The organization of a warehouse is, for any company, complex and strategic at the same time. The market offers many solutions such us industrial shelving, automatic and vertical storage systems, systems equipped with stacker cranes, pallet shuttles: every company must evaluate the one that best suits its needs.
Today, materials are mainly stored and handled by means of automatic storage systems. No wonder why. Thanks to the different types available on the market and to the increased use of advanced technologies, these solutions offer tangible advantages to companies, from several points of view:
The first important benefit ensured by an automatic storage system is the decrease in the storage space. In fact, the footprint occupied is 5 to 10 times smaller than the one needed with traditional warehouse systems, yet with the same quantity of stored goods. For many companies, this is of vital importance, especially when more storage capacity is required and the available surface cannot be expanded. It also means significant savings, mainly where property is expensive: an automatic storage system frees up space that can be used for other purposes.
Automatic storage systems also ensure great precision in stock management. These fully automated solutions are equipped with reliable tracking devices and allow companies to reduce the number of stored goods while at the same time eliminating the risk of running out of stock, thus limiting the amount of tied-up capital. Being able to accurately track all goods handled by the automatic storage system is crucial for those needing to have real-time inventory. The automatic storage system finds out if the goods of a certain lot - or even of a specific pallet - are in the storage system when they arrived when they were picked, and for what order they were shipped. Automation also allows shipments to be managed according to the FIFO (First In First Out) method, preventing the mismanagement of materials that may expire or become too "old" to be shipped.
Automatic storage systems also bring direct and concrete advantages in terms of quality control. Depending on the settings, the system can in fact automatically determine on which and how many pallets a sampling check must be carried out, keep batches of products waiting to be inspected, identify target pallets for extensive checks and take out all the products of a specific lot for reconditioning or disposal. In short, an automatic storage system is an excellent tool for improving quality control.
Automatic storage systems are even more important for delocalized production. When production processes take place far from the markets on which the products are sold, supply times can be long. In these cases, it is necessary to keep large stocks, with no compromise on efficiency. Wasting what was saved by delocalizing production because of inefficient logistics would be nonsense. To meet all these needs, automatic storage systems are equipped with sophisticated software applications.
An automatic storage system is also a great benefit for the personnel in charge of order picking. In traditional static warehouses, picking is always done with the "man to goods" method: the operators go around the warehouse and pick up the needed goods. This still widely used system, however, is not very efficient.
Things radically change with an automatic storage solution, which applies an inverse picking strategy, that is, "goods to man". Goods are automatically delivered to the fixed operator`s location where the picking or replenishment operations take place. Employees are primarily busy in the value-added picking operations, as they don`t have to walk up and down aisles or climb up and down stairs or ladders to find the required products.
Moreover, the picking bays are equipped with ergonomic features, well-lit and located in environmentally controlled areas.
Another fundamental aspect is safety in the picking and replenishment operations. Automatic storage systems eliminate all dangerous overhead lifting operations, which can cause injuries or damage the equipment (shelving and lift trucks).
Automatic storage systems also reduce picking times and therefore lead times for both entire pallets and mixed packages. The "goods to man" strategy significantly increases productivity while at the same time eliminating picking errors. An automatic storage system, especially in the self-supporting version, is generally installed in a segregated area and this ensures further advantages in terms of safety and goods protection. More specifically, these versions are specially designed for the prevention of fires and the control of environmental conditions. Finally, automatic storage systems need less personnel - truck drivers, pickers, etc. - freeing up significant resources to be allocated to other company's core businesses.
The introduction of an automatic storage system is therefore beneficial in terms of efficiency and quality. The market offers many solutions, each of which is suitable for different purposes and needs. For this reason, assessments must go beyond the main and most obvious items on the agenda, such as saving footprint and reduce personnel. The "hidden costs" of traditional logistics must also be considered: ordinary maintenance and management of large warehouses, errors, lack of data on stock and inventory, as well as safety in the workplace.
Experience shows that a medium-term investment is always economically appropriate. Technology today also offers solutions that can be upgraded in the event of further growth, which enables companies to move towards automated logistics with limited initial investments.