Online shopping has become the norm for so many of us, particularly in the last few years. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, with shops closed and people required to stay at home to slow infections, eCommerce platforms became a lifeline. The convenience and quick response times offered by online retailers have become expected by many people, even as shops reopen. Demand for fast, accurate online shopping is high but the labour that goes into providing these services is often unseen.
In this article, we examine how eCommerce fulfilment centres can meet demand and increase efficiency with the most exciting logistics solution on the market: robotic automation.
It is now clear that robotics and automated systems can help distribution centres of all sizes to be accurate, efficient and safe. At Guidance Automation, we support businesses in eCommerce, distribution and fulfilment to integrate these automated solutions. There are many factors that impact what system will work best for a given business, from the size of the operation to the kind of products supplied.
Consider the Variation in Product Size and Packaging
Many eCommerce businesses supply a huge range of products, from tiny packages to large and heavy items. Moreover, adding seasonal stock varies the number of SKUs that need handling. The degree of variability in your SKUs, in size, shape, packing type and weight, will indicate how flexible the solution needs to be.
A robotic system like our Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can be adapted to meet a need for flexibility. We design custom attachments for AMRs to support a range of picking types, including conveyor-top and tote-top modules.
How an AMR System Integrator Helps
We work with many businesses in eCommerce, warehousing, distribution and logistics industries, and while many premises have similar setups, we know that no two companies are the same. As experts in automated navigation, we want to make clear to our clients that there are no ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions with robotics. A system integrator is a qualified expert who supports you in bringing robotic automation to your eCommerce business. A qualified integrator will work together with you to understand efficiency goals, how the automation will be used and other details of the process requirements. They will then make recommendations and design a solution that will work to improve efficiency and gain a quick ROI. This may include developing guidance maps of the site, choosing charging station locations, and recommending the types and quantities of AMR that will best suit your business.
Solving Labour Issues in ECommerce
In the ongoing aftermath of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and economic instability, finding and retaining staff is a challenge for many businesses. The rapid growth of eCommerce since the start of the pandemic has presented its own set of challenges, with more orders and fewer workers to meet them. As things return to normal, maintaining healthy work patterns and keeping operatives safe with social distancing is still a priority for many businesses, and the increase in demand should not mean extra pressure on people already working hard.
Automation can ease the strain, filling gaps and reducing the time operatives spend on repetitive tasks. By integrating AMRs into your workforce, you can get ahead of the curve as the rate of growth in eCommerce looks set to stay.
Is ECommerce Still Growing?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a clear cause of growth in eCommerce in 2020 & 2021. However, the convenience and range of choices offered by online retail continue to move consumers away from buying in person, and this trend is set to continue.
According to a report by eMarketer, eCommerce is forecast to account for 23% of retail sales worldwide by 2025. UK eCommerce is set to continue growing by 4.1% each year through 2025, with the most growth predicted in Food, Furniture and Beverages. The Parcel Shipping Index calculated that in the UK in 2021, 15m parcels were shipped each day.
Preparing for this expansion is a challenge for online retailers, especially considering recent labour shortages. The key to meeting demand and expanding with the market will be the timely implementation of scalable, flexible infrastructure, and Robotic Automation is a large part of this.
How are eCommerce companies using Robots?
Developing infrastructures that ease the strain of high demand on your eCommerce business requires innovative design and an understanding of complex systems. Each process can link together or have knock-on effects on others, so it’s important to consider the whole when integrating robots into one area. In general terms, robotic automation can be successfully implemented in most eCommerce processes.
- Automated Picking: Intelligent robotic picking systems can speed up picking by gathering SKUs on an order and transporting them for packing. AMRs can be programmed to follow pick-to-light systems, or work with robotic arms to move goods. Thanks to machine learning, AMRs can improve their accuracy over time.
- Automated Internal Transportation: Designed to streamline the movement of goods through the fulfilment centre, automated transportation commonly includes pallet and roller conveyor systems as well as AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles) and AMRs, which move autonomously through warehouses.
- Automatic Vehicle Loading and Unloading Systems: combining scanners, conveyors and robotic arms, robots are able to unload and load delivery vehicles. AMRs might bring pallets into the fulfilment centre, separate products for storage, and move items onto a conveyor sortation system.
Developing Autonomous Vehicles
This is still a very young market, with most eCommerce companies that use robots still in the testing phase. At Guidance Automation, we are interested in supporting companies to integrate automation into their existing systems. With a long history of helping our customers automate their own vehicles, we have developed considerable expertise in extensive applications and environments. This experience allows our team to interpret our customers’ needs into a customised automation solution.
Safety First: Training Operatives to work with eCommerce Robotic Automation
While the process is fairly simple, adding robotic solutions to your warehouse can be hard for everyone to get used to. With the wealth of science fiction around robots and automation, expectations of robotic capabilities can differ, so it’s important that everyone who is working with AMRs and AGVs is trained properly. This can be an opportunity for operatives to learn new skills and be trained in innovative automation technologies.
How Our Solutions can Improve your Ecommerce Operations:
At Guidance Automation, our expert advisers can help you design robotic automation solutions to increase efficiency in warehouse processes including:
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (Otto Motors’ AMRs)
- Pick-to-Light Systems
- Warehouse Execution and Control Systems
Our automated solutions are scalable, easily installed and offer fast ROI.
We also offer a Free AMR Trial to SMEs. If you own a small or medium-sized business, contact us today to find out how easily AMRs could help improve processes.