Warehouse Automation: Everything You Need To Know

Blog Post

As products are prepared for shipping within a warehouse or storeroom, first they are picked and then prepared for packing. The picking process can be automated using robotics within a warehouse where the storage layout is optimized for access by picking robots, able to retrieve and move properly labeled goods across the warehouse floor.

Once the correct items have been picked, they move through the end-of-line packaging process. At the end of the line, any additional required protective materials are added into the box, which is then sealed, sorted, and placed on pallets and shipped out to customers. Robotic automation can be used through the packing and palletizing process in the form of box erection and height adjustment, as well as automated void measurement and filling, and finally box sorting and palletizing, where robotic arms place fully prepared packages on pallets ready to leave the warehouse on their last mile journey.

What is warehouse automation?

Warehouse automation is the process of replacing repetitive tasks with automated systems, with the goal of eliminating labor-intensive and time-consuming duties. In the process, this frees up workers to focus on more strategic tasks. 

Tasks such as box-assembly, inserting void fill, cushioning, or padding, reducing box height or sealing box lids are all things that a person might not want to spend time on, but warehouse automation can manage to do quickly, accurately and without risk of injury. 

cut'it evo machine used for box height reduction

How warehouse automation and intralogistics relate to each other.

Innovative technologies including computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence allow robots to perceive and interact with the complex warehouse environment, helping to optimize the processes that bring goods through the warehouse in what is known as intralogistics.

What is intralogistics?

Intralogistics refers to the processes used to manage the data, materials, and labor moving through a logistics site. The main aim is to optimize productivity through a combined and improved use of technology, labor and equipment. Automation can impact multiple elements of intralogistics, helping specific processes become more efficient and work better together.

  • Reduced overall costs.​
  • Minimizing inventory and errors.​
  • Increase productivity and throughput.   ​
  • Faster speed to market.​
  • Safer working environment.​
  • Improved flexibility. ​
  • Future proof operations.

Understanding the role of robotics in warehouse automation.

Robotic warehouse automation refers to automation processes that are enabled by physical interactions from machines. Robots are ideally suited to handle dirty, dangerous, or dull work that is less desirable for humans to perform manually. Within the warehouse packaging environment, many repetitive tasks are perfectly suited for robots to take over or assist their human colleagues with to dramatically improve the productivity and quality of their work.

flap'it machine used for packaging small items

What are the benefits of warehouse automation?

The benefits of warehouse automation include improved efficiency of production, ergonomic improvements in the workplace, and optimized materials usage.

Using warehouse automation to address labor shortages.

Successful employers realize that their employees crave engaging work where they are empowered to make strategic choices. Replacing manual elements of the packaging process with workflows streamlined by automation provides opportunities to reallocate labor to higher-skill roles and to make more strategic decisions. Some of the positive impacts of automation on labor management within the warehouse include:

  • Reducing turnover and allowing faster employee onboarding after turnover is experienced. Simple automation systems can minimize the time for training to a single ten-minute session.
  • Increasing throughput by eliminating the most repetitive and manually intense elements of the job.
  • Creating more ergonomically optimized working conditions with less stress on joints and fewer hazards within the warehouse.

Creating an optimized warehouse footprint using robotic packaging automation

In a typical warehouse packaging environment, space must be efficiently used. Products, personnel, equipment, and packaging materials all require room, and the most effective solutions with the most optimized footprints will offer a competitive edge.

  • Automation solutions can lead to a substantial reduction in the number of packing stations required within the warehouse layout because of fewer personnel requirements and enhanced efficiency.
  • In the case of Ranpak Automation’s Cut’it!™ EVO, reducing 20 packing stations to only 6 with the same or greater amount of output is possible within a typical Western European packaging environment.

box height reduction with the cut'it evo machine

Using warehouse automation to cut costs and preserve profit margins.

Automation has a big impact on productivity. It can also help preserve profitability by using materials and space within the warehouse more efficiently. Some ways that automation systems designed for warehouse packaging can help cut costs include eliminating or significantly reducing voids within packages. By reducing voids size, less materials are needed to protect and secure products within a box. By preparing size-optimized packages, businesses can save on shipping costs. Optimized productivity and training can help manage labor costs, keeping a smooth and scalable level of production within the warehouse during peak seasons.

How does warehouse automation work with last mile delivery?

Many companies rely on third-party logistics providers, commonly referred to as 3PLs, to manage their last mile logistics. Given the fact that it is typically a more precise and complex process than delivering products en-masse to a warehouse, it makes sense for many businesses to outsource the logistics of last-mile delivery.

What is last mile delivery?

Last mile delivery is the process of delivering a product from its warehouse location to the destination where it will be enjoyed by the end-customer. It’s the last step in logistics that a business needs to get right, as well as the first step that your customers will see when they receive their products. Within many cases, it’s also the most expensive leg of the product journey.

Automation can help to create the smallest-effective parcels and packages, in some cases helping reduce a package size from a box to a mailer, which saves on costs. By reducing the size of packages, shipping processes also become more environmentally friendly—lower profile packages require less room, meaning more can be shipped while reducing the number of trucks on the road.

The calculation of shipping costs often relies on Dimensional Weight (Dim weight for short). Dim weight takes into account the weight and volume of a package, meaning that a small but heavy item will cost more to ship in a larger box instead of one that is fitted to its actual size. This means that there are significant cost savings associated with optimizing package sizes for the last mile.

What consumer trends are shaping the future of warehouse automation?

Automation systems within the warehouse and packaging environment are currently in a period of rapid technological advancement. Technology, as well as macro trends are all important to consider when selecting the right automation solutions for a business.

Is warehouse automation sustainable?

Automation systems typically accelerate already existing processes. This means that the environmental impact of automation solutions will have a lot to do with the products and materials they are interacting with, as well as the overall efficiency of the warehouse in which they operate. Concepts such as green warehousing look at the total function of the warehouse from the standpoint of environmental efficiency, where automation can play a large part.

For example, it is possible to automate a process that adds cushioning or void-fill material into a box to protect a product. In the event that the products are small, and the boxes are large and poorly fitted, automation is making a wasteful process faster. By contrast, introducing automation to measure a box against the products within it and seal it at the point of highest filling makes packaging fit better, saving space in shipment and improving sustainability.

Similarly, automation solutions that rely on materials that are not sustainable can have a detrimental impact on sustainability. An example would be a system that automates the use of plastic air pillows as void fill. The plastic from these solutions is not typically curbside recyclable and can contribute to the proliferation of microplastic pollution within the environment. By choosing automation solutions that use sustainable materials, it’s possible to improve the circularity of the packaging process instead of accelerating a polluting packaging lifecycle.

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