Khurshed Mirza, Director, Warehouse Automation (APAC) for OPEX, discusses the warehousing and materials handling technologies available – and coming soon – to meet the challenges of Australian warehouses and DCs.
The need for sustainable supply chains has been brought to the forefront by the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To address this need, the evolution from manual warehousing to smart automated warehouses has had to speed up.
Sadly, tough lockdowns and the infectious spread of COVID has seen many supply chains that were reliant on manual labour crumble and fall apart. Warehouses dependent on manual labour have been crippled for lack of manpower and stringent social distancing laws.
At the same time, we have also witnessed some businesses making record profits. These COVID success stories occurred predominantly in businesses that deployed warehouse automation.
On top of these dramatic disruptions to warehouse labour utilisation, we have also seen a dramatic shift in the buying patterns of consumers – whose behaviour has adapted suddenly in response to the pandemic and the public health measures it provoked. Consumers staying at home and forced into lockdowns quickly shifted to online buying, and – due to the relative ease of online shopping – they have become accustomed to clicking ‘Order’ on a small screen and expecting purchases to arrive on their doorsteps.
PANDEMIC A WAKE-UP CALL FOR WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION
The pandemic has been a big wake-up call for many, serving as a catalyst for automation implementation in warehouses across the world. It is now more evident than ever that automation enables businesses to create robust and sustainable supply chains.
Science and technology have progressed by leaps and bounds. There are myriad automation options available to automate warehouses in varying degrees. Technological advances have resulted in many innovative new solutions, as well as rendering existing automation solutions more and more affordable.
Yet we still see a lot of warehouses persisting in running manual operations. It’s apparent that some business owners and investors remain hesitant in adopting even a modest degree of automation in their warehouses. This hesitation is not limited to certain regions, either. Many warehouses in both developed and developing countries resist the call to automate.
With the practical case for automation more forceful than ever, and automation technology more affordable than ever, what accounts for such inertia?
There are various possible explanations, of course.
One of the primary reasons for continuing with manual-only warehouse operations is a basic – and very understandable – fear of the unknown. But such natural fears are exacerbated by some common misconceptions.
It’s vital that we – not only OPEX, but the whole logistics and supply chain industry, too – tackle these misconceptions head-on. Because automation is indispensable to the future flourishing of supply chains everywhere, to speak nothing of securing the livelihoods of individuals and businesses.
A common misconception is that automation is too expensive. Another misconception is that automation takes jobs away from humans. Some other common fears include:
fear regarding the large initial capital investment;
not knowing where to start;
lack of knowledge/accurate information;
misconception that entire warehouse needs to be automated – or nothing at all.
To some, technology is daunting. People often wonder whether automation is too complicated. ‘How will we manage this?’ ‘Will we need very highly skilled resources to run such complicated automation?’ ‘What if the existing workforce is not able to learn new technology methods?’
Then there is the fear of change, unwillingness to change, unwillingness to move out of your comfort zone, and – from an operations perspective – the fear of interruption to existing operations.
Such fears are compounded by a fear of not having proper after-sale support and ending with a ‘white elephant’.
Lack of proper skills within an organisation, issues in ROI calculations, missing out capturing hidden costs that occur in manual operations are other reasons for this hesitancy in adopting automation.
OPEX DELIVERING NEXT GENERATION TECHNOLOGIES
OPEX prides itself in developing next generation innovative technologies. The beauty is in its simplicity. There is no single point of failure in our equipment. There is in-built redundancy that results in a significantly higher machine uptime as compared to conventional competitive solutions. OPEX technologies also consume significantly less electric energy when they run. OPEX offer scalable, flexible and very reliable warehouse automation solutions.
Labour cost savings – automation enables a smarter way to deploy/allocate labour, particularly with the unpredictable peak seasons and demand fluctuations. Work that would take tens of workers in multiple shifts could be completed efficiently with less labour in a shorter time. Just throwing more labour where the order fulfilment demand is strongly growing does not necessarily work even if the labour rates are low as per the laws of diminishing returns.
