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Automation currently leads most modernization efforts, coming in the form of Android handheld devices, versatile rugged tablets, tap-and-pair mobile printers. In conjunction with these efforts, automated mobile robots (AMRs) have seized public interest. Current labor shortages and spikes in demand for faster and more accurate service have further fueled the need for flexible automation and digitization. Recent studies have shown that more than half of warehouses have cited hiring and retaining long-term workers among one of the biggest obstacles faced today, with 85% currently prioritizing labor optimization. Replacing the need for extraneous labor efforts, AMRs are able to empower workers by automating pallet movement, diminish travel time by 60%, and eliminate repetitive tasks without burdening the human workforce.

 

As decision-makers move towards integrating AMRs into their operations, experts recommend considering the following questions:

     1. How will you measure ROI?

Most specialists estimate AMRs should yield measurable results within 2 years at max, with order fulfillment speed being the first change to be recorded. While there are many ways to calculate ROI, a few indicators to look for include…

  • Increasing fulfillment speed – Since travel time is diminished, there should be less replenishment delays and bottlenecks impacting throughput rates.
  • Improved worker safety – AMRs are made to carry heavier loads and may sport a sensitive motion scanner to prevent collisions. This spares workers from straining themselves or running into machinery.
  • Lowered operating costs – As delivery timeframes are met and stock is quickly moved to the appropriate space, there should be less costs associated with inaccurate orders, mis-shipments, and sudden out-of-stocks.

      2. Do you have sufficient space?

While AMRs may not require a complete warehouse redesign, some solutions may require dedicated space within your operations for…

  • Navigation – Tight spaces and sharp corners can limit the AMRs’ ability to move freely around the warehouse.
  • Battery charging – Appropriate space may be required for charging different fleets when they’re not in use.
  • Maintenance – While enterprise devices are designed to withstand harsh environments, AMRs still need to be updated and serviced.

      3. Are other methods of automation already in place?

In addition to AMRs, support systems such as automated data capture and mobile computing further eliminate errors and speed up processes by enabling workers to accomplish more in less time. Before implementing robotics, set a digitized foundation with:

  • Android’s enterprise OS – Familiar and adaptable, Android enables you to add your preferred applications within its open ecosystem for easy adaptability. Its recurrent OS updates and security patches also further protect your operations from cyberattacks.
  • Real-time stock updates – By streamlining data capture and computing through one handheld terminal like Zebra’s handheld computers, your workers can update counts and communicate with each other digitally.
  • Push-to-talk capabilities – Speaking of communication, team communication goes a long way in keeping the workforce updated of any changes and emergencies across the facility.

      4. What fleet control system will you use?

Selecting hardware is only half the battle when it comes to modernization. To maintain complete efficiency, your fleet management system should be able to connect to your WMS system to receive directions and real-time inventory updates.

      5. Is your solution scalable?

The propensity for change in the supply chain is the only constant warehouses can continue to expect in the years to come. As material shortages challenge efficiency alongside labor shortages, it’s crucial to maintain integration and update simplicity to facilitate solution growth. If AMRs are unable to connect with the rest of your mobile devices, they may not be the most suitable option for your business.

 

Once these questions are answered, businesses can create a more realistic and proactive solution plan to minimize implementation hurdles. This can also help narrow down which kinds of AMRs to integrate. To explore your options or for more assistance on how to evaluate your warehouse, talk to one of our modernization experts and explore a broad portfolio of technologies to create customized and scalable solutions.

 

 

Warehouse robotics has long been pinpointed as a disruptive force to reshape the face of modernized warehousing. Now seen as an indispensable support for the changing workforce, robotics investments have surpassed $22 million worldwide, illustrating the digital transformation in today’s supply chains. While e-commerce and shortages have been responsible for most supply chain shifts, AMR adoption can be traced back to a few common factors such as:

