The shift toward warehouse automation

by Derek Clouthier

Warehouse automation is no longer reserved for the larger players in the industry; it is fast becoming a goal for companies regardless of size. During the CITT’s annual Canada’s Logistics Conference in Halifax, N.S., June 6, Nick Reonegro, associate practice lead with Avalon CSC, highlighted the anticipated growth of warehouse automation, projecting an increase from US$16.23 billion in 2022 to an estimated US$71.03 billion in 2032.

“It’s a very hot market,” said Reonegro. “My clients always phone me and say, ‘Get me out of the Stone Age.’”

Warehouse automation is the process of automating the movement of inventory into, within, and out of a warehouse with minimal human interaction. The motivation behind this shift toward warehouse automation is the desire to improve productivity, lower distribution costs, enhance overall service and combat the ongoing labour shortage in the sector.

Though there are some upfront costs associated with warehouse automation, Reonegro said these costs usually pay for themselves through greater efficiency, increased sales and improved customer service. The use of robotics, such as vertical lift modules, automated guided vehicles, Destuff-it and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), has become more common in a warehouse setting. AMRs can help improve warehouse efficiencies by moving through the facility without needing to be overseen by an operator. They are able to partner with warehouse software and create their own routes between locations in the facility, identifying obstacles and rerouting when necessary.

However, warehouse automation does not always refer to physical robotics; it can also include warehouse management systems (WMS) and transportation management systems (TMS) software. These programs help warehouse operators keep track of inventories and automate tasks such as order picking, shipping costs and delivery schedules, taking these responsibilities off the plate of human employees.

Reonegro said there are several things to consider when selecting the right warehouse automation system for a particular business, including space optimization, productivity, flexibility, support and return on investment.

“It helps you target your future to see where you can improve,” Reonegro said of choosing the proper WMS. “It has to be flexible, it has to be scalable, and able to expand.”

Avalon helps warehouse operators with the move toward automation by focusing on people, the overall process and the various technologies being integrated.