involves using technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the picking and packing process. Examples include goods-to-person systems, pick-to-light, picking robots, and automated packaging systems. 
  • Sortation and distribution automation: This type of automation involves the use of technology to improve the speed and accuracy of sorting and distributing materials within a warehouse. Examples include putwalls, robotic sortation systems, and cross-belt sorters. 
  • Inventory management automation: This type of automation involves the use of technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of inventory management. Examples include warehouse management systems (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems, and barcode scanning systems. 

8 current warehouse automation trends:  

  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning: These technologies allow warehouse automation systems to make more accurate predictions, improve decision making, and adapt to changing conditions. 
  2. Automation systems with IoT: The increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in warehouses allows for real-time monitoring and tracking of inventory, equipment, and worker performance. 
  3. Drones and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): These technologies are being used to improve the efficiency of material handling and inventory management in warehouses. 
  4. Blockchain technology: This technology can be used to improve supply chain transparency and security, and to track the movement of goods through a warehouse. 
  5. Virtual and augmented reality: These technologies are being used to improve worker training and collaboration, and to provide remote assistance in warehouse operations. 
  6. Flexible automation solutions: As e-commerce and customer demands continue to change, warehouse automation systems are becoming more flexible and modular to adapt to these changes. AMRs are a good example of the flexibility now offered by today’s automation solutions. 
  7. Cobots: Collaborative robots are designed to work safely alongside humans and are being increasingly used in warehouses to improve efficiency and productivity. 
  8. 5G technology: With the emergence of 5G networks, warehouse automation systems are becoming faster, more responsive, and more secure. According to a recent market survey commissioned by Vecna Robotics, 50% of enterprise-sized companies are investing in 5G wireless in their warehouses and factories in 2023. 

How mobile robots are driving the warehouse of the future 

Amidst this whirlwind of technologies and constant evolving needs in today’s warehouses, mobile robots (also commonly referred to as autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs), have become increasingly important to the warehouse of the future. These robots are designed to move around warehouses and perform tasks such as material handling, picking, and inventory management. 

One of the main advantages of mobile robots is their ability to increase the efficiency and productivity of warehouse operations. For example, AMRs can be used to transport materials between different areas of a warehouse, reducing the need for human workers to do this manually, which can reduce labor costs and the impact of labor shortages. Additionally, AMRs can be programmed to perform tasks such as scanning barcodes, counting inventory, and picking and packing items, which can improve the accuracy and speed of these processes and reduce human errors. 

Mobile robots can also improve warehouse safety. Autonomous mobile robots can work around the clock, and their movements can be programmed to avoid obstacles and potential hazards, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. They are also able to navigate the warehouse in a safe and efficient manner, reducing the need for human workers to move through tight spaces or operate heavy machinery. 

Another advantage of mobile robots is their ability to adapt to changing conditions. For example, if a warehouse receives a sudden influx of orders, the system can easily dispatch more robots to handle the increased workload. Additionally, if a warehouse expands or changes its layout, mobile robots can easily be reprogrammed to navigate the new space. 

Mobile robots also improve supply chain transparency and security. For example, by using sensors and cameras, mobile robots can monitor the movement of goods through a warehouse in real time, providing valuable data on inventory levels, transportation routes, and potential bottlenecks. Additionally, mobile robots can be integrated with other technologies such as RFID and 5G for even greater transparency and security. 

How to approach implementation 

The benefits of automation are clear, but the path to a successful deployment isn’t as straightforward. And while the road to warehouse automation won’t be the same for everyone, there are a few things to remember when embarking on an automation journey.  

When it comes to implementation, it’s best to take a phased approach—allowing for a more purposeful, measured response to equipment needs at each phase. This helps put a faster ROI within reach, avoids earlier miscalculations setting things back at a later stage, and ensures institutional knowledge exists at the worker level as implementation progresses vs. being lost or non-existent in a rapid, widespread approach.  

Before deploying any automation solution, it’s crucial to see it in action first. Simulating all material workflows, processes, and production configurations confirm whether or not the chosen solution will align with expectations, estimated ROI, and required KPIs and helps reduce—or eliminate all together—the risk of a failed implementation. 

And, speaking of workers, getting them onside is critical to long-term success. Developing a communication strategy as part of implementation offers a healthy level of transparency that can reduce the mystery or resistance to the technology. It also helps employees better understand the technology and take opportunities to learn about it as they see the benefits to them and the company.   

Once warehouse automation is deployed, support is critical. If implementation ever fails, it’s usually due to weak, post-deployment support and missed or unmet expectations. Make the chosen vendor has a robust support program—ideally with remote assistance to proactively monitor the robots and address any issues standing in the way of the autonomous solution running smoothly.  

Getting started with warehouse automation 

Warehouse automation is a rapidly evolving field, with new technologies and trends emerging all the time. By using these technologies, warehouses can improve efficiency, accuracy, and safety while reducing costs and increasing productivity. However, it is important for warehouse managers to carefully consider their specific needs and goals before investing in any particular automation solution. In particular, mobile robots like AMRs play a vital role in the warehouse of the future. They can improve efficiency, productivity, safety, and adaptability in area, and they have the potential to revolutionize supply chain transparency and security. Mobile robots will become even more important in the warehouse industry as technology advances and will not of any successful warehouse operation.  

If you’re ready to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and safety of your warehouse through automation, get started by scheduling an initial assessment with a Vecna Robotics automation expert.