Published April 25, 2023
Warehouse automation is no longer an option but a necessity these days, as companies continue to face growing order volumes and strict service level agreements (SLAs) amid ongoing shortages and disruptions. These challenges are putting increasing pressure on dock operations, where high traffic, heavy loads and space constraints create additional safety hazards and inefficiencies.
While there have been some recent advancements in automation for loading and unloading trucks, including automatic trailer loading systems (ATLS) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), there are other dock activities that are still highly manual and impact performance of the overall outbound operations.
Increasing efficiency at the loading dock begins within the four walls. Here are five ways warehouse automation solutions can help optimize dock operations.
Storage and Space Utilization
In addition to labor, space is one of the most valuable commodities in the warehouse today, as logistics operations struggle to keep up with growing volumes and shifting requirements. For many warehouses, consolidating orders is often a manual process that requires substantial labor and floor space, which can be especially challenging in busy areas like the loading dock. Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) solutions such as vertical lift modules (VLMs) provide increased storage density and vertical space utilization, enabling companies to maximize valuable floor space and reduce their footprint by up to 50%.
Improving Productivity with Warehouse Automation
In addition to offering greater storage capacity, goods-to-person (GTP) solutions also help increase picking speeds by reducing travel time throughout the warehouse, which can account for over 50% of labor hours in a manual operation. These solutions also minimize the amount of time workers spend searching for and consolidating orders prior to shipping, enabling facilities to increase fulfillment speed and meet SLAs.
On-time delivery only matters if customers are receiving the right products. Combining items picked from different zones of the warehouse increases the risk of human error, especially when staging is done in the busy dock area. ASRS solutions such as robotic shuttle systems automatically store inventory in a specified place and deliver items directly to employees at a single workstation, reducing touches and increasing order accuracy.
In addition to order inaccuracy, safety hazards are also a major concern at the loading dock, where 25% of all warehouse injuries occur, according to OSHA. By eliminating many of the vehicle-related travel required for picking and offloading at the dock in a standard manual operation, ASRS solutions like mini-load systems improve ergonomics and productivity for the pickers while minimizing employee accidents.
ROI on Warehouse Automation
While many companies may be concerned about the upfront cost of implementing warehouse automation, ASRS solutions can realistically achieve ROI within four years. In addition to reducing labor, space and energy costs, automated material handling systems also provide additional value through increased efficiency, productivity and order accuracy.
As the center of all shipping and receiving processes, the loading dock plays a critical role in ensuring efficient, productive and cost-effective logistics operations. Contact us today to learn how warehouse automation can help optimize your distribution centers.