Warehouse Automation Begins with Choosing, Sorting, Packaging

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Your fulfillment warehouse is growing rapidly. More and more orders are arriving in ever more varied dimensions and quantities. Systems and processes have problems.

Sound familiar?

You may consider additional staff and space. Both are expensive. An alternative is to improve productivity by automating some manual tasks.

Arguments for automation

Improving efficiency and reducing staff costs are the main reasons for automation.

Fast goods movements mean lower administration costs, higher revenues and satisfied customers. So automation can begin with material handling such as picking, sorting and packing. More than half of the employees in a typical distribution center are engaged in these functions.

Picking. Mobile robot shuttle trolleys can automate the picking process. You drive the depth of shelves to pick up or put down pallets and can put storage containers, trays or boxes in and out.

Most shuttle systems are adaptable and scalable so that they can be expanded gradually by adding additional aisles. Modern mobile trolleys significantly increase the speed, storage density, accuracy and throughput in e-commerce warehouses. Fully automatic pallet shuttle systems with cranes can handle all types of storage and retrieval.

Here is an example. Klingspor, a US manufacturer of high-quality abrasives, had quickly outgrown its manufacturing and distribution center in North Carolina. The planned plant expansion was an ideal time to automate it.

In cooperation with an equipment supplier, Swisslog, Klingspor deployed 16 driverless transport vehicles that support 962 storage racks, two picking stations and a replenishment station – all with the CarryPick system from Swisslog, which is integrated into the customer’s warehouse management software. The facility has increased productivity and eased the demands of employees who are now welcoming automation.

Sorting. Bag sorting systems are not new, but they can streamline high volume e-commerce facilities. They are ideal for clothing, accessories, and most general goods.

The idea is based on a hanging clothes sorter and an additional bag to transport non-hanging goods. The system can sort and sequence bags that contain exactly the order items that are delivered to the packing station in the desired order. It works well for orders for multiple items. The bags and hanging garments can be mixed to serve clothing retailers with both garments and flat accessories.

Decathlon, a leading European sportswear company, needed a compact high volume sorting system as e-commerce sales increased. The choice fell on a bag sorting system from Düerkopp, which extends over two halls and three floors. The system can accommodate non-fashionable items such as small backpacks and camping items in bags.

Bag sorting systems like this example from Düerkopp can pick up hanging and non-hanging goods.

Packaging. The manual process of packing items for shipping can be supported by automatically applying labels and placing the bags in a container. If necessary, this semi-automatic process can be replaced by a fully automated system. Automated packaging systems and others offer in-line solutions that include consumables such as environmentally friendly bags on a roll.

Other technologies automate the packaging of items and the erecting and closing of boxes. Machines can cut a box and close it automatically. The BoxSizer from WestRock is, for example, an intelligent packaging machine that automatically shrinks boxes with multiple storage areas, reduces packaging and volume weight, which saves labor, material and transport costs. Highly fragile and high quality products can benefit from machines that scan the item three-dimensionally and then build packaging around it!

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