The Road to a Modern Warehouse System

Rationale for Modernizing the Warehouse

In the world of modern logistics, significant changes are currently underway towards modernization and, consequently, the automation of warehouse processes. More and more companies recognize the need for changes within their structures to keep up with the times and not fall behind their competitors, whose actions are characterized by great dynamism. The focus is now on warehouses because they are responsible for the flow of goods – from order to shipment to the customer – and the speed of an automated warehouse directly translates to the quality of order fulfillment. A modern warehouse, through high accuracy in the flow of goods, builds customer satisfaction by ensuring quick delivery of orders. A satisfied customer, in turn, means greater profit for the company.

There are many reasons why warehouse owners begin their journey towards modernization. Primarily, a warehouse may lack an effective IT management system that informs employees about the status and location of goods. This deficiency can lead to errors in production planning, stock shortages, or, conversely, unnecessary surpluses. To maintain proper control over warehouse goods, it is essential to implement a storage system that is integrated with all departments of the company and the industrial automation system, ensuring smooth and timely flow of information and goods. Information about the status of goods in the warehouse can then simultaneously reach the production, distribution, and customer service departments, as well as the warehouse employees and management.

A very important reason why more and more companies aim for the most modern automated warehouse system is the optimization of operational costs. The cost of maintaining human resources decreases, as fewer employees are needed to operate the warehouse. Modern warehouse systems automatically recognize and sort goods, reducing the number of errors that are often made by employees in such operations.

Automated Warehouse – Step by Step

At the initial stage of implementing a modern warehouse system concept, specialists conduct a thorough observation and assessment of the company’s processes and systems to analyze which elements require modernization first. Typically, companies considering warehouse automation do not immediately contemplate full automation but rather aim to begin the process with individual components, such as conveyor lines or automatic scanning stations. Critical points in the storage system are those where there is an increased occurrence of human errors or where activities are carried out in the slowest or least accurate manner. These are also areas characterized by the repetition and monotony of operations, such as sorting, where errors are most likely to occur. A poorly functioning warehouse process can often lead to financial losses and a decline in customer satisfaction.

After conducting the analysis and assessment, the type of automated warehouse system that best fits the company’s needs and processes is selected. Different types of machinery and warehouse equipment will be used, for example, in heavy industry compared to for example the food industry.

Automation engineers can advise warehouse managers on choosing the most financially viable form of automation. Subsequently, the client accepts the detailed quotation and scope of installation works, after which the automated warehouse project commences.

As part of the project implementation, software for the system is provided, as well as physical elements such as conveyors, chutes, sorters, scanning cameras, or lifts. The first step in implementation on-site is to carry out the electrical installation, hardware assembly, and its integration with the software. Immediately after startup, the warehouse system is tested to prevent errors and deficiencies. Employees are trained to operate the new system, and after client acceptance, it is handed over for use. After a period of using the implemented system, the client can identify its benefits and any areas requiring improvement. It is at this point that the idea of implementing the next step towards a fully automated warehouse may arise.

What is used in modern warehouse systems?

This question cannot be answered unequivocally. It depends on the size and processes of the particular company. The most commonly encountered solutions include conveyor systems with automated sorters and palletizing or depalletizing robots. The entire automated goods transport is tracked by scanning systems, consisting of cameras that read barcodes from each package. The use of cameras with built-in AI systems allows not only for reading multiple barcodes from goods but also for product recognition and dimensional measurement. Thanks to them, the destination of the goods in the warehouse is automatically recognized, and internal transport proceeds smoothly and without errors.

A good solution for a warehouse that handles orders for multiple clients or receives goods from various suppliers is the implementation of an automatic sorter. The sorter, connected with scanning cameras, directs the flow of goods in such a way that each item reaches its designated destination. This minimizes errors and speeds up the flow of goods, which is impossible to achieve with manual sorting. As a result, order fulfillment time is reduced, leading to faster shipment of goods.

Internal warehouse transportation can also be carried out using autonomous mobile robots, such as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) or AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots). They are capable of replacing traditional pallet trucks or forklifts that require human operators. These robots deliver goods quickly and precisely, especially in companies where internal transportation between departments is significant. They can safely navigate through warehouse environments, even without designated zones, allowing for efficient management of internal transportation.

In automated warehouses, storage systems can be implemented if the storage process is based on pallets or plastic containers. These systems allow for better utilization of warehouse space because the distance between racks can be much smaller than with traditional racks designed for forklift handling. Automated storage systems, together with conveyor systems, retrieve products from the loading zone of the system and transport them to the designated location on the rack as indicated by the computer systems. Similarly, products can be retrieved from the racks. This solution helps to reduce the risk for workers associated with retrieving products from high-storage racks and speeds up order fulfillment operations.

A relatively new and increasingly popular solution is the implementation of the modern AutoStore warehouse, characterized by the minimization of warehouse space while maximizing its utilization. This solution operates by storing goods in bins stacked on top of each other. Autonomous robots move along the structure located above the bins, retrieving the appropriate bin with goods thanks to the control of the computer system. If the product is not on the top of the stack in a given field, the robots move other boxes to finally retrieve the specific bin with the goods. Fully automated storage and order picking increase system efficiency, thus speeding up order fulfillment. It reduces the number of errors in the process and enhances workplace safety and efficiency for employees.

