While companies have been slowly implementing automation technologies for several years, Covid-19 accelerated automation adoption on a significant scale. It became a necessity for businesses – particularly those in the transportation and warehouse industry – to utilize automation technologies to ensure employee safety.
With the warehouse automation market expected to be worth $30 billion by 2026, it appears that automation is here to stay. Now, the question is not whether you should or shouldn’t implement automation, but rather, how can you maximize the functionality of your automation efforts.
What Is Logistics Automation?
Broadly speaking, logistics automation is the process of utilizing software or automated machinery to streamline warehouse operations. It reduces the time spent doing repetitive tasks, such as manual location sourcing, data entry, multichannel inventory management, and more.
The ability to implement both digital and physical automation processes provides logistics companies with a greater deal of flexibility, scalability, and possibility.
From streamlining a freelance business to managing a fulfillment center, automation is proving to be a successful investment for businesses across multiple industries. When it comes to logistics automation, the benefits are potentially some of the most significant.
What Are the Benefits of Logistics Automation?
Before we explore how to maximize your logistics automation functionality, here are just a few of the benefits that proper implementation can provide.
Reduces Costly Errors
When it comes to inventory control and freight travel, human error can result in significant losses. Logistics automation can be integrated with your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and given access to your address book, automatic storage, and fuel surcharges. This reduces the risk of an employee manually entering the wrong data, consequently resulting in fewer incurring fees.
Reduces Labor Intensity
While labor will always be an important part of your warehouse operations, overwhelming labor intensity can tire out employees and lead to costly – and potentially even dangerous – human errors. By implementing automation, you can simplify or eliminate some of the more menial and repetitive labor tasks through process mapping. This will help to boost productivity and reduce monotony for your employees, allowing them to focus on the more valuable aspects of their role.
Provides Access to Real-Time Data
The ability to access real-time location, performance and freight data is potentially one of the most important advantages of logistics automation. With a wealth of actionable data at your fingertips in just one click, you can create better business decisions and avoid costly mistakes.
Improves Customer Service and Satisfaction
Automation is essential in the delivery of any effective omnichannel strategy and has become a great way to deliver a streamlined customer experience. Your increased warehouse visibility empowers you to confidently relay to your customers each stage of their order’s journey, along with perks like automatic transactional updates and real-time freight tracking.
Of course, with the increased efficiency that automation provides, customers can receive their orders quicker and with less chance of error, making it an excellent way to boost your customer satisfaction rates.
Increases Speed and Provides Scalability
Logistics automation is perfect for the future-proofing and scaling of all business types, whether it be small, medium, or large organizations. Being integrative with many different technologies, logistics automation software ensures that you require no additional costly resources and are free to innovate according to your business goals.
Furthermore, the time-effectiveness of logistics automation means that you will have more time to complete more orders and scale your business as a result – a feat that an order management system easily accommodates at little cost.
There are many more advantages to logistics automation, but it’s crucial that you don’t dive into it headfirst. The initial investment cost of automation is high – often upwards of a million dollars – meaning that poor planning and hasty implementation can easily result in a negative ROI.
To ensure that your logistics automation efforts can function smoothly, efficiently, and cost-effectively, it’s necessary to take some precautions in the implementation and execution of your strategy.
Implement a Warehouse Management System
A necessity to any automated warehouse is a Warehouse Management System (WMS). A WMS is a software program that assists with the integration of automation technologies into the workplace. A WMS is integral to inventory management as it tracks stock from the minute it enters the warehouse to the time it leaves, all the while overseeing and managing inventory optimization, picking, putaway, and more.
Integrating your WMS with Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) is a common best practice in order to get the most out of your inventory management. RTLS enables you to view the real-time location of assets and workers, making it essential for route optimization.
Automate in Steps
While it might be tempting to jump into automation, automating everything at once puts your company and its workers at risk of burnout and fatigue. It’s much wiser to introduce new automation strategies in steps and track the success of a single automation technology before implementing another.
Focus on your individual business goals rather than following trends. Analyze the areas of your workplace that are in most need of automation. For example, if you highlight your manual inventory control system as a significant problem for productivity and efficiency, you might want to concentrate on automating inventory management before moving onto product transportation automation or invoicing automation.
Always keep in mind that the most efficiently functioning automation strategies are well-researched and designed before they are implemented. This will ensure that you maximize your logistics automation functionality and your ROI potential.
Create an Efficient Data Migration Plan
If your data is being held in manual or semi-automated systems, it’s vital that you create a migration plan to transfer data over to your new system. Many companies overlook the complexities of data migration, as well as the detrimental effects that data silos can have across departments.
Additionally, the data that your company has gathered on your old systems can prove incredibly useful for performance monitoring and future innovations, so always make sure to create a comprehensive plan for how your data will be transferred.
Upskill Your Employees and Offer Training
Workplaces are becoming exceedingly digital. From video conferencing software to cloud-based platforms, employees in every industry are continually having to grasp new technologies. For employees who are not technologically inclined, this can be a serious adjustment that you need to be aware of.
However, rather than hiring new workers, take the time to upskill the workers you already have, as they are the ones who are most accustomed to your business goals and culture.
Upskilling employees has been proven to have numerous benefits as evidenced by the graph below.
Make your employees aware of your automation goals as quickly as possible and offer training as you begin to implement them. This will streamline the process of implementation and maximize your logistics automation functionality.
You could even use websites for group collaboration so that employees can learn online and from home with the support of both colleagues and management.
Regularly Audit Your Automation System
There is a common misconception that once your automation system is up and running, that it can be left to its own devices since it already undergo testing in production. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Two of the biggest drawbacks of automation in the workplace are complacency and over-reliance, both of which can lead to technical issues and vulnerabilities being overlooked.
Conducting audits every 6 to 12 months will highlight any technical issues. Furthermore, it will enable you to track and analyze your logistics automation functionality over time and unveil any potential areas for improvement.
Ensure that you have a team of RPA experts dedicated to overseeing both the implementation and the continued running of your automated system. A huge benefit of the cloud-based automation system is that an RPA team does not even have to base themselves on-site – video collaboration tools enable you to form a dedicated RPA team with no restrictions regarding distance.
You can even utilize video conferencing HD solutions to make this process more efficient and accommodating.
To Sum Things Up
Logistics automation can assist you in the streamlining of daily processes and the reduction of costly human errors while bestowing you with enriched visibility of your workplace and the data it accumulates.
Meeting consumer demands and creating the ideal ecommerce customer experience is a very achievable goal once automation has been implemented. Automating inventory management, creating optimal routes, and minimizing touchpoints are just a few of the ways that you can utilize automation to ensure that your products are shipped as quickly as possible.
Always keep in mind that in order to maximize your logistics automation functionality, it’s important that you don’t just dive straight in. You should be meticulously planning every step and implementing processes slowly to track performance. And of course, your employees are crucial to the success of your automation strategy, so make sure to offer them training and continued support throughout your journey.