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Automation as the key to enhancing efficiency and sustainability in logistics

Automation as the key to enhancing efficiency and sustainability in logistics
More than half of the 2,000 warehouse management systems implemented each year are either partially or fully automated. This was one of the trends confirmed in the WMS MARKET REPORT COMPACT 2020 published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. The reasons behind this trend and whether warehouse automation is really the key to success – these issues were discussed by experts from CIM GmbH and Gilgen Logistics AG in a virtual panel discussion at Conference Days 2021. The outcome was surprising.
Both parties generally agreed that logistics automation, especially partial automation, will continue to increase in the coming years. “Automatic components have a number of benefits that will play a greater role in the future,” according to Kilian Küsters from CIM GmbH. Automation improves order picking efficiency and enhances process reliability, for example. Throughput is increased and customers benefit from ever shorter delivery times. What’s more, warehouse automation can be a game-changer in terms of reducing operational costs: Main production times and auxiliary production times, picking times, search times in the warehouse or ancillary activities all have a significant influence on costs. Automatic components can play a significant role in reducing these times.

All stock movements in an automated warehouse are performed automatically and are controlled by the superordinate warehouse management system. The risk of human error is eliminated – for example, in manual order picking. All of these factors contribute towards enhancing delivery quality and reducing return rates. A further aspect of automated or software-based solutions is inventory security and transparency.
Users in an automated warehouse always have an accurate picture of inventory as the system tracks each item’s exact location and status in real time.

Automated warehouses can also counteract the problem of lack of space or storage surface. You can ‘go vertical’ and improve space utilisation by using taller pallet racks. Another option is to narrow the aisles between pallet racks or, in the case of multi-depth storage, to remove them altogether. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important concept in logistics. With individual energy-saving concepts extending as far as the dark warehouse, potential savings can be exploited and overall CO2 consumption significantly reduced.

And yet the answer to the question of whether automation is the key to enhancing efficiency and sustainably in logistics was not a clear yes. “Automation is undoubtedly the future of warehousing, however it’s still important to give careful consideration to the question of when it makes sense and why.
A lot depends on the size of the company, their processes, the physical design and makeup of the warehouse as well as a couple of other factors,” as Kilian Küsters from CIM summed up.

What is certain, however, is that automation has enormous potential in areas such as production and assembly, stationary and online retail, healthcare and hazardous goods. In order to exploit this potential, it is essential not to consider software and hardware separately but to see the two as integrally linked. Only if the automatic components operate flawlessly and are optimally managed by the warehouse software can an automated warehouse make a sustainable contribution to successful and optimal warehouse operation. This has been the premise behind a number of successful WMS projects implemented through the longstanding partnership between CIM GmbH – a leading international provider of intralogistics software for over 35 years – and Gilgen Logistics AG, a general contractor for turn-key logistics systems.