Are UK warehouses ready for tomorrow’s technology today?
04 July 2017
James Sharples, Managing Director of Swisslog UK, shares his thoughts on the challenges impacting warehouses, and how using tomorrow’s technology today could abolish these issues.
One thing is for sure; the world of warehousing and logistics is continuously changing. This rapid evolution, caused by a range of contributing factors, calls for innovative warehouse technology to tackle new challenges as they arise.
Intralogistics experts at Swisslog serve customers from all walks of life, particularly within the retail and e-commerce, pharmaceutical, healthcare and food & beverage industries. We have helped businesses around the world connect with the future, and this has put us in a strong position to easily recognise the pitfalls of an endlessly growing sector.
Storage space: challenge accepted
Many issues are faced by warehouse managers on a daily basis, but one that most distribution centres have experienced at one time or another is limited storage space. Whether steady business growth or an anticipated peak is responsible for these challenges, it is an obstacle nonetheless.
There are a wide range of solutions available to accommodate those facing a lack of space in their facilities, largely driven by the type, shape and frequency of product being stored. The recently upgraded PowerStore compact pallet shuttle system is already being used with great success by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola in North America, and is now compatible with UK and Euro standard pallets. PowerStore is renowned for using virtually every square metre of the available space, and for Pepsi Bottling Ventures, the solution increased storage capacity by as much as 60%.
Our automated small parts storage system, AutoStore, also picks and stores single items and small cases to make better use of available space and increases efficiency at integrated goods-to-person workstations. One of Britain’s largest retailers, ASDA, selected Swisslog‘s AutoStore solution to handle a range of its products in a more space-efficient and productive way. From the outset, the system enabled ASDA to manage several thousand different product lines, while allowing further phased investments to accommodate more bins, in line with the retailer’s developing requirements.
Addressing returns handling
Returns handling has long been a major challenge in the e-commerce sector, and as more people take to the web for their retail therapy, many companies are reporting up to 50% returns rates. To compete in this difficult market, retailers are offering free returns, but this means double the logistics costs, no turnover and sometimes a disappointed customer.
The solution is a combination of efficient returns-handling processes, enabling a smooth experience for the consumer, accelerated availability of returned goods, lower intralogistics personnel costs and higher storage density. All of this can be found in a range of Swisslog products, including Swisslog’s CarryPick. With CarryPick’s mobile rack technology, returned items can be stored using random putaway and picked from first for fulfilling subsequent orders. Because of the use of random putaway, there is a higher chance of fulfilling multiple orders from a single pick; and it is done smoothly and efficiently thanks to this technology.
Error detecting for fewer interruptions
Errors and system downtime can take a huge toll on the success of businesses, and Swisslog has addressed this by continuing its efforts in Industry 4.0. The technology born from this new area of focus has the ability to detect errors and help managers predict how their warehouses will perform in the future.
This is delivered as a core part of SynQ, the next generation of our proven warehouse management software platform, WM 6. Short for Synchronised Intelligence, it is much more than just a WMS – it connects and synchronizes automation equipment, robotics, people and processes, all while collecting smart data on the operation. The data can then be analysed by managers to determine where there could be potential errors, and steps can be taken to rectify the fault before it has an impact on the operation.
Roboception: robots with human-like perception
SynQ also has components that allow for robots to make decisions based on collected data, meaning robots are more intelligent than ever before. While the wider belief is that warehouse automation means removing human interaction, Swisslog’s AutoPiQ solution is based on a shared picking principle: The robot picks the items that it is able to – which can be up to 95% of the customer’s product range – and a worker finishes the order. The result is to carefully combine the skills of human beings and machines, getting the best of both worlds.
Studies in the US and Switzerland have shown that although automation did replace certain jobs over the last 25 years, overall it boosted demand for labour. This is welcome evidence that if a job is only partially automated, employment might actually increase. And this is one of the reasons our AutoPiQ technology is becoming so popular, because regardless of how much automation increases efficiency – creativity, adaptability and interaction with people or machines will always play a critical role in the successful running of a business.
Keeping up with the pace
Over the past year, we have been incredibly busy strengthening each segment of our product portfolio to ensure there’s something to meet the needs of any kind of business, and any kind of challenge. The rise of different issues in the warehousing and logistics industry is too pronounced to ignore, and with studies showing that businesses can benefit from automation without removing human interaction, now is the time to act. Swisslog’s developments in automated mixed pallet creation, pallet shuttle systems, automated item picking, and warehouse management software show that we are well on track for shaping the future of intralogistics for distribution facilities across the country.