Automation as a Future-Proof Solution to Uncertainty

Guest blog by Rob Glynn from MHI Member Company TGW Logistics Group

At times, talking about COVID-19’s impact on warehouse operations feels overdone. But its effects are palpable and front-of-mind for many in the industry: it has exacerbated the labor shortage, caused material and finished goods scarcity, shifted customer demands with increased eCommerce sales, and created general uncertainty. For many, making projections on sales and operational needs has been greatly complicated—it’s nearly impossible to know how long any of these impacts will last.

That’s where automation and digital solutions step in. Because of their inherent flexibility and responsiveness, they allow businesses to be more agile and resilient to whatever the future holds. For example, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can be implemented independently of other solutions or technologies and can be adjusted to various tasks. Machine learning and AI can analyze operational efficiency, make recommendations, predict potential issues, and, in some cases, automatically adjust the speed of systems to match demand. And smart goods-to-person (GTP) picking systems, like TGW’s FlashPick®, can manage any sales mix: they independently sequence orders from eCommerce, wholesale, and retail channels. This means that while the number of online orders may be growing now, if a shift back to retail and wholesale happens in a few years, the GTP picking system automatically handles the change. It is also adaptable to changes in SKU counts or product ranges, and is easily scalable with no limitation in system size. It can grow and be extended as the market grows.

An end-to-end warehouse automation solution, if designed well, is also future-proof from a financial perspective. Labor costs are reduced, and in some cases, eliminated. The improved speed of order fulfillment means that more can be done on a work shift, improving the overall cost efficiency of operations. Energy costs can also be lowered, for example, with the use of shuttles that temporarily store their own brake energy or a fully automated “dark warehouse” set-up. Additionally, the right automation partner will be able to implement the new system during current, ongoing operations, so there is no loss of revenue during installation. All of this means that businesses do not have to worry as much about their financial future. They’re able to hit short-term and long-term goals with an investment into warehouse automation.

All that said, it can be hard to decipher where and how much automation to implement. The key is selecting the right systems integration partner who can walk alongside you, use data and simulations to design the optimal future-proof solution, implement it efficiently, and support the whole system after go-live.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought lots of current headaches and future concerns, intensifying the need to invest in warehouse automation. With the right automation solution, however, stability can be created. With the right automation solution, your warehouse operations can become future-proof.