What will the future of modern warehouses and production lines look like? The development of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence in warehouses is inevitable in the next few years. In the process of packing and arranging goods on pallets, increasingly important roles will be played by robotic palletizing stations, which are currently ideal for end-of-line applications where they stack, for example, boxes with products onto pallets. These stations can be quickly implemented in facilities at the lowest possible investment costs. The use of palletizing stations streamlines the packing process by eliminating the need for workers in this area, as repetitive tasks are performed by robots, while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and precision of packing each order. In the gradual expansion of robotics, each additional station is smoothly integrated into the warehouse system, significantly increasing its processing capacity. The next step in automation is the development of a complete system that solves the “mixing palletizing” problem, which involves placing the heaviest and largest products on a pallet first, ending with the lightest and most fragile products.

In warehouses, gravity flow racks can also be utilized. They are equipped with rollers with a slight incline, allowing goods to move independently from one end of the rack to the other under the influence of gravity, where they await retrieval. Gravity flow racks facilitate inventory management according to the FIFO (First In First Out) principle – the first load of goods at the input will also be the first at the output. This method is suitable for storing a large number of products with a high turnover rate or for storing perishable products with a short shelf life.

An interesting and futuristic solution is the use of autonomous robots with climbing capabilities. They are used for retrieving goods from shelves, which can be located even 12 meters above the ground. While climbing, they move along guides at speeds of up to 1.5 meters per second, making them a fast way to retrieve all types of goods. Their main advantage is the ability to integrate with existing warehouses by adding appropriate guides and the fact that they can work alongside human workers.

A groundbreaking solution is a sorter entirely composed of fast AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots), programmed to transport goods across the warehouse floor and drop them into the appropriate bins, from where the sorted goods will be taken to the respective destination. These robots can move at speeds of up to 3 meters per second! Integrating and maintaining a large number of AMRs can be challenging, which is why the traditional approach to sorting often gains more proponents.

A few fun facts..

Modern fully automated warehouses, impressive in their size and functionality, have been on the market for decades, yet they still manage to amaze. Simply looking at photographs of automated warehouses is enough to inspire awe. Below are examples of the most outstanding warehouses in the world, both in terms of size and functionality.

The Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, USA

The immense warehouse of Tesla, producing batteries and other electric solutions for Tesla vehicles, covers an area of over 492,000 square meters. Established in 2014, the warehouse features a multi-story structure and advanced automated and robotic solutions. The Tesla Gigafactory project was as innovative as the Tesla car itself. Automated solutions are present in almost all processes here, from transporting wire harnesses to lifting entire vehicles.
In the future, Tesla plans to further develop this giga-warehouse and transform it into the largest building in the world fully powered by renewable energy.

In the Tesla warehouse, there exists a predominantly automated and robotized system, comprising autonomous carts for transporting goods and palletizing robots arranging the manufactured goods, which are then automatically transported to the next zone. Innovative warehouse management is combined with the concept of ecology and the use of renewable energy sources.

Amazon MQY1 Fulfillment Centre, Tennessee, USA

One of the most advanced Amazon warehouses in the world spans an area of 334,000 square meters. The five-story structure of the distribution center located in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, features a highly automated warehouse system and office space.

Hundreds of AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots) move around the warehouse space, communicating with each other to deliver shelves with products to picking stations, where employees retrieve items from the shelves and place them in special bins. These bins are then conveyed through a system of conveyors, sorters, and diverter gates to assemble into final orders and sent to shipping stations. Equipped with various sensors, the robots eliminate the possibility of collisions. Advanced conveyor systems, totaling over 19 km in this warehouse, along with an advanced IT system, enable high efficiency and rapid order processing, while simultaneously relieving workers and optimizing their tasks – one worker, one task.

The ultra-modern Amazon facility has implemented large-scale robots in the picking and shelving area. These robots lift themselves to the height of the merchandise on the shelf, retrieve the items, and then rotate to place them down. This is an innovation as, previously, humans worked at these stations.

World’s largest AutoStore warehouse

Automated warehouse systems like AutoStore are gaining more attention, but not everyone knows where the largest of its kind is located. It operates in Ängelholm, Sweden, for the company Boozt, selling clothing, accessories, and cosmetics from many brands. The world’s largest AutoStore warehouse houses 500,000 containers and over 500 robots.

To handle a large volume of orders, an AutoStore warehouse was implemented, reducing the time to fulfill one order to just 63 seconds. Operations in the AutoStore warehouse are impressively fast, with the best result being the fulfillment of 190,000 items in a single day.

Is it worth embarking on the journey towards a modern warehouse system?

Despite not being initially straightforward and clear-cut, it is definitely worth considering. Modern warehouses outperform non-automated warehouses through faster operations, error reduction, higher throughput, and the potential for greater profit for the company. Embarking on the path to modernize the warehouse system is currently one of the most important topics for entrepreneurs, as a modern warehouse is key to ensuring competitiveness in a rapidly changing market.

Contact us and see what we can do for you!