In recent years, new warehouse automation technologies are gaining momentum because of the need to optimize labor time and reduce operating and order fulfillment costs. These needs have surfaced because of the rise of e-commerce (click here to read the effects of e-commerce in the warehouse industry)and higher customer demands, such as lower costs and faster response times, as stated by MHI.

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In this article, we will explore why automation is an important solution to the challenges mentioned above and some specific warehouse automation technologies that can effectively help you overcome the challenges.

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    Why Warehouse Automation is an Effective Solution to Current Challenges

    As we touched upon in the intro, e-commerce, its effects on order fulfillment, and higher customer demands are driving momentum toward the development and adoption of automation technologies. This is because automation solutions can improve warehouse operational efficiency and facilitate quicker and more accurate order fulfillment, which, in turn, leads to an enhanced customer experience.

    4 Effective Warehouse Automation Solutions

    Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

    Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) refer to a variation of computer-controlled systems for automatically storing and retrieving goods from defined storage locations in a warehouse with precision, accuracy, and speed, as described by MHI. These systems automate warehouse processes such as order picking, storage, kitting, consolidation, assembly, replenishment, etc.

    Warehouse Automation - Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

    Source: Westfalia

    Some benefits of using an AS/RS system include floor space optimization, improved accuracy, and increased productivity, while its main disadvantage is the significant investment required to install, maintain, and operate it. Consequently, AS/RS systems are preferable in cases where the warehouse deals with a large number of products.

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    Pick-to-Light Systems

    The Pick-to-Light System is a low-automation technology that supports the pickers in the warehouse with light signals. It uses a light device mounted on racks, shelves, and workstations to guide employees to the correct product locations and the right quantities required to fulfill the order. When all lights turn off, the picker has finished the current order and can move on to the next one.

    Pick-to-light systems have been acknowledged as the fastest operator-based picking strategy available to execute broken case quantity order fulfillment operations. They provide an accurate and efficient method of paperless picking, sorting, and assembling of products. In dense picking environments, the high installation cost is counterbalanced by many picks per unit of distance. However, they are not ideal for warehouses that require frequent layout rearrangements, and it can be challenging to support simultaneous picking by several pickers.

    Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

    Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can sense physical surroundings and move through the warehouse without supervision. While traditional AGVs require external guidance, AMRs can operate without being directly supervised by a human operator and perform several activities, from transporting materials and goods to facilitating an existing pick strategy. They usually perform better in warehouses with high-volume and high-labor requirements since this helps reduce travel time. However, with warehouses that handle extremely weighty materials, these robots are not equipped to handle them yet.

    Warehouse Automation - Autonomous Mobile Robots

    According to the Guide to Autonomous Mobile Reports of CONVEYCO, typically, AMRs can be split into three functionalities:

    • Move inventory within a facility
    • Assist in automating the warehouse picking process
    • Flexible sortation solution

    Autonomous Mobile Robots provide value to warehouse operations in the following senses:

    • Flexibility and scalability: Initial deployment can start with a few units with the flexibility and scalability to add and reduce as necessary.
    • Reduced labor costs: The less time workers spend traveling, the more time they spend fulfilling orders.
    • Increase warehouse safety: Support the workers by taking over heavy lifting and minimizing the involvement of humans.

    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

    Much like autonomous robots, lightweight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are incrementally being adopted for warehouse inventory management. The recent technological advances of UAVs, such as sensors and visual-based navigation, are helping in performing activities like inventory audits, item searches, and stock taking.

    Warehouse Automation - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

    Some benefits of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) include better efficiency, improved accuracy, and increased safety, while some of the disadvantages include high initial investment and technology limitations such as battery life. Also, UAVs are preferable in warehouses that are relatively large in size with long corridors and high shelves.


    Each of the warehouse automation solutions discussed above has its advantages and disadvantages, as summarized in the table below:

    Warehouse Automation - Summary

    The four warehouse automation solutions have seen an increase in adoption since they can help companies sustain and thrive amongst the challenges posed by e-commerce, such as faster fulfillment times and lower costs. By investing in these technologies, you can achieve greater efficiency and accuracy, which can help increase your perfect order rate and provide better service to your customers.

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