More and more companies invest in automation solutions. Not that the prices in automation technology decrease significantly, the reason is that other cost increases t makes the ROI more attractive. E-commerce and omnichannel increases logistics costs. More orders with fewer order lines at a low value are not a good combination for profitability, but it is a necessary service if you want to be competitive. It is a service that we as customers require today. Therefore, it often pays to automate the warehouse to decrease labour costs and have a better volume efficiency.
Today there are many different solutions on the market. Some well-established solutions, such as mini-load and cranes, attract especially large warehouse productions. These expensive solutions often require adaptation of buildings, etc. You need a high order volume in order to invest in such technology.
How does the size of your warehouse define the type of automation?
Small and medium-sized warehouse production is also forced to begin with e-commerce and the demands for cost-reduction is increasing and there are very interesting automation solutions for them too, like robotics, for example, there are several developers (Fetch and Quicktron or inVia for example). They are disruptors in the market but something to keep in mind is that they are not volume-efficient as mini-load for example. You still need many expensive square meters. However, the positive part is you can use your existing warehouse without significant modification in the building.
It is also a solution that is scalable without a big investment. Easy to expand and at low investment costs. Another interesting disruptors is solutions like Autostore or Exotec for example, it is more volume effective than the “floor” robotics and it is also based on autonomous robots. It is also easy to scale up and is suitable for small and medium warehouses. I think we will see more of these systems in the near future. The ROI is much more attractive for a broader range of warehouses than cranes or mini-load.
InVia has taken robotics a step further with RaaS (robot as a service) to make it even more attractive to potential customers. The customers do not need huge capital because it removes the upfront investment and they do not need to hire expensive knowledge regarding robotics. A very interesting and also disruptive business model.
Checklist: what to consider
There are some things to consider if you are going to invest in automation.
- Flexibility is the key to any investment, there is a reason that agile has become a trendy word. Customer needs change at a faster pace than ever.
- It is important that the technology solution is flexible and future-proof.
- It is important that you can handle peaks in the demand like singles day, black Friday or Christmas for example. It applies to both inbound and outbound flow.
- Another very important consideration is, what software should control the automation? Does your WMS have a suitable WCS or the provider of the automation solution or even a third party application?
You need to make a careful investigation, what is the most suitable solution right now and for the future?
Roberth Karlsson is a logistics expert and the author of roblogistic.com.