June 2010 | Commentary | Green Landscape

Greening the Supply Chain Through Warehouse Automation

Tags: Green Logistics, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Materials Handling

Laura Worker is marketing manager, Westfalia Technologies, 717-764-1115

As part of the trend toward greener warehouses, businesses are seeking more efficient materials handling tools. Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and their accompanying warehouse management systems (WMS) help achieve this goal by maximizing storage space while reducing operating costs.

Flexible, hybrid AS/RS designs use one or more cranes in an aisle. They can store products single deep, double deep, or up to 12 loads deep in the rack structure.

Depending on each warehouse's inventory mix of high, intermediate, and slow moving products, AS/RS providers can minimize the cubic space required for storage and handling. Rack entry vehicles quickly and smoothly transport pallets and containers in and out of the storage rack, delivering faster throughput.

Automated systems also deliver the following environmental benefits:

  • Less land usage. A warehouse with an AS/RS uses up to 40 percent less space than a conventional warehouse to store the same number of products. Automated warehouses have smaller footprints, so less land is used when building new facilities. For firms expanding storage due to growth, even in an existing facility, AS/RS can save the construction expenses involved in building a larger warehouse. Using less land results in less environmental impact to an area.
  • Less energy consumption. Automated warehouses save energy in several ways. Smaller areas require less lighting and cooling, for example. Also, regenerative braking on storage/retrieval machines further reduce energy consumption because it feeds back surplus braking energy to the power supply system. Finally, the facility's WMS controls all product flows and optimizes product movements, which saves energy.
  • Less product waste. An automated warehouse reduces product damage because pallets are handled smoothly. Less stretch wrapping is required to secure pallets when moving, which results in less product waste.

    Additionally, because automated order picking is more accurate, returns are reduced, and the associated fuel, labor, and operating cost savings benefit the entire business.

  • Reduced maintenance. Maintenance costs for AS/RS are lower than for lift trucks. Automated facilities save money on leasing costs, battery charging stations and replacement, cleaning costs, and lift truck damage repair.
  • Safety benefits. Labor costs in automated warehouses are lower than in conventional facilities because they need fewer workers. This reduced staffing cuts hiring and training expenses.

In addition, fewer injuries occur because workers do not have to go into the racks themselves. Also, automated picking stations can be ergonomically designed to prevent repetitive-motion injuries. Firms wanting to get one step ahead of the competition should consider investigating and investing in AS/RS and WMS for their green attributes and financial benefits.