Warehouses are the logistical backbone of innumerable industries as they facilitate the storage and movement of goods at various stages of the supply chain. Today, however, traditional warehouses are grappling with the multifaceted challenges of a fast-paced and continuously evolving world.
With the surge in e-commerce, there has been an intensified need for rapid order fulfillment, increased storage capacity, and greater inventory accuracy. Warehouses must also contend with labor shortages, rising operational costs, poor worker safety, and the imperative to embrace sustainable practices.
To address these issues, many businesses are turning to material handling automation to optimize their processes and strengthen their competitiveness.
Dorna is a leading provider of robotic arms efficient for material handling applications. Their sturdy design and compact size, combined with easy training and unexampled efficiency have made them a recognized and trusted automation partner.
The following article lays down the advantages and effective techniques of material handling automation to help businesses enhance their industrial processes. But first, it is important to grasp what exactly is material handling.
What is Material Handling?
Material handling is the process of moving, controlling, and managing materials within a facility or a supply chain. It involves the transportation, storage, and manipulation of goods, products, or raw materials to ensure they are in the right place at the right time to meet operational and customer demands.
Material handling is employed across industries but is typically utilized in warehousing, where goods need to be securely stored, retrieved, and shipped.
A material handling system can range from simple manual handling, like lifting and carrying, to highly automated systems involving conveyor belts, robotic arms, and other machinery known as material handling equipment.
What are Automated Material Handling Systems?
Automated Material Handling Systems (AMHS) are advanced technological solutions designed to automate the movement, storage, and retrieval of materials or products at any particular site, such as a warehouse, distribution center, or manufacturing plant.
These systems replace or augment manual labor with automated processes and machinery to improve operational efficiency, accuracy, and productivity.
What are the key components of AMHS?
Various kinds of automation devices are used today to automate and optimize different parts of the material handling process of warehouses. These are:
These consist of a network of conveyor belts or rollers that transport items from one point to another, eliminating the need for manual handling and ensuring a continuous flow of materials.
Robotic arms like Dorna’s and autonomous mobile robots are used for tasks like picking, placing, and sorting items. They are highly versatile and can be programmed to perform various material handling tasks.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)
These are self-guided mobile robots that transport goods within a facility. They use sensors, lasers, or magnetic tape to navigate and follow predetermined routes.
Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)
These systems employ cranes, shuttles, or stacker cranes to automatically store and retrieve items from storage racks or shelves, maximizing storage density and retrieval speed.
These systems use conveyors, chutes, or diverters to separate and direct items to their designated destinations, optimizing the order fulfillment process and ensuring timely and accurate deliveries to customers.
Automated packaging systems
Automated equipment, like robotic arms, can package and label products, streamlining the packaging process and reducing material waste, leading to cost savings and a more eco-friendly approach to packaging.
10 Material handling techniques to streamline your operations
Researchers at the Material Handling Institute have authored a document outlining the ten fundamental principles of material handling, aiming to establish safer and more efficient material handling systems. These are:
Formulate a well-defined plan for your material handling system, specifying the materials to be moved, the equipment to be employed, and the storage locations to be used.
Standardize processes and equipment to achieve predictable outcomes while allowing for adaptability. For instance, when dealing with uniform-sized boxes, anticipate potential size variations, ensuring equipment compatibility with varying box dimensions.
Reduce extra labor by utilizing equipment to minimize or eliminate repetitive tasks.
Prioritize employee well-being by investing in ergonomic equipment, ensuring a safe working environment.
Unit load Utilization
Maximize efficiency by using unit loads like containers and pallets, minimizing effort and reducing walking time within the warehouse.
Organize your warehouse to effectively utilize the space by decluttering aisles, utilizing vertical storage, and categorizing products efficiently.
Incorporate tracking tools to swiftly identify materials and products at every phase of the system.
