Is Your Warehouse Ready for Automation?

December 18, 2019

Automated Warehouse Grey Orange RobotsAlmost every day there is an article posted on the next technology that is going to change the logistics industry. Our thirst or rather drive for a better deal is fuelling e-commerce as more consumers turn to online shopping over retail. eRetailers on the other hand battle it out to win your business by promising lower prices and faster delivery.

Our city centres are changing and shops of the future will be more of a showroom for the goods you will buy online than actually selling you the end product. Augmented Reality (AR) will no doubt be a big contributor to this change as you will simply hold up your phone or tablet and be able to explore in detail your future purchase whether it be a new item of clothing, a piece of furniture or your favourite food.

Whilst all of this is terribly exciting, yet at the same time somewhat frightening what the future holds, there is no denying the logistics industry is changing at a breathtaking pace.

What is the warehouse of the future?

Modern Automated WarehouseThe warehouse of the future may look nothing like it is today. For example, an Amazon fulfilment centre is vastly different to a conventional warehouse where instead of a single level, high ceiling box style building, it is now a multi-level, low ceiling height warehouse where small robots replace high reach forklift trucks.

Where multi-storey department stores once stood and thousands of people shopped, in some cases, these have been replaced by multi-level fulfilment centres because they are close to conurbations. Robotic fulfilment centres do not need conventionally high clearance ceilings, so this type of building is relatively easy to convert into a modern distribution centre.

Fear of jobs being lost to robotics is a genuine one but there is a misconception that a robotic warehouse gets rid of people and jobs. This is often not the case, as many hundreds or in some cases thousands of people are still required even in a fully automated warehouse. Obviously, as technology is refined further this may change and reduce the requirement of people but for the moment at least, automated warehouses still need people.

Can any warehouse be ready for the future?

The short answer is probably not, well not without compromises. Compromises can be locality, is your warehouse close enough to serve your customers, is your warehouse able to be converted to higher density, be that multi-level or very narrow aisle (VNA) can it take robots or vertical storage and carousel systems.

One of the most important components of any warehouse is the floor. Ask most distribution centre managers what matters most to their operation and they will usually answer, ‘does my roof leak and is the floor OK’. People are obviously important too but if your roof leaks and your floor is not able to service your customers, then the business really starts to suffer.

Robotics, VNA, automated guidance vehicles (AGVs), automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and even conveyors all put greater demands on the warehouse floor than ever before. An existing warehouse floor may not be suitable for either systems without some form of rectification or compromise. Newer developments can fair no better and actually be at more of a risk being unable to service automation due to lean slab designs, which have been engineered to the limits. Bring in robots to the equation and the demands on the floor change even further with some requiring very specific requirements such as:

No longer is it just loads and flatness that is important for a warehouse floor, the demands on the floor are more complicated and challenging than ever before.

Whether you are considering ASRS, robotics, VNA, AGVs or just want a better floor, designed and constructed for the future, speak to us. We can help unravel the complexities and speak plain English what it means to your business to ultimately, protect your investment.

A structural engineer may understand the design and the loads but marrying the materials handling equipment (MHE) and floor together takes a different level of understanding. The earlier you engage a specialist consultant, like CoGri USA (who are currently leading the way in floor flatness testing for robotics), the greater chance you have of success and a lower risk to your project.

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