Warehouse Automation: Balancing Technology and Workforce

The capabilities of warehouse automation are not to be underestimated. As the driving force behind modern warehousing, automated systems are a vital component in creating a functioning warehouse with efficiency, accuracy and scalability at its core.

However, as automation continues to revolutionise the industry, finding the perfect balance between technology and the human workforce is essential for maintaining a competitive edge. With over 25 years of delivering innovative warehousing solutions to our clients, VLT Logistics continues to search for new ways to optimise the collaboration between our workforce and automated systems.

What is an automated warehouse?

An automated warehouse is a warehouse where every aspect of operations is conducted through the application of automated systems. This includes:

  • Storage
  • Sorting
  • Picking and packing
  • Receiving and dispatching

These systems create efficiency across operations.

Benefits of automated warehouse

1. Greater efficiency in operations

Automated systems in warehouses are designed to handle products with precision and speed, minimising damage and maximising throughput.

By employing advanced technologies, warehouses can optimise product handling, ensuring items are transported swiftly and safely within the facility.

2. Accurate evaluation of data

Automated warehouses generate vast amounts of data regarding inventory levels, order processing times, and overall operational performance. By leveraging sophisticated analytics tools, businesses can gain valuable insights into their warehouse operations, enabling data driven decision making.

3. Movement tracking

With real-time tracking capabilities, automated warehouses provide visibility into the movement of goods throughout the facility, allowing businesses to monitor stock levels, locate items quickly and prevent stock miscalculations.

This is through the application of technological advancements including:

  • RFID tags
  • Sensors
  • Barcode scanners

4. Reduced operational costs

While the initial investment in automation may seem significant, automated warehouses offer long-term cost savings through improved operational efficiency and reduced labour costs.

Warehouse automation improves the overall return on investment (ROI) by:

  • Reducing intensive manual labour and the associated costs
  • Achieving faster performance
  • Optimising the handling of products and reducing human error

5. Scalability

One of the most advantageous benefits of automated warehouses is the ability to adapt swiftly to changes in production demand.

Whether it’s adding additional storage capacity or integrating new technologies, automated warehouses provide the flexibility needed to scale operations without hassle.

6. Fewer human errors

When you have a human workforce, errors are bound to occur, however, with the implementation of the right automated systems, the number of errors can be reduced. Human mistakes come at the expense of time and money, which can be rectified with technology.

Equipping a human workforce with systems that speed up repetitive processes removes the margin for error. For example, RFID scanners can count boxes into a warehouse within minutes, without scanning twice. It would take an employee far longer to perform the same task without the aid of automation.

7. Eliminating safety risks

Warehouses that employ automated systems can reduce safety risks associated with stock management tasks.

For example, in warehouses with high racks, introducing automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to retrieve stock can remove the requirement for ladder use in day-to-day operations, therefore protecting employees from incurring injuries.

Benefits of a human workforce

Warehouse automation yields a vast array of benefits but the importance of the human workforce is just as vital.

1. Flexibility

One of the most significant advantages of a human workforce is its flexibility in handling diverse tasks and unforeseen challenges. Human workers can swiftly adjust to changes in demand, operational requirements, or unexpected situations where automated systems lack the capability.

2. Collaboration and morale

A cohesive workforce is essential for the success of any warehouse logistics operation. Human workers thrive in collaborative environments, where they can share knowledge, support each other, and contribute to a positive work culture.

A motivated workforce boosts productivity across operations.

3. Complex decision making

In complex logistics scenarios, human workers excel in making critical decisions that require intuition, judgement, and a deep understanding of operational nuances.

This can include:

  • Optimising inventory placement
  • Resolving discrepancies
  • Addressing customer concerns

Human expertise adds an invaluable layer of insight.

4. Personalised customer service

Whilst automated customer service systems speed up response times and improve customer satisfaction, many customers benefit more from a personalised service.

The standard responses given by automated bots apply standard responses whereas human employees can tackle complex issues such as addressing inquiries, resolving issues, and building strong relationships with clients.

5. Innovation

Human creativity is invaluable, even in a warehouse environment where it might seem replaceable.

Human workers actively contribute ideas for enhancing efficiency, implementing new technologies, and refining existing processes. Their ability to think critically and adapt to evolving trends ensures that warehouse operations remain agile and competitive.

6. Quality control and attention to detail

While automated systems excel in repetitive tasks, human workers bring a keen eye for detail and quality control. They can identify anomalies, inspect goods for damage or defects, and ensure that products meet quality standards before they are dispatched to customers.

This attention to detail helps uphold the reputation of the warehouse logistics.

Striking a balance between automation and human workforce

Automated processes and human activity each hold benefits that are invaluable to a warehouse. When implemented together, warehouses can strike the perfect balance between innovation and efficiency.

In the twenty-first century, it is impossible for a warehouse to function with only automated systems. Likewise, companies will struggle to make profit if they rely solely on a human workforce to operate their warehouse.

To ensure they work together, logistics companies should:

  1. Invest in training: Comprehensive training programmes familiarise the workforce with new technologies and software systems, improving efficiency.
  2. Encourage collaboration: Collaboration between technology specialists and warehouse staff allows them to combine their strengths, and work more effectively to solve problems and optimise processes.
  3. Provide clear roles: Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of both technology systems and human workers minimises overlap and confusion. Establishing clear boundaries and expectations ensures smooth coordination between technology and your workforce.
  4. Encourage feedback: Encouraging feedback empowers warehouse staff to identify areas for improvement across operations.
  5. Prioritise employee wellbeing: The importance of implementing automated systems that enhance rather than replace human work is crucial to maintaining a workforce that feels valued, as well as a system that benefits from both parties.
  6. Understand where technology fits and where employees thrive: Recognising where human minds are most valuable and where technology fits within this will enhance the efficiency of any warehouse.

VLT Logistics offer comprehensive warehousing solutions to a vast number of businesses that are based on the principle of exceptional collaboration between our employees and the latest in warehouse automation. Our systems are fuelled by advanced technology to ensure our operations remain efficient and deliver cost-effective, timely, consumer driven results for your industry.