Modern technology offers many levels of automation for all industrial processes : not only the production ones, but also the logistics ones that take place inside the warehouse. For a company that wants to keep up with the times, automating warehouses is an operation that cannot be ignored: and this is true both for storage and for all other activities related to order management, such as for example the preparation and shipment of the same.
It is clear, however, that for a company that starts from scratch in this area, the transition to an automatic warehouse cannot take place, so to speak, overnight. Instead, there is a need for a progressive structuring of automatisms and technological implementations that allow a gradual transition and, for this reason, even more effective. Assuming a sort of evolutionary scale, we start with semi-automatic warehouses, then move on to automatic moving warehouses, automatic warehouses and, finally, intelligent warehouses, which currently represent the highest level of automation that can be reached up.
Semi-automatic warehouses represent a logistic solution for which the use of automatic management, storage or transport solutions complement, and not permanently replace, manual operations. These are warehouses that, from a technological point of view, are undoubtedly more advanced than traditional ones, but continue to rely on the human factor , which plays a leading role.
Semi-automatic warehouses benefit both from the advantages offered by the jobs performed manually and from those that arise from automatic systems: they are ideal for those realities that cannot guarantee complete automation. In order to speak of semi-automatic warehouses, it is essential that some processes are carried out by hand while other phases of intralogistics, such as storage and shipping, are characterized by a certain level of automation. This allows to increase the level of productivity and to reduce maintenance costs . Other benefits are represented by the reduction of errors and a higher level of safety for the goods.
Other levels of automation: the warehouse with automated movement
In warehouses with automated movement, the internal processes of the structure are optimized thanks to the management guaranteed by Robotic Process Automation technologies. If in a classic warehouse the transfer of outgoing and incoming goods is entrusted to human resources, who also have the task of accompanying the items to the packaging and shipping phases, everything changes in an automated movement warehouse. In this case, in fact, the task of the workers is only to monitor and supervise the handling of the products that is carried out by the machinery . These are managed by means of digital devices thanks to which it is possible to intervene on the volume of the activity as needed. The most common approach in a context of this type is the one defined as goods to man : it is not the employees who go to the products, but the opposite.
Automatic warehouses represent a further evolutionary step , and contribute to increasing operator safety as well as guaranteeing faster and more precise operations. Another advantage that deserves to be highlighted is that of saving space. An automatic warehouse, in fact, can occupy a space 10 times less than that of a classic warehouse , obviously for the same number of goods stored. In addition, the tracking of operations and information relating to goods passing through the warehouse ensures more precise inventory management. Shipments are based on the FIFO logic , an acronym that stands for First In First Out: in practice, the first products to come out are the first to enter, so as to avoid forgotten “aging” goods.
Finally, among the automation levels, the highest that can characterize a warehouse is that found in the so-called intelligent warehouses . They are based on a set of intralogistics technologies that include self-driving vehicles and mobile and wearable devices. Traditional automation systems, such as stacker cranes on rails and conveyor belts, do not disappear, but are simply integrated by more modern solutions, among which advanced robotics and volumetric scales stand out.
In an intelligent warehouse, GPS and geolocation systems are widely used, which ensure complete visibility of warehouse resources in real time, while light picking and voice picking are useful for making movements faster and more precise. Furthermore, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are exploited, factors that contribute to optimizing logistics. Warehouse schedulers allow you to constantly plan the activities of all resources , while portable terminals, wireless networks and other information technologies ensure continuous and direct contact with personnel.
The article Warehouse automation levels: human support technology comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .