Logistics and supply chain are increasingly moving towards automation, which is playing a decisive role in warehouse reorganisation.
The adoption of an automatic vertical warehouse is related to the “goods-to-man” concept, making access to products to be picked up and deposited much easier and safer.
The goods are transported within the warehouse and are brought to the right height for people, whereas operators used to have to move between shelves, mezzanines and ladders to pick up what they needed.
Not to be confused with automatic stacker warehouses, automatic vertical warehouses consist of a central elevator and several trays, which move on the vertical and horizontal axes to bring them to operator height. To be used in different business areas, goods and semi-finished/finished products are placed in the trays.
Automatic warehouses represent the evolution of working conditions in terms of ergonomics and safety, although they definitely also have other benefits.
First of all, they were invented to save space, given that taking advantage of unit height results in savings in floor surface area of almost 90%.
Some warehouses – such as the Modula Lift – can reach up to 16 metres in height and can contain up to 90,000 kg of goods, with a footprint of 14 m2.
By making the most of unit height of the premises in complete safety, space therefore becomes a new resource to be used for other activities and offers the option of savings in terms of rent and purchase of company premises.
Modula anti-seismic solutions also secure warehouses in areas at high risk of earthquakes; various tests have already been completed in conjunction with the Eucentre Foundation research centre in Pavia.
Not only do automatic warehouses save time and money, above all they represent automation, which translates into safety for operators but also for the goods. When stored in the warehouse, they are kept safe from theft, damage, dust and harm caused by external agents.
As the warehouse is closed and only transports materials to the bay when required, Modula protects everything held inside and also avoids contamination of all kinds.
This is exactly why it has proved to be the best choice for companies in the electronic, electrical, chemical and food industries.
The products are also all tracked, and every movement is recorded, so it is always easy to trace the handling of each item.
HOW AUTOMATIC WAREHOUSES WORK
A vertical warehouse is an automatic storage system, designed to make the most of the height of premises while occupying minimal space on the floor.
The system saves up to 90% of floor space compared to traditional warehouses and stores up to 90,000 kg of goods in special trays.
This structure, known as a vertical lift module (VLM), takes the form of a “tower” and consists of three columns: one in the front, another in the back and a third in the middle.
The system is based on the “goods-to-man” concept and is therefore automatically available to the operator, improving picking operations and reducing the work and time required for order preparation.
In practice, the goods are initially stored in the trays in a smart manner, which also takes into consideration the optimisation of the space between the trays.
Once the products have been added to the vertical cabinet, the Modula system uses dynamic tray height storage to minimise the space between the trays in relation to the height of the stored material. In practice, the drawers are adjusted to leave as little empty space as possible between one tray and the next.
The trays are located in front of and behind the central column of the elevator, which moves up and down depending on the tray to be picked up or repositioned.
Using the automatic, user-friendly Copilot touchscreen console, the operator calls the tray to the bay and picks up the material they need according to the picking or deposit action they are taking. Once this operation is complete, the warehouse moves independently and offers the goods in the bay at operator height, guaranteeing full ergonomics and safety.
With an external bay, picking is really convenient; for double bays (internal or external), several operations can be carried out at once to speed up picking. As one tray arrives in the operator bay, another can move within the warehouse to prepare for the next picking, which increases efficiency and eliminates downtime.
When storing materials, the process is the same.
Each time an operation is performed – via the automatic console – the operator can confirm the action and keep track of all activities completed. To improve movement and access tracking, access can be managed or limited using passwords, RFID or badges, for full tracking of all actions taken on the goods.
GROWTH IN AUTOMATION, LOWER RISK IN THE WORKPLACE
The growth forecasts in the automation market are for more than double from 2019 to 2025, courtesy of major factors in overall growth, the incredible expansion of e-commerce and the increase in warehouse labour costs.
As warehouse operations are critical to the success of any supply chain-centric business – especially low-margin, high-volume operations such as e-commerce and retail, competitiveness comes down to the throughput and accuracy of picking as well as the acquisition of technologies and automations within the warehouse.
There are no ready-made solutions in this case, rather only automatic solutions, customised on the basis of the client’s requirements and their workflow.
A consideration of warehouse automation must relate to how essential it is for the future of all businesses. As well as ensuring safety and social distancing, automation processes represent an investment with one of the highest ROI.
The system chosen by a retailer will depend on the productivity they are looking for and the range of SKUs on offer, as well as on the level of organisational flexibility they wish to see in a warehouse.
The purpose of the acquisition of warehouse automation is to reduce the margin of error in processes: according to research conducted by PwC, companies using AI and innovative data analysis methodologies can reduce supply chain costs by 6.8%, increasing revenues by 7.7%.
A consideration of automation must also relate to Logistics 4.0, i.e. machines that can collect data and transmit them using their connections.
So, what does it mean to innovate in the supply chain using automation?
- higher speed and efficiency
- improvements throughout production
- more efficient handling of semi-finished products and raw materials
- capacity to evaluate an increasing quantity of data
- tracking of all movements of the warehouse itself
- rapid fault detection.
The sum of these benefits results in drastic reductions in companies’ logistics costs, by around 25-30% according to experts.
Scientific reasoning has converged on the idea of investing in warehouses and automation.
A publication by Public Health England has shown that a disorganised environment hinders creativity and can lead to dissatisfaction at work.
The same article noted that improving employees’ work environment can also be reflected in the brand. In addition to motivation, well-organised warehouses are safer, given that they reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace.
There is therefore no doubt in the consideration all older, more traditional – and, let’s say, “manual” – warehouses and logistics systems are destined to be slowly abandoned in favour of automation and all of its resulting benefits.
Beyond the contingent and tangible benefits in terms of efficiency and ROI, there are also collateral advantages to warehouse automation. We need to think in visionary terms about the factory of the future.
Automation also means connecting the various automations with a view to M2M and to real machines and systems that communicate with each other, not only for greater and safer integration between hardware and software but also for precise monitoring of processes, devices, servers and data.
The information is not only collected, it is then analysed and streamlined, in particular in the name of predictive maintenance to anticipate faults or malfunctions, prevent production downtime and report the issue ahead of the failure.
Artificial intelligence, connectivity and versatility result in improved use of resources (including people) and greater competitiveness.
The use of automated equipment and robotics not only improves performance and speed, it also has a major environmental impact.
First of all, it can reduce energy costs (bear in mind that a VLM consumes approximately 0.3 kWh less energy than a hair dryer).
Robots can work in “more difficult” conditions than humans, requiring less light and heating, and they also require less energy.
Equipment designed for waste management or pallet recycling will normally be included in an automated system, which requires less effort and labour for its effective management.
Article source modula.eu
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