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Warehouse Automation: Technologies and Benefits

Warehouse automation is here to stay, and forward-looking businesses that invest in modern warehouse automation technologies can expect to outperform their competitors.
Warehouse Automation: Technologies and Benefits

Introduction to Warehouse Automation

Automation uses sophisticated technology to reduce—but not eliminate—human labor in the production and delivery of goods and services. In today’s digital world, automation is widely used by businesses of all sizes, in every industry.

In an inventory management setting, warehouse automation works hand-in-hand with employees to improve operational efficiency and productivity transforming time-consuming manual processes like sorting, picking, packing, shipping, and returns.

Warehouse automation refers to the use of technology to streamline and automate various tasks within a warehouse, minimizing the need for manual labor. It encompasses a broad range of technologies and systems, aiming to improve efficiency, accuracy, and overall productivity in handling inventory.

Types of Warehouse Automation Technologies

Warehouse automation technology comes in many shapes and sizes, including:

Goods-to-Person Technologies

Goods-to-Person (or GTP) automation is part of the picking process. It brings products to a team member’s picking station. That team member can then quickly and accurately fulfill orders without moving from their station. GTP systems may be comprised of:

  • Conveyor belts.
  • Fixed robotic systems (e.g., Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems [ASRS], which pull and deliver products in a tray or container).
  • Mobile automation technology (e.g., Autonomous Mobile Robots [AMRs], which move throughout the warehouse to find the appropriate items and deliver them to the picker).


Pick-to-Light, Voice Picking, and Sortation Systems

Pick-to-Light (or PTL) technology uses lights, LED screens, and barcodes to direct pickers to the locations of the products needed to fill each order. Simply put, the picker scans the order’s barcode; the system lights up the pick locations; and LED screens let the picker know how many items they need for that order. When the lighting system goes dark, the order is complete.

Like PTL, Voice Picking Systems increase efficiency by reducing the number of steps a picker needs to take to complete an order. Voice Picking uses speech recognition software and mobile headsets to deliver verbal instructions to pickers and eliminate paper-based processes.

And, as the name suggests, automated Sortation Systems identify items on conveyer belts, sort them, and route them to specific destinations. This technology eliminates monotonous sorting chores, freeing workers to focus on more high-value tasks.

Collaborative Mobile Robots and Drones

Collaborative Mobile Robots (or cobots) are lightweight, agile robots, that can be programmed to perform hazardous, challenging, or repetitive tasks. Smaller and less expensive than industrial robots, cobots can work alongside employees to pick, pack, inspect, and ship orders.

Like cobots, drones also help employees—but they do it from the air. Equipped with eagle-eyed sensors, infrared cameras, and barcode scanners, drones scan warehouses, pinpoint misplaced items, and alert human workers when restocking is needed.

Enterprise Resource Planning: The Cornerstone of Warehouse Automation

The almost futuristic technologies listed above are incredible advancements for the warehousing and distribution industries, but they can’t reach their full potential in the absence of foundational (and equally advanced) business management software. A cobot can complete tasks and a drone can locate inventory—but they can’t do it on their own. They need a “brain” of data to feed and guide them.

That’s where warehouse automation powered by enterprise resourcing planning (ERP) software comes in.

An ERP system acts as a centralized repository for all of a business’s data—from customer and inventory information to carrier and supply chain logistics and beyond. It captures, analyzes, and reports on this data automatically, placing all the information necessary for data-driven decisions at employees’ fingertips.

It can integrate with critical third-party software to make warehouse automation more efficient—such as linking to digital scales and printers to automatically weigh shipments and print appropriate shipping labels and packing slips. An ERP system with a strong warehouse management component can also:

  • Facilitate paperless, directed picking from mobile devices or scanners.
  • Automatically generate wave and batch pick lists based on the best path for every picker.
  • Calculate correct package sizes to ensure safe, environmentally sustainable transport.
  • Generate shipping labels and packing slips that comply with industry regulations.
  • Streamline stock movement and provide a clear picture of inventory turnover rates.

Such an ERP system is the true cornerstone of warehouse automation and a lasting investment for success now and in the future.