Shortage of skilled labour – the recent COVID-19 pandemic has been a classic wake up call for may businesses. We have seen FCs that had some level of automation were significantly better off than the ones that were completely manual. Some may argue that a pandemic is once in a century disruption – but ageing population, migration of labour, and a new generation moving away from tedious manual jobs will always be present, and businesses need to account for this in ensuring long term business sustainability.
Scalability – key to business success is smart investments, flexibility to scale up the automation is vital in reducing the initial capital investment and having automation that can be scaled up easily as the business grows.
Optimised utilisation of warehouse space – optimising not only the foot-print but also the vertical height of the warehouse is absolutely essential in ensuring that the real estate cost is most efficiently utilised. MFC that enable last mile delivery are usually located in densely populated metropolitan areas where the real estate cost is very high. Optimised utilisation of the warehouse space gives you the best bang for your buck.
Speed to market – the e-commerce market is extremely competitive: speed to market is a highly desired competitive advantage to stay ahead of the competition.
Enhanced efficiencies – automation delivers enhanced efficiencies in operations that results in a direct positive bottom-line boost. Reduced cost of correcting errors and improved market credibility.
Business and environmental sustainability is front and centre of the minds of service providers and their consumers and will continue to be a key driver in the future of e-commerce. Often people focus on materials when improving an operations’ sustainability, but many other factors contribute towards achieving sustainability. Smarter automation, like what is provided by OPEX, is extremely vital in ensuring that businesses can fulfil their orders in a reliable and consistent manner. OPEX solutions with in-built redundancies eliminate any single point of failures and significantly enhance business continuity and reliability. All OPEX machines are not only manufactured using 100 per cent renewable electrical energy but also designed to consume significantly less electrical power when they run. Typically, Typically, OPEX’s Sure Sort automated put wall would consume around 2500W and OPEX Perfect Pick goods-to-person solution would consume around 5000W of electric power. We pride ourselves in cutting edge environment sustainability. Automation allows businesses to do more with less by working smarter.
INTRODUCING THE INFINITY SYSTEM
E-commerce is growing exponentially. Companies today need dependable yet advanced technology, the resiliency to meet shifting and seasonal demands, fast and accurate fulfilment, the ability to maximise space, and a partner they can trust.
OPEX and the Infinity solution deliver all these and more. OPEX® Infinity™ goods-to-person technology is an ideal solution for multiple applications, including e-commerce, micro-fulfilment, store replenishment, and omni-channel distribution.
Engineered for unlimited flexibility and scalability in throughput and storage, the Infinity system’s configurable racking design accommodates various site layouts and workflows to maximise your operation’s output.
This technology was created as a result of our continuous innovation where our focus is on engineering exciting new solutions that address the unmet and evolving customer requirements.
Designed for unlimited flexibility and scalability, the Infinity™ goods-to-person system has a modular racking structure that expands with additional modules, Infinity iBOT robots , totes, and presentation ports based on the unique needs of our customer’s operation and site footprint.
Maintenance & longevity
The Infinity system’s unique zoned safety system allows users to take part of the grid down for maintenance while the rest of the system remains operational to limit downtime.
The smart, triple-deep storage configuration provides dense storage capability.
Infinity uses OPEX’s iBOT autonomous robot vehicles that travel along a modular racking design to deliver totes to decoupled presentation ports.
Since they travel under the racks, they have the most-efficient access to storage resulting in faster picking times.
The system’s modular racks and iBOT robots means it’s easy to scale by adding more modules and robots, with iBOTs able to handle up to 70 lbs at a time.
They also recharge with their ultra-capacitors as they navigate the system, meaning the robots do not need to be removed to recharge.
The Infinity solution was designed to be used for micro-fulfilment, omni-channel distribution, store replenishment and e-commerce.
Powered by the OPEX Cortex™ software platform, the Infinity goods-to-person system significantly reduces reliance on labour, optimising your operation from inventory management to order picking.
It should be noted that the OPEX Infinity system, while currently offered in North America, is coming to APAC in the near future.
For more information on OPEX, click here.