Automated warehousing systems have developed enormously over the last thirty years. The pinnacle of warehouse automation in the 80’s was a fully automated high bay pallet store using stacker cranes and pallet conveyors, which dramatically reduced the footprint and labour needed to store a given volume of product. Whilst these benefits are still true today, automated systems have been developed well beyond the storage and retrieval of unit loads, and modern systems now include sortation, picking and packing. To enable the smaller unit loads such as totes, cartons and, in some cases, individual pick items to be handled automatically, there have been significant developments in conveying systems, sorters, miniload cranes and stores, commissioners and shuttle systems. Whilst the development of the materials handling technology has been one aspect of this area of growth, equally important has been the development of the equipment control systems and warehouse control software. The progression from controlling a stand-alone automated storage system into the areas of picking, packing and despatch, increases the complexity of the operation and software many times. The splitting of unit loads into pick quantities, the different order profiles for different product groups and channels to market, and the need to consolidate orders picked in different areas at different times, puts enormous demand on the design and operation of the system and software.
This brings us to a major point in the design of automated systems – system flexibility. As you progress through the warehousing process, the design of the system becomes more dependant upon the type and number of customers and the number of different products they order. Changes to the numbers of lines per order and items per line can affect the operation and efficiency of an automated system, and it is essential that these changes are taken into account during the planning stage. Almost without exception automated systems are designed by technical experts and then run by operational experts, so we cannot emphasise enough the importance of understanding and defining the business and operational requirements of your organisation prior to considering if automation is the correct solution.
THE LOGISTICS BUSINESS employs experienced consultants and technical experts who have designed and implemented many of the major automated systems in the UK, others who have specified and developed warehouse management systems software and, equally importantly, those who have managed and run major warehouses and supply chains. This has enabled us to develop detailed design and specification processes that have been very successfully implemented on many automated and manual warehousing projects. Some of the milestones in these processes are as follows:-
- understand the characteristics of the future business of the company that the system will handle
- analyse current operations and model future scenarios
- develop a specification of business and user requirements
- develop the most appropriate concepts in each of the operational areas, taking account of factors such as throughput, inventory holding, seasonality, order fulfilment times, accuracy, capital costs and labour savings
- identification of handling techniques that can meet the throughput and storage requirements cost effectively
- definition of the operational requirements of the system- involving the operations teams
- specification of the software and interface requirement of the system
- develop concept layouts, specifications and business cases for the proposed systems.
The benefit of employing The Logistics Business to undertake this work is that we will work as part of the client’s team. Our sole objective is to understand the client’s requirements and develop the optimum solutions that meet their long term business plans, regardless of technology or supplier.
Because of the success of our work, and depth of our practical experience, we are usually asked to continue to support projects through the tender (quotation) process and supplier selection, including implementation, system testing handover into full operation.