The digital automation capabilities of warehouses and distribution centers play an integral role in the scalability of omnichannel networks. When you automate your warehouse, you will be able to do more with less and thrive with increased customer demand. But there are still many warehouses that are relying on manual or outdated systems to run their operations. The impact of this can be felt directly on the bottom line.
The benefits of automating your warehouse are far reaching. It can mean greater ability to integrate with other operational systems, improved data management efficiency, better safety, enhanced security, and reduced operational costs. For the warehouse floor, this means reduced manual processes, eliminated risk of human error and more productive labor utilization.
So how should you go about automating your warehouse operations? The first (and most important) step is finding a comprehensive warehouse management system (WMS) that understands your industry and needs.
Best practices for automating with WMS
1. Invest in a scalable solution
Investing time and money into warehouse automation should guarantee you a long-lasting solution. However, some warehouses find that their chosen WMS is not scalable with their business. That’s where you can run into issues not getting a return on investment.
Before updating your automation systems, identify a solution that can adapt and scale with your expanding business. Whether you’re a single channel warehouse or running omnichannel operations, your management and automation software needs to work for you and make your operations easier.
Much of this can come down to systems not being configurable, meaning you can’t easily create or change the software to your requirements. Instead of being inherently flexible, some options might offer customization, but this can be a costly way to personalize the system. Customization can take a lot of time and may require help from a software specialist, alternatively some providers offer customization support but this can come at an extra cost.
To avoid this, look for a solution that is flexible, scalable and offers the support for what you need now and your requirements in the future.
2. Prepare warehouse data
If you have data dispersed across multiple platforms, keeping track of all of the differences and getting insights from this data can be very time-consuming. A key step in automating your warehouse is transferring this legacy data from your existing systems to your central WMS software. You can do this by mapping your data onto the new database fields and conducting tests to ensure that you have maintained data accuracy and validity.
Once your data is successfully transferred, your WMS will start automating data collection, transfer and storage for you. Streamlining and consolidating data collection is one of the key benefits of digital automation, helping with day-to-day operations through to strategic decision making.
Using a Cloud-based solution with digital data collection equipment creates a low-risk and low-cost automation solution. This warehouse equipment, like mobile barcode scanners, helps to eliminate human error, capture critical performance and inventory data, and store it automatically in a centralized database for easy analysis.
3. Utilize cycle counting and audits
For a long time, warehouse facilities were reliant on manual methods for cycle counts. In fact, Motorola reported that 41% of warehouses were still using pen and paper cycle counts in 2014. While this number has dropped significantly, there are still warehouses that haven’t automated their inventory processes or are using inadequate WMS software.
A robust WMS will conduct continuous cycle counts to monitor inventory levels against the inventory data record. Not only does automating cycle counts make the process easier, it also reduces the risk of inventory discrepancies and human error.
Utilizing cycle counting is critical to effective implementation of warehouse automation. It simplifies and streamlines inventory management, reducing the time it takes to assess inventory levels and pass this information onto other business-critical software. Using a system to automate your cycle counts will also give you access to view your inventory data on a dashboard, which means you can quickly identify discrepancies and use automatic auditing tools.
4. Optimize receiving & picking
Relying on outdated, manual processes for receiving and picking leads to errors and delays that affect every aspect of your warehouse and eat into your bottom line. Streamlining your data management and processes begins when inventory enters your system at receiving, through to when it is picked and leaves your warehouse.
Optimizing receiving and picking are ideal steps as part of your automation process, as they are generally the most labor-intensive areas and present the greatest opportunity for improved efficiency. Your WMS software will automatically create efficient pick paths for maximum speed and accuracy like batch or wave picking, and simplify receiving processes with tools like cross docking and directed putaway.
Each of these tools automate manual processes and help to increase throughput, reduce inventory and order errors, and help to keep warehouses profitable.
These four areas are just some of the best practices when automating warehouse processes and investing in digital automation with WMS software. If you want to learn more about how automating your warehouse with Da Vinci can benefit you, request a free demo today.
If you’re looking for a full WMS implementation guide, take a look at our Comprehensive WMS Implementation Guide here.