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Hybrid solutions a wise option

20 May 2021

Automation + manpower = a wise combination for the future, particularly when considering the best use of warehouse space.

In the Tomorrow’s Warehouse 2020 survey, carried out in the wake of the pandemic, 43% of companies questioned said they were more likely to invest in some form of automation, while 39% said they were not sure, and 18% stated that were less likely to invest. So the picture is not clear cut, and these numbers indicate that automation may not be the holy grail it was once predicted to be for everyone. 

While it is true that the warehouse of tomorrow may well involve fewer personnel and a higher level of automation, this will not be the case for everyone. Factors in play here include the layout of premises, the age of buildings, the state of the flooring, as well as the nature of products stocked. Large-scale investment in automated technologies is not a guarantee for immediate transformation of a business. In the worst case scenario, it can be a drain on resources, not as effective as hoped, with less than satisfactory payback.   

One trend we have noticed is that a thought-through mix of people power and automation can be the solution, particularly when space is at a premium, which it certainly is now in most areas. A good example of this is the experience of customers who are combining robotics with our space saving forklift trucks. 

One of these is 3PL provider eStore Logistics in Australia, which uses Aisle Master articulated forklifts at each of its sites across the country, enabling the company to develop a solution that provides all-day fulfillment with a 4pm cut off for same day delivery for its customers.

According to eStore’s Strategic Projects Manager, Kieran Boyce: “The availability of floor space is critical for the allocation of automated robotic handling operations. Using VNA pallet racking in tandem with the Aisle Masters ensures optimum storage capacity per m², thereby minimising the footprint of our bulk pallet storage. In this way we have been able to reclaim valuable space for the use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).”

Kieran continues: “The surge in ecommerce was first fuelled by the pandemic. eStore Logistics customers sold 181 per cent more items in June 2020 compared to that of June 2019, and logistics data indicates that the move to online sales will be a permanent one, so we expect demand for our services to increase. For many retailers, the costs of expanding or developing their own warehouse operation is not viable, especially as this usually entails investment not only in warehousing space but also in costly technology such as AI-powered robots. A 3PL strategy to deliver a speedy and cost-effective service is often the more practical choice.” 

So rather than going all out on automation, combining it with so called traditional methods may well be the wise approach when looking at tomorrow’s warehouse. Investing in optimisation should be prepared before automation.

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