  1. Rise in SKU numbers – As more e-commerce stores open, more products flood supply chains, increasing order throughput rates within smaller workforce pools.
  2. Steady increase in labor expenses – Studies show that labor expenses account for over 60% of total operating costs, surpassing rent, utility, and technology expenses. As labor shortages continue to affect industries, these expenses are only set to continue.
  3. Higher likelihood of worker injuries – Around five in a hundred workers are expected to get injured while on the job per year per warehouse. While that may seem like a small probability, one injury can cost companies up to $38,000 in direct costs alone.
  4. Higher likelihood of mixed pallets – With warehouse spaces also increasing in rental price, facilities are more likely to store mixed pallets and split cases to ensure greater product variety. This may create future complications as workers must travel farther throughout the facility to assemble orders.
How do AMRs fit into new warehouse challenges

As customer expectations continue to shift over time, new challenges are only expected to rise. Consequently, intelligent AMR fleets such as the ones built by Zebra’s Fetch Robotics improve modernization strategies by working alongside other future-forward technologies to…

  • Automatically differentiate similar products with RFID scanning during the pick process. Because tags store multiple codes at once, RFID data capture empowers teams by directing AMRs fleets to the correct location based on captured and shared data via the WMS.
  • Reduce employee travel time around the warehouse with roller-top AMRs that meet picking teams in designated locations. In doing so, teams no longer need to move between aisles since AMRs can just bring the order to them for picking and then move the pallet to the next step of the order fulfillment process.
  • Prevent worker injuries that stem from carrying heavy loads or traveling down the same routes as forklifts and other heavy machinery. Next-generation AMRs are equipped with sensitive motion sensors to spot workers and avoid collisions.
  • Track split cases for streamlined picking via your preferred handheld device. Since AMRs can carry up to 600 pounds per device, multiple orders can be transported at once, increasing order throughput while navigating through different pallets with less errors.

An efficient robotics solution is often accompanied by several supporting technologies to simplify deployment and streamline workflows for less bottlenecks. The first step to modernization is a careful in-depth workflow assessment to outline needed technologies and goals within your solution. To learn more about how to get started, contact Avalon’s modernization experts.

Research shows e-commerce brought in roughly $768 billion in sales back in 2021, with around half of U.S. consumers reporting to have received at least one delivery per week. That translates to over 110 million orders processed per week nationwide. Since e-commerce shoppers show no signs of relenting purchases, warehouses remain in a continuous struggle to accelerate fulfillment rates without compromising order accuracy. Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study revealed that 73% of participating warehouses expect partial automation to solve this issue; however, automation may take different forms depending on a warehouse’s order volume.

What Can “Partial Automation” Look Like?

Micro-fulfillment warehouses and cold storage facilities clearly have different challenges and needs compared to traditional distribution centers. As a result, partial automation may look different between facilities. Below are a few adaptable automation solutions currently accelerating order picking within challenging and traditional environments alike:

  • Start with digital data capture to eliminate manual recording.

Digitization is the most basic yet scalable way to prevent costly mistakes from entering the supply chain. At its core, an automated data capture solution is composed of a handheld scanner connected to your WMS and legible barcodes, yet Avalon empowers you to take your system a step farther by deploying pre-tested labels that retain barcode legibility in harsh and/or high-demand environments. For example, Zebra’s Certified Consumables can be tailored to integrate waterproof and scratch resistant surfaces for a longer lifespan within cold storage. By removing manual inventory updates, warehouse teams can get real-time insight to stock levels and location, optimizing picking paths and preventing out-of-stocks through one intelligent solution. 

  • Integrate power carts to minimize worker travel time and bottlenecks.

If your warehouse is already leveraging automated data capture, power carts expand functionality by increasing receiving volume by 63% in less travel time. By mobilizing industrial printers, scanning, and inventory visibility, power carts remove bottlenecks around static centralized label printing stations, allowing workers to stay focused and productive at all times. Zebra’s intelligent industrial printers further accelerate processes with faster printing speeds and easier media loading, ultimately resulting in 75% less overtime when paired with Newcastle’s mobile workstations.  

  • Move inventory with AMRs to alleviate workers.

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are currently being used in large-scale high-demand warehouses to lessen the pressures of today’s current labor shortage. Previous studies have shown that AMRs and co-bots can triple picking rates by moving entire pallets to the shipping dock, delivering a noticeable ROI within as little as 3 months. With Zebra’s acquisition of Fetch Robotics, Avalon now brings the latest insights into simplifying AMR integration for future warehouse adaptability and faster order picking. 

