Going Green Through Warehouse Automation
Energy conservation in the warehouse is no longer optional. Perhaps once it was something only the most socially conscious businesses considered; however, today it's essential for any operator serious about cutting costs. Whether you call it conservation, sustainability or going green, it comes down to one solid business idea — cut waste and save money in the process.
In this blog, we'll discuss sustainable warehouse practices and explain how green automation technology can contribute. (Green warehouse construction, as in LEED certification, is another subject and won't be covered here.)
Cutting Waste Is Good Business
Would you choose to spend more than needed on heat, light, fuel and materials? No. But a business that isn't continually looking for ways to reduce these costs is wasting money.
However, “going green” is about more than just turning off the lights in the restrooms. The key to real savings is marrying an examination of cost drivers with an exploration of what warehouse automation technology can do. What’s more, don't overlook the importance of exploring all aspects of green supply chain management.
Automation in the Warehouse
Warehouse automation is about more than adding a few automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). Although AGVs can be useful in transporting goods, but there are many other options to consider when evaluating warehouse automation, including:
- Automated conveyor systems move goods faster than fork trucks, can occupy less space (or use space differently), and reduce the risk of injuries and product damage.
- Gravity-flow pallet racking systems provide first-in-first-out (FIFO) storage with high space utilization and low manpower requirements.
- An automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) stores pallets multiple-deep and can store vertically instead of horizontally, yielding otherwise impossible space utilization.
- Software — in the form of warehouse execution systems (WES) (which couples warehouse management (WMS) and warehouse control (WCS) system technology) — aided by technology such as RFID and barcode readers automates record-keeping and tracks the movement of product through the warehouse.
Green Warehouse Practices
When “going green” in your warehouse, there are three main areas to target:
- Energy consumption
- Opportunities for reuse
- Space Savings
Energy consumption: Warehouses use energy for lighting, for moving product in and out of storage, and for HVAC. For lighting, LEDs and motion sensors are clearly the most efficient approach. If the warehouse is completely automated, perhaps the lights can be turned off most of the time.
For moving pallets, gravity flow conveyors harness this free energy. For other lifting and moving work, modern motors with variable-frequency drives are more efficient than their predecessors. The same applies to HVAC systems. Also, don’t overlook the benefits of using fans for air circulation — especially in taller warehouses.
Another aspect to consider is minimizing the amount of movement needed. A good WES supports warehouse optimization by identifying high movers and helping to locate them appropriately.
Reuse: Warehouses can generate significant volumes of trash, all of which must be hauled away. One source of trash is product that’s damaged during handling, which an AS/RS can help to prevent.
Look also for opportunities to reuse materials — especially packaging containers, picking containers, etc. Plastic pallets make a great example. With five times the life of wooden pallets, they can yield a big reduction in waste. Likewise, use and reuse metal and plastic bins rather than cardboard boxes.
Space Savings: Automated warehouses require a smaller building footprint as compared to their conventional counterparts. This is possible because an AS/RS maximizes vertical space rather than having to expand the building footprint. A multiple-deep, high density AS/RS using Satellite® technology, one of the most environmentally friendly warehouse designs available, stores product up to 18 deep without needing multiple aisles.
Environmentally Friendly Warehouse Automation Solutions
Improving efficiency creates a green warehouse, and efficiency comes from automation. Westfalia Technologies offers a range of green automation solutions tailored to specific industry and customer needs. These range from pallet flow and conveyor systems to AS/RS and warehouse execution systems.
To learn more about the solutions that could help you implement green warehouse practices, reach out to us today.