The increasing number of products often causes company warehouses to overflow. The available space can be used better by automating the supply chain. This also reduces the time required for packing internal and external orders.
It has long been impossible to manage large warehouses with a pen and clipboard. Barcode systems, computer-planned locations and semi-automated systems help to make logistics more efficient and thus ensure the company's competitiveness. To avoid a long search, the storage of spare parts and consumables can also be optimised. This applies to both the B2C and the B2B trade.
Meanwhile, fully automated systems make it possible to request products on the computer and hold them in your hands just a few moments later. Long distances with a pallet truck or forklift truck are thus a thing of the past. However, a system conversion requires the adaptation of the existing infrastructure and initially entails costs.
Manufacturers of intelligent and digitised storage systems advertise that the investment pays for itself after just one year. The initial expenditure is balanced, for example, by the reduction in personnel costs. Because of the shorter walking distances, the employees are able to concentrate on packaging. The second optimisation factor is the use of storage space: Instead of limiting the height of the shelves to manual assembly, it can be increased by many metres. Fully automatic robots also reduce the path width, because now there is no longer any need to create space for the forklift trucks to manoeuvre. The extension of the warehouse in height and width avoids the need to expand or rent additional space.
Another advantage of autonomous warehouses is that they are fully digitally monitored: From the point at which goods are received, employees can check stock at any time at the touch of a button. This makes it easier to plan further purchases and prevent possible delivery bottlenecks. The systems evaluate, for example, which products often leave the warehouse together: Prefabricated sheets for a standard process and the required screws are now positioned close to the point of distribution, while rarely needed goods are placed at a greater distance. This was previously only possible through complicated and lengthy planning.
In addition to planning, work safety is also increased: A digitised warehouse is safer because all regulations are observed automatically and around the clock. Human error and the resulting accidents are thus reduced to a minimum.
A success story: From family business to "top dog"
An example of increasing efficiency through the digitisation of the supply chain is the largest European mail order company for music equipment Thomann. The company, located in the tranquil village of Treppendorf, converted to a semi-autonomous storage system in 2009. In particular, the automatic feeding of small parts to the order picking system saved a great deal of time. Thanks to the faster packaging times, Thomann was able to expand its product range from around 65,000 articles to more than 90,000 products. The increase in turnover that accompanied this made the family business to one of the most important employers in the region.
Different fields of application
Automated supply chains are not only worthwhile for shipping centres the size of Thomann or Amazon. Even for small warehouses with an area of only a few hundred square metres, more can be achieved with the support of self-sufficient technology. The specialisation of robots enables digital logistics for products in box or pallet size, as well as for oversized goods such as tubes and metal sheets.
Regardless of the size of the warehouse to be automated, the space required and the processing time for orders are reduced, as is the burden on employees. More precise analysis options also make it easier to plan processes and to carry them out more efficiently.