Simply put, the definitions of “partial automation” are adaptable to your warehouse’s needs and constraints. That’s why it is recommended that warehouses meet with a modernization team to build a customized plan. Successful solutions can empower warehouses to meet current customer demands while preparing them for eventual challenges ahead.

The new year brings with it both the excitement of new possibilities and hidden challenges yet to surface. Navigating through several pandemic-induced challenges, last year’s warehouse technologies showcased agile adaptability to accelerate order picking with less touchpoints and manual data capture. Faster and safer picking mechanisms continued to affirm customer demands for quick and accurate order fulfilment, now in less time and with the option of free/easy returns. However, current supply chain and labor shortages are certain to keep challenging businesses, which is why the following trends are expected to reshape modernized warehouses this year:

  1. Continual push for verifiable sustainable warehousing practices – A large percentage of today’s consumers are growing more eco-conscious due to several environmental changes. To meet both customer demands and protect the environment, sustainable warehousing practices allow businesses to meet accuracy and speed demands with a smaller carbon impact. For example, Zebra’s Certified Consumables can be made of eco-friendly materials for easier decomposition and removal while still containing strong adhesives and surfaces for uncompromised barcode legibility. Other noteworthy mentions include next-generation mobile computers and tablets since they eliminate the need for additional hardware and can last beyond the standard 3-year lifecycle of a mobile device. This reduced eventual e-waste and electricity consumption.  
  2. Securing T&L drivers and ELD compliance – Delivery drivers have reported turnover rates of about 92%, causing serious delays in shipments. As order volumes increase, so does the demand for more capable drivers. Consequently, new technologies must be simple and intelligent enough to minimize stress and maximize safety. Devices like rugged tablets have proven useful in connecting drivers with real-time communication with administrators, most efficient driving routes, and voice messaging all through one large dashboard to keep drivers’ eyes on the road. Next-evolution models are even more advantageous as ELD systems running on 3G are soon to be terminated in 2022, creating a new demand for flexible connectivity options installed on newer devices.  
  3. Growing need for micro-fulfillment centers in urban areas – Same-day shipping demands have grown by 36% within the past year, especially for urban areas. This has posed a problem since large-scale warehouses simply can’t fit within bustling cities. Consequently, micro-fulfillment centers have grown within cities to cut down shipping and labor costs while preventing delays. To keep micro-fulfillment centers running smoothly, workers often depend on versatile handheld devices that can streamline multiple workflows through one digital platform. Zebra’s wearable WT6300 continues to illustrate this by replacing both scanners and 2-way communicators with an adaptable mobile computer that leverages natural muscle movement for faster integration. 
  4. Next-level automation with robotics – Order fulfillment leaders such as Amazon and Walmart have already set the standard for faster shipping rates. They are also among the first warehouses to begin deploying co-bots and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), once again raising the standards for efficient order picking.  Current labor shortages have also increased the demands for AMRs since they increase productivity by 85% when deployed alongside a human team, removing additional stress from your current teams. 
  5. Real-time communication with long-distance manufacturers – Supply chain shortages have resulted in a 250% increase in out-of-stocks nationwide. Breakdowns in communication between distributors and manufacturers further increase out-of-stocks as inventory is vulnerable to shrinkage and/or inaccurate counting while transitioning down the supply chain. Digitized data sharing through mobile devices and applications like Workforce Connect empower teams to notify facilities of quantities shipped and their location, preventing replenishment errors and additional out-of-stocks.

The key to leveraging any of these trends in the coming year is proactive preparation. Before deploying large-scale changes within your warehouse, consider meeting up with a modernization expert to explore optimization opportunities in your crucial workflows and get a closer look into the new technologies reshaping supply chains.

In the digital age, efficient innovation can take many forms, which is why Avalon’s modernization experts are constantly watching and experimenting with the latest trends. As solutions like robotics, machine intelligence, and time-efficient automation continue to reshape the post-pandemic world, we’ve invited our team to share valuable insights as to how you can benefit from these new modernization initiatives. Tune into our podcast to learn more:

With over 70% of warehouses planning to enhance the workforce with automated solutions, there has never been a riper time to start modernizing. To see how you can start integrating future-forward technologies into your workflows, reach out to our team for a comprehensive assessment of your opportunities.