Self-Driving Vehicles as an Asset in the Warehouse

Jan 18, 2018

Automation has changed the landscape of the modern warehouse. It’s technology that can be used to improve operations by increasing efficiency, speed, reliability, and accuracy. High on the list of automation types having an impact is self-driving vehicles (SDVs), which are often used in the warehouse setting to assist with material handling and other mundane or unsafe tasks.

The term industrial automation was originally used to describe large material handling equipment within a manufacturing process or production line. As the demands of ecommerce grew, the idea of automation expanded to include more sophisticated and nuanced technology that can handle a variety of tasks to supplement human workers in the warehouse.

Physical Automation in the Warehouse

All of the technology and methods that support the physical movement of material in a warehouse - like bringing inventory to the order picker - is referred to as physical automation. In this case, the objective with automation is that the picker’s movements are minimized so he or she can be more efficient in their work. Parts and materials are brought to the person instead of the worker going around the warehouse to find the pieces needed for a given order. Self-driving vehicles can be used to make many activities like these quicker and easier. The use of this type of automation provides a good return on investment, especially in high-volume situations.

What is the ROI?

Of course, return on investment is one of the top criteria to consider with any SDV solution. By increasing the amount of product that is moved around the warehouse automatically, the more efficient overall an operation can become.

But, it is not quite that simple. Companies need to evaluate the potential ROI by understanding the expected level of productivity before, and after this automation is added. Automation is especially cost-effective in facilities with high employee turnover. If the use of SDVs can decrease the human workforce by 40%, for example, wages and benefits can be increased for other employees, and create a more stable workforce.

Preparing Your Warehouse

How self-driving vehicles function, including their inherent flexibility, enable the technology’s full impact to be realized with little change or disruption to an existing warehouse’s operation.

However, preparing to invest in, and start using SDVs involves planning. Because the solution connects with, and impacts, so many functions with the warehouse (receiving, inventory management, prick pack to name a few), a cross-functional team that will handle the implementation of the technology needs to be established. The entire process should be mapped, from start to finish, including long-term maintenance and repair costs. A plan to give employees the proper training and technical support will ensure the process is implemented correctly as well.

The decision to use self-driving vehicles in a warehouse is complex. This means having a sound implementation plan is necessary to ensure the success of the project. But, done right, adding SDVs into the material handling process will have a positive ROI for a warehouse operation. Automation that ensures the predictable of movement of materials offers huge benefits. It’s through a well planned implementation and accurate measurement of ROI that the maximum effectiveness of the solution can be realized.

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By Clearpath Team