Today’s distribution centers need to be agile, responsive, and accurate to meet customer expectations for accelerated delivery.
In the past, the logistics chain was much more straightforward: warehouses delivered the bulk products on pallets to stores, and then consumers would travel to stores to select and purchase the items. Today, eCommerce fulfillment workers need to access thousands of SKUs that are ordered in random quantities and combinations and at random times. At the same time, warehouses struggle to attract workers in the current labor shortage.
Because of this complexity and the inability to find enough workers to perform what have been manual processes, online retailers and 3PL providers are turning to warehouse automation solutions.
There are two main paths businesses can take to warehouse automation—software automation and robotic automation. However, since many automation and robotic solutions require significant upfront capital investments, businesses need to consider cost-benefit trade-offs when choosing the right system.
Software Warehouse Automation vs Robotic Automation
Warehouse robotic automation uses robots to automate tasks such as material handling and order picking. These robots are typically programmed to perform specific tasks and can operate autonomously. Examples of warehouse robots include AS/RS, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) like inVia Picker robots. Robots can work 24/7 without getting tired, which can improve the speed and efficiency of e-commerce order fulfillment processes. Robots can also be programmed to perform tasks more quickly and accurately than people, reducing the risk of errors and increasing throughput.
Warehouse software automation, on the other hand, uses software to automate tasks such as inventory management, order processing, and shipping.
Warehouse Execution Systems (WES) software has recently evolved to incorporate advanced technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) that helps orchestrate and coordinate all of the resources and tasks in a warehouse. The WES integrates with and extends the capabilities of existing warehouse systems, including warehouse management systems (WMS), transportation management systems (TMS), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
AI and sophisticated algorithms are at the heart of today’s automation technology to enable random access to SKUs, real-time inventory visibility, and better inventory control. AI-powered WES software coordinates the placement and movement of goods in the warehouse and can offer significant productivity gains by optimizing warehouse workflows. One example of intelligent warehouse execution software (WES) is inVia Logic, which maximizes efficiency in all warehouse fulfillment tasks for both software-directed picking and when using inVia’s autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).
Today, AI automation software can offer significant productivity gains by optimizing warehouse workflows. If you are not ready to add robots to your facility, choose a solution that lets you start with software and then scale up to robots later.
From Software to Robotic Automation: inVia’s Phased Approach to Technology Adoption
Image: inVia Picker Robot
Robotic automation in e-commerce fulfillment centers improves efficiency, productivity, and profitability while reducing labor costs in the warehouse. Traditionally, the most significant barrier to entry for warehouse automation was the cost, along with the necessary changes in infrastructure to accommodate it. Many robotic solutions require significant upfront capital investments.
With inVia’s subscription-based model, the customer does not purchase the robots – they are owned and operated by inVia. Customers can start with software (SaaS), then expand to Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) to realize even greater productivity gains. Both solutions are priced to pay only for productivity, making the solutions more affordable and minimizing capital expenditures.
inVia’s automation solution offers AI-powered warehouse software automation and then an easy option to scale up to robotics.
Image: inVia Software Automation
The first step for upgrading any warehouse with inVia’s system is inVia Logic software, which uses AI to orchestrate the flow of people, equipment, and goods across the warehouse. It employs patented technology to calculate the shortest, most efficient route. inVia’s patented SmartPath algorithms direct people to retrieve goods via the fastest and most efficient path. Smart algorithms are also used for spatial batching, which assigns order picking based on SKU proximity to limit the number of trips people make to the same aisle to retrieve goods. The system calculates labor point requirements and task allocation and continuously adjusts system parameters such as density, batching and sorting, dynamic planning, and cycle time to achieve daily SLA goals.
The software digitizes and optimizes every fulfillment workflow, generating increased productivity by 2-3x. Adding robots boosts productivity gains by 5x.
Warehouse automation has revolutionized the eCommerce fulfillment process, allowing businesses to meet the growing demands of online shoppers and improve the bottom line. While robotic automation does significantly improve productivity, warehouse software automation alone can have a meaningful impact on all warehouse process efficiency, resulting in 2-3x productivity gains.
When choosing warehouse software automation, it is important to choose a solution that is scalable. With new technologies, it’s advantageous to adopt them in stages that match the pace of business growth and expansion.
Often, inVia will implement inVia Logic WES modular software first to integrate with a customer’s Warehouse Management System to boost worker productivity, improve workflows and help automate existing tasks. Once these customers realize efficiency gains from the software, they often expand to add inVia’s autonomous mobile robots to fully automate tasks and realize even greater productivity gains.
Choosing a warehouse automation system?
Here are 5 key considerations that will help you identify the right solution.