Modern material handling can’t continue to be held back by outdated practices. Next-generation warehouses need next-generation automation. The following are seven critical reasons why.

Flexible warehouse automation isn’t just a “better” version of pre-existing automation technology. It is the essential next step for growing businesses whose regular operations involve material handling of any kind.

It is no longer possible to get the maximum possible advantage from your automation investment if you waste vast quantities of time on elaborate purpose-built warehouses that take double-digit numbers of months to come online, and years on end to deliver real ROI. The competitive edge offered by flexible automation is extreme and essential. Here are seven reasons why:

  1. Rapid installation

With an older fixed automation model, you need to wait months to years on end before an automated warehouse can come online. This is because of all the expensive and elaborate traversal infrastructure the robots will need to find their way around. Rails and racks and tracks and gantries and many more such apparatus. This all is complicated and difficult to engineer.

For flexible robotics, all that is needed is the right DM codes, a selection of freestanding storage racks, and well-integrated software and hardware. This is why the set-up time can be measured in mere weeks. Your warehouse comes online faster, and you can start taking advantage sooner.

  1. Flexible arrangement

Fixed warehouses cannot adapt in the moments when product popularity shifts and items need to be moved closer together, further away, or otherwise in a new and varied orientation. With the storage shelves built in place, any changes are fundamentally disruptive. A static and stagnant form of warehouse automation.

In contrast, because of the freestanding shelves and minimal mobility infrastructure for the robots, flexible warehouse automation can shift, change, and adapt as and when needed. Picking placement can be anywhere and everywhere you might need.

  1. Space saving

With a fixed warehouse automation option so much space is consumed by all the surrounding infrastructure. Since the robots cannot work in the warehouse without them, all the bulky rails and fixed racks must be there, so they space they take up is non-negotiable.

With a flexible warehouse automation model, your storage density can be far higher, allowing for much more material to be handled at a far greater speed. Your warehouse efficiency can radically improve.

  1. Accelerable operations

Fixed warehouse automation cannot be accelerated once it is installed. The name “fixed” describes the situation of such warehouses in so many ways. Thanks to the tracks, static storage, and rail-reliant robots you cannot make it go any faster in peak periods. Not without re-engineering the entire operation.

For flexible robotics, the solution is simple. Deploy more robots. Without rails or tracks the system can accommodate a larger fleet with ease, and for only short-term periods if need be. Your speed can be boosted at just the right time, keeping materials flowing freely.

  1. Safe alongside staff

With fixed automation staff must be pushed entirely to one side. There is no way for them to deploy their elite expertise into the warehouse space safely, and so all that materials understanding know-how gets lost amidst a space built solely for a rail-reliant electronic workforce.

Flexible automation is more adaptable and can work with your staff to give you the best of both worlds. Thanks to a sophisticated suite of sensors, your staff can work in the same space as the robots without fear of collisions or the possibility of slowdowns.

  1. Adaptive arrangements

If you need to change product lines to something larger, smaller, or with components that are more fragile or volatile, your fixed warehouse is a lost cause. It will already be built with particular products in mind. Adapting it to new setups will be disruptive, time-consuming, and expensive.

Flexible warehouse automation allows for a far easier transition between products and other such concerns. You can change the type of robot, how large the racks need to be, how many picking stations your warehouse uses, and any number of other detailed arrangements. Thanks to a lack of obstructive infrastructure, anything is possible.

  1. Geared for growth

Once you install and activate a fixed automation system, not only can it not be accelerated or adapted without massive disruption, it also can’t be expanded. Simple extra space isn’t enough. You’d need to build even more infrastructure, and then somehow integrate it into your pre-existing warehouse. Complicated, expensive, and time consuming.

For flexible warehouse automation this is a simple process. Install new DM codes, re-map the code of your RCS (Robotic control system) and away you go. Expansion prospects are pre-built into flexible warehouse automation in a way that is completely impossible for the fixed alternative.

Curious to discover more about the possibilities of warehouse automation in your own operation? Access a simple guide to automation here.

Joe Daft, Head of Robotics at Wise Robotics