Material handling is a time-consuming and repetitive process. However, warehousing companies can streamline this process by implementing automated material handling equipment.
How Automated Material Handling Contributes to a More Productive Supply Chain Facility?
Automated material handling is a smart choice for modern businesses in the warehouse industry. Optimizing all of the stages of the material handling process with automated solutions helps supply chain companies cut costs, improve customer relations, and speed up fulfillment times.
Overview of the material handling process
To understand automated material handling or AMH, we must first go over the components of material handling systems or intralogistics. Material handling is the movement, security, control, and storage of products throughout their cycle of manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, usage, and disposal.
Material handling is at the root of supply chain operations and involves the following inventory flow:
- Move stock into the warehouse
- Locate the stock needed
- Accurately prepare and fill orders
- Ship stock from the warehouse
What is automated material handling?
Storing and handling pallets, packages, and other materials takes up a lot of time and energy. The various stages of the material handling process often require physical strength, extreme care, or both. AMH makes this process much more efficient by delegating tasks to technology-driven devices.
AMH is any type of automation that eliminates or reduces the need for human laborers to perform the functions of intralogistics. It includes devices that can move, push, pull, lift, sort, and retrieve materials. Companies utilize AMH equipment because these solutions increase productivity and minimize mistakes, resulting in substantial cost reductions.
The 3 most common material handling automation solutions
Technological advancements have transformed the supply chain in ways that are beneficial for both suppliers and consumers. Companies can now utilize automated tools and equipment for material handling to deliver high-quality products to consumers quickly and for less money.
Let’s take a look at the main types of material handling automation solutions:
1. Warehouse shuttles
A warehouse shuttle system is composed of a mobile car that transports materials in automated pallet racking. It’s designed to store and retrieve totes, cases, or trays in a storage buffer. Shuttles travel the depth of racking systems to pick or deposit pallets at either end of the racks.
Warehouse shuttles can move packages and pallets that range from weighing a few pounds to a few tons. This makes shuttles an ideal solution for facilities that deal with a high volume of pallets as well as significant loading and unloading operations. These automated solutions make the circulation of outgoing orders and incoming goods quicker and streamline the management of racks with deep storage buffers.
The components of warehouse shuttles include:
- Traction and lifting motors
- Mechanisms for carrying materials
- Driving controls
- A spot for the operator
2. Conveyor systems with a decision point
Conveyor systems are useful for transporting goods from one place to another in a warehouse. Conveying systems such as roller conveyors and conveyor belts can also sort, weigh, and measure materials. These systems are typically low maintenance and have a low implementation cost.
Decision points are the key points on a conveyor system where decisions are made, such as how to sort items and where to send them. The combination of a conveyor solution and a decision point makes it simple for suppliers to customize an effective system for their warehouse in terms of speed, actions, configuration, distance, and trajectories.
Many suppliers limit their conveyors to areas where goods enter and leave the warehouse. This is to ensure maximum flexibility of their warehouse space since the conveyors are arranged to occupy the least amount of floor space possible.
Automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, are digitally controlled and wheel-based load carriers that travel the floor of a facility without a human on board. Rather than having a physical operator, AGV movement is guided by a combination of sensor-based guidance systems and software. AGVs move along a pre-set path with acceleration and deceleration that is precisely controlled and have obstacle detector bumpers, allowing for the safe movement of materials.
AGVs use different types of sensors, and the kind that’s best suited for your warehouse depends on the loads you regularly handle and the structure of your facility. These types of sensors include:
- Optical sensors – Optical sensors allow AGVs to follow a reflective strip on the floor and read barcodes at points along the path that require them to make a decision, such as turning left or right.
- Magnetic sensors – Vehicles equipped with magnetic sensors orient themselves by following magnetic points on the floor. It is also possible to place magnets that transmit specific instructions to the AGV at obstacles, crossroads, or arrival points.
- GL sensors – Grid localization sensors allow AGVs to determine their position by reading codes. Recent advancements have paved the way for a “natural navigation” guide that doesn’t require physical reference points since the area is mapped and stored in the machine’s memory.
- Laser sensors – The most popular AGV navigation system is the laser system. Vehicles with laser sensors use a series of reflectors around the perimeter of the facility to detect their position. These vehicles are equipped with safety systems such as lights, audio warning signals, side skirts, virtual bumpers, or physical bumpers to avoid collisions.
The benefits of automated material handling solutions in the warehousing industry
Automated intralogistics solutions can significantly improve your material handling process in terms of operation costs, space usage, and productivity. However, since every warehousing facility is unique, it’s vital to choose and customize automated solutions to suit your specific materials, operations, and space.
When you implement the best intralogistics automation system for your warehouse, you can benefit from:
- A limited number of “repetitive tasks” performed by employees, resulting in lower labor costs and a higher-value workforce
- Improved access to data that can be used to improve your operations
- More robust quality control
- Increased levels of workplace safety
- Higher-volume and more flexible production
- Reduced order fulfillment time
Material handling is a central component of the supply chain, and since it plays such a crucial role in warehouse operations, this process should be as optimized as possible. Automating your material handling operations streamlines this vital warehousing process, allowing your company to efficiently meet facility and customer needs, creating an overall more profitable distribution center.