Advantages of Warehouse Automation

Though businesses may have qualms about the time and expense of investing in and implementing warehouse automation technologies, the benefits of doing so far outweigh those concerns.

Warehouse Automation Benefits

Here are four of the main benefits businesses can expect:

Improved Efficiency and Productivity

Equipping workers with warehouse automation technologies helps them complete their tasks faster and more easily. These technologies also alleviate the boredom that comes with performing recurring tasks (e.g., sorting items, switching between disconnected systems for data, etc.) and ensure that workers can fill orders efficiently and accurately.

Workers also don’t have to traverse the entire warehouse to find items. They can save time (and their feet) by using light, voice, or drone-powered features to direct them to inventory locations—or they can just stay in one place and let the technology deliver what they need, when they need it. They can also use an advanced ERP system to automatically collect data from the warehouse or shop floor—no need to manually sift through reams of data or make unnecessary, time-wasting trips to physically find stock.

Savings and Space Optimization

When comparing the operational costs of an inefficient warehouse (e.g., poor inventory management, inaccurate labor forecasting, and manual- and paper-based processes) to the cost of investing in warehouse automation technologies, businesses will find that numbers don’t lie. Warehouse automation enhances accuracy, speeds up operations, and reduces losses, which adds up to monetary savings and improved customer satisfaction.

As to space optimization, warehouse automation technologies allow businesses to take advantage of every square foot of warehouse space they possess. Through configurable role-based dashboards, an ERP system helps employees see what stock is available, where it is located, how many units of the items are available, and how in demand each item is. And, while space optimization may hamper employees, who have to work around higher selves and narrower aisles, navigating tight spaces is no problem for cobots, drones, or other warehouse automation technologies.

Enhanced Safety and Sustainability

With warehouse automation technologies, businesses enhance their employees’ safety by eliminating the need for them to handle potentially toxic products, to use pallet jacks or forklifts to reach top-rack items, and to lift/push/pull heavy or bulky products. The warehouse automation features available in an ERP system help in this endeavor by keeping everyone up to date and on the same page.

If employees can easily communicate with one another and work based on the same information, there are fewer opportunities for missteps or costly accidents. As human error is eliminated, overall accuracy improves, and environmental sustainability is enhanced by the resultant increased efficiency, decreased operating costs, and reduced waste.

Increased Flexibility

Finally, warehouse automation helps businesses become more agile and adapt to demand fluctuations. A modern ERP solution can scale up or down a business as it changes over time, and other automation technologies (like robots) can help businesses navigate labor shortages and work effectively with a smaller staff.

Caleb Harris
"We are growing on all fronts. With Acumatica as our platform for growth, we can bring on new product lines to expand the business without worrying about the tools or integrations needed since Acumatica scales right along with us."
Caleb Harris, Senior Vice President Business Development

Acumatica Warehouse Management in Practice

“For us, the power of the Acumatica system is in the WMS and shop floor data collection, the inventory management, the ability to deliver to a customer and to get things right.” Ben Leinster, CEO, AFF|group

“We have millions of units floating around, with components coming in from various countries to meet up with cosmetics and we actually have a visual at all times and that’s been a game changer for production.” – Mark Bubb, Owner / COO, Killer Merch & CRO, Jeffree Star Cosmetics

“Having that stock control is incredible. That’s put us at the forefront, especially in the craft beer industry. Now we can track it all; everything we do is in Acumatica. Whatever information we want, we can have it at the click of a button, and that’s the key to our success. We know what’s in each warehouse and when goods are sold.” – Colin Gilhespy, Co-Owner & Managing Director, Cave Direct


The Warehouse of the Future

More and more businesses are recognizing the benefits of warehouse automation. Fears of humans being replaced by artificial intelligence are giving way to the understanding that warehouse automation can’t happen without human expertise, input, and collaboration. With warehouse automation, businesses today and in the future can expect to enjoy improved efficiency, safety, sustainability, and scalability—all while delivering exceptional customer service and achieving financial success.

See what’s possible when you have a future-proof ERP platform that truly puts customers first.

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