Opt for equipment that curbs energy consumption and curtails greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, opting for an electric forklift over a liquid-propane-powered truck demonstrates a more sustainable approach.
Integrate automation into warehouse processes, particularly in picking and retrieval, to drive down costs and enhance employee productivity.
Life Cycle Cost Analysis
Conduct a comprehensive life cycle cost analysis of material handling equipment, taking into account factors such as programming, installation, setup, operation, repair, maintenance, reuse value, and disposal to ensure durability and sustainability.
Benefits of material handling automation
Material handling automation offers a myriad of benefits for businesses in various industries.
It carries the potential to completely transform a business by fostering a more efficient, cost-effective, and competitive environment while prioritizing employee safety and environmental responsibility.
Naturally then, material handling automation differs significantly from manual material handling systems in more than one aspect. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between these two approaches to material handling:
Manual Material Handling
Automated Material Handling
Relies on physical human labor for tasks like lifting, carrying, and transporting materials.
Uses machines, conveyors, robotics, and other technologies to replace or assist human labor.
Human workers may naturally vary in their precision and efficiency potentially leading to errors, delays, and inconsistencies.
Automation systems operate with high precision, ensuring consistent and accurate material handling. They follow programmed instructions and do not tire, resulting in minimal errors.
Speed and throughput
Manual processes are often slower compared to automation, which can lead to longer lead times and reduced throughput.
Automation systems work at a consistent pace, allowing for faster material handling, higher throughput, and more efficient operations.
Labor costs are a significant component of the expenses, as they involve wages, benefits, and training.
While the initial investment in automation can be substantial, it reduces long-term labor costs and reliance on manual workers.
Manual handling can involve physically demanding and potentially hazardous tasks, which can pose a high risk of injuries and accidents to workers.
Automation enhances workers’ safety by reducing the need for them to perform physically strenuous or dangerous tasks.
Manual processes may offer flexibility in handling a wide range of materials but require time and skilled workers to adapt.
Automated systems can be programmed and configured to adapt to multiple tasks quickly, making them flexible and versatile in handling different materials.
Scaling manual operations often requires additional labor, which can be challenging to manage.
Automation systems can be easily scaled up or down to accommodate changing business needs, making them highly adaptable and useful.
Where in the Supply Chain is Material Handling Required?
Material handling plays a pivotal role in ensuring the secure and efficient transportation of materials and products across various stages of the supply chain, spanning from manufacturing to distribution. These are the different ways it is implemented:
In the manufacturing phase, material handling is instrumental for the movement and organization of inbound goods within storage spaces or warehouses.
During transportation, material handling is utilized to assemble goods onto pallets, facilitating their seamless transport to designated warehouse storage locations.
In storage, material handling is essential for the safe unloading of goods onto designated storage areas or shelves, where they are carried to further distribution.
In the distribution phase, material handling is crucial for the loading of goods onto trucks, often employing equipment like forklifts, in preparation for delivery to retailers, wholesalers, or end customers.
Looking for Material Handling Automation?
An effective material management system extends beyond the simple movement of goods. It provides your warehouse operations with a standardized process for handling and transporting materials from start to finish.
At Dorna, our automated solutions are designed to integrate into each stage of the supply chain and help you ensure your material handling operations flow smoothly, and more efficiently, creating a streamlined supply chain.
Robotic arms, also known as manipulators, are versatile mechanical limbs that are programmed to perform tasks with unparalleled speed, accuracy, and efficiency. Industries have gone from embracing automation to having it as an indispensable part of their industrial processes. They have been vital in reshaping industries across sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, space exploration, agriculture, and more.
It is well known that automation is not just a tool; it’s a conductor, directing the laboratory processes at multiple stages toward precision and efficiency. By automating the various tasks listed above, you can also elevate your laboratory’s performance, allowing your team to perform with artistic precision in the ever-evolving world of science. Automation isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a dynamic approach to redefining lab efficiency, accuracy, and overall productivity.