October 28 2021

Author: Ryan Smith, VP of Automation

Warehouse automation is an important part of growing your business. It’s a space-efficient, cost-effective solution to the many challenges facing today’s warehouses, distributors, and manufacturers. It helps mitigate labor constraints, while ensuring trackable, smooth operations as products and pallets move in and out of the warehouse. Although it may seem like there are endless automation options on the market today, not all automation is right for every product or industry. It’s crucial to understand the different types of automation solutions, their benefits, and why it’s important to consult with a reliable partner to simplify the process.

Types of Automated Systems

There is no one size fits all solution for automating a warehouse. In fact, improper planning can result in ineffective equipment that over-or under-automates a facility. This can have a huge impact on ROI and overall efficiency, so it’s critical to choose the right one for your unique challenges. There are three main categories of automation to choose from:

  1. Palletizing Automation: Palletizing is an important part of storing and distributing products, but it’s also one of the most repetitive aspects of warehousing. Oftentimes, it’s one of the first warehousing operations to be automated because it can directly reduce labor costs and reduces common risks associated with repetitive motion related injuries. Along with the decreased likelihood of damage and increased productivity, this form of automation is usually a great first step.
  2. Unit Load Automation: Then comes Unit Loads, or moving pallets of product, and is usually the easiest to automate. Unit load automation dramatically increases the density of warehouses, has an easily calculable ROI, adds efficiency to other operations like picking, and increases productivity for warehouses with high throughput.
  3. Case Handling Automation: Moving cases is a huge category of automation but allows more selectivity of product and reduces the double handling of product. It is usually a little more costly and unique to implement, but overall, dramatically increases operational efficiency.

How to Automate Order Picking

Before deciding which categories of automation is correct for specific warehousing and distributing needs, it is important to have a reliable partner who will act as a consultant throughout the entire process to ensure quality and customized systems that will solve today’s top warehouse challenges. Due to the labor shortage and global supply chain issues, there has been a huge spike in interest to automate the order picking process. Like most automation solutions, there are several options to consider:

  1. Full Pallet (Unit Load) Picking: Westfalia Technologies' Automated Storage/Retrieval System (AS/RS) can select pallets from reserve storage and bring them as close to the loading docks as possible, significantly limiting the role of manual labor and turning trucks fast to get back on the road.
  2. Automated Layer Picking: Depending on the makeup of your orders, it may be more efficient to have one or more robots pick entire layers of product from a source pallet to an order pallet. Many manufacturers can pick more than 25% of their orders in this fashion, which is a huge labor savings. Some companies even provide incentives to their customers to pass these savings on and make the entire supply chain logistics operation more efficient.
  3. Case Picking: Depending on volume and SKU count needs, and generally expensive to automated, case picking automation is highly sought due to today's labor shortage and worker reliability. AS/RS can be implemented as a full or hybrid solution. offering reduced operational and labor costs.

Ultimately, the right form of automation is out there to help alleviate operational inefficiencies, not only during times of disruption, but as a long-term solution that will withstand future challenges. Automation significantly increases storage capacity, saves on manual labor, contributes to a safer workplace and is environmentally sustainable. No matter which category of automation that you're considering, reach out to us and we can find a solution for you.

If you are interested in learning more about how automation can optimize your warehouse, you can watch Automation Optimization to Take Your Warehouse to the Next Level webinar by Ryan Smith, VP of Automation.