Warehouses of the future - What it takes to reach there? Part I
I was wondering how would the warehouse of the future look like? Say even 10 to 15 years from now. Well not all of them would have transformed by then, but some of them might have definitely. Maybe, some of them have already had, or are in the process of doing so.So what is the transformation we are talking about? And how would it affect the way we operate these warehouses? Well, we are looking at how warehousing will be transformed into a highly automated environment. There would be no labour required in the first place, in fact they will be no space for humans to walk (except for service engineers). There will be rails and tracks all around on which automated pick Robots would move to pick and putaway pallets and cases around the warehouse. These robots would move on horizontal and vertical tracks and can reach every location within each zone where they operate. There will be sensors all over the warehouse to guide robots, round the clock.
Now to have such a warehouse to turn into reality (there are quite a few out there), we need to understand what building blocks to be put in place first. First, we need to design the warehouse in such a way that maximum space is occupied, for e.g. these robots will move in rails vertically and horizontally, we do not have to waste space between aisles as there would be no Forklift trucks to be used. Secondly, the size of the carton/box should be of standard sizes, within the maximum limits that each robot can lift and place cartons from one location to another.There will be extensive use of conveyor systems both for inbound and outbound operations. Zone Picking would be the preferred method to adopt since a set of robots can be positioned to work within a confined zone, rather than having them scaling the entire warehouse to carry out putaway and picking operations. Each zone will be linked to a lane that would join the main conveyor moving goods in/out of the warehouse. These will be of two types, the inbound and the outbound conveyor. So what kind of WMS system would run such a warehouse? Well, that would be the nervous system of the warehouse. It will be like any other WMS, except that it will not print a pick ticket, send instructions to a RF gun or print a work order. No human dependency to report back to the system. Instead, it will send instructions to a large PLC or multiple PLCs to operate all the automated robots and conveyors in the warehouse. We will touch upon these aspects in next part of this blog.