It’s Not the Size of Your Warehouse Automation That Delivers ROI—It’s the Functionality

In a previous post, we talked about how applying a localized, incremental warehouse automation solution can resolve a specific bottleneck within an operation for better productivity with a low to moderate level of investment. The point of that post (and this one) is that a material handling automation installation doesn’t always have to be an enormous undertaking—in both size and budget—in order to deliver a solid return on investment (ROI). Rather, it’s the functionality and flexibility of the installed equipment that can deliver the biggest impact when automating your warehouse.

The key lies in first determining what configuration of warehouse automation technology will address the unique challenges of your specific operation, whether your goals are labor savings, space savings, throughput and flexibility gains, or reduced maintenance and supervision. Understanding the needs of your warehouse, the capabilities of the equipment, and the adaptability of the system’s design can address a variety of different handling objectives.

First, look at order volumes. The number of outbound items per day—and the speed at which they need to flow through your facility—can help determine the right size and function of the warehouse automation system(s). The ultimate speed of the handling system, whether conveyor or an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), should match your volume and capacity requirements in order to most cost-effectively support your operation’s needs. Likewise, your equipment supplier should offer guidance on right-sizing the system up-front, and assistance in dialing in the functionality to match both current and future handling pace to maximize long-term ROI.

For example, placing medium- and slow-moving stock keeping units (SKUs) into a highly dense AS/RS and housing fast-moving SKUs in flow rack can be a big productivity boost—raising pick rates from 100 to as high as 400 lines-per-hour. Adding dynamic slotting software to group like orders for release at the same time allows slower velocity products stored in an AS/RS to be automatically delivered as needed to a designated forward pick zone. This functionality enables multiple orders containing slower moving items to be filled simultaneously for higher throughput, in addition to saving space, minimizing worker travel and contributing to overall ROI.

Second, consider the specific items to be handled or conveyed. While it might seem like installing a 36-inch-wide conveyor system is a cost-effective way to “future-proof” an operation, in a warehouse currently handling products no larger than a shoebox, an oversized conveyor is more likely to cause problems than boost productivity. However, a conveyor configured with adjustable guardrail can adapt to accommodate larger (or smaller) products if an operation’s needs change going forward, contributing to a better ROI.

Third, the controls and software that run the warehouse automation hardware should be programmable and capable of accommodating different handling volumes throughout a day. For example, if your operation experiences a volume peak at 3:30 p.m. daily because of order cut-off times for carrier shipping, a transportation conveyor’s controls can be programmed to operate a conveyor equipped with variable frequency drives (VFD) as a pseudo-accumulation conveyor for buffering of overflow at that specific time of day. The controls are programmed to adjust the conveyor speed up or down as necessary throughout the day to prevent the warehouse automation system from becoming overwhelmed. Alternately, motor-driven roller conveyor (MDR) implementing photo-eye sensors can trigger the system to power on or off when an item is detected, enhancing energy savings for even greater ROI.

Learn more in this whitepaper: “Four Reasons Why Material Handling Automation is a Good Investment for Your Operation.” Or, call us at 616.977.3950 to learn how flexible warehouse automation functionality can deliver maximum ROI for your operation.

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