What is intralogistics?
Intralogistics is quite the buzzword in warehousing today and is certainly living up to its hype.
So, what is intralogistics?
The term refers to the art of optimising, automating, integrating, and managing the logistical flow of all goods and data within a distribution centre or warehouse.
Inspired by the unprecedented growth in eCommerce, intralogistics automation provides the required speed and inventory control to maximise operational efficiency and win the hearts of consumers.
But companies need to select the right equipment and software to automate and optimise their intralogistics workflows. This means they must conduct an in-depth analysis of their warehouse before investing in an intralogistics solution.
What are some examples of intralogistics solutions?
Since intralogistics is an improvement model for all processes involved in a warehouse operation, several different – and often complementary – solutions are available. Process improvements are possible in the receipt, fulfilment, and transportation of goods, inventory management, information flow management, and general warehouse management.
Specific solutions for the various processes include the following:
1. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS)
ASRS can comprise various computer-controlled systems that place and retrieve loads from set storage locations with high accuracy and speed. These systems vary significantly but generally fall into three categories:
- Shelf-based picking (where an operator receives an entire shelf or tray of product)
- Bin-based picking (where an operator receives individual bins with a certain quantity of product, such as the AutoStore™ system)
- Robotic picking (where robots pick products and deliver them to an operator)
2. Autonomous vehicles
These may include automated mobile robots (AMRs) or automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Working alongside people, AGVs follow predetermined paths to move goods across the warehouse. AMRs, on the other hand, are a more intelligent solution since they can navigate a warehouse floor independently, making them more flexible.
3. Warehouse management system (WMS)
This type of warehouse automation is more focused on broader activities, people, and processes such as orders and shipments. Generally, a WMS doesn’t extend to the automated equipment itself – it’s more aimed at handling workload by controlling human interactions to fulfil or receive product.
Warehouse control system (WCS) – Another class of IT system is a warehouse control system (WCS), which directs “real-time” activities within warehouses and distribution centres. They direct warehousing activities to run material handling systems and, in some instances, worker activity. A sound WCS system provides a broad yet consistent interface for material handling systems.
Given the various automation options, the ideal intralogistics solution ultimately depends on a company’s specific needs after a thorough analysis.
What are the benefits of intralogistics solutions?
Intralogistics automation is becoming increasingly sought after in response to rising labour costs, changing consumer expectations, and the global skills shortage. It also has several other tangible benefits for warehouses of all types and sizes:
Lower overall costs
Improved efficiencies result in less surplus stock, faster time-to-market, and fewer wasted person-hours. Access to real-time data also means real-time adjustments, so warehouses become more agile and responsive irrespective of market changes.
It’s easier for warehouses with an intralogistics focus to implement new automation strategies and achieve a faster ROI when procuring major equipment. Using the data created by advanced Internet of Things (IoT) equipment regarding usage and efficiency, they can optimise their internal supply chain to adjust to demand changes naturally.
Safer work environment
One of intralogistics’ primary goals is to automate all tasks that don’t require an employee, including inherently dangerous tasks such as reaching items on high shelves. It also helps prevent injury or illness resulting from worker fatigue.
Improved labour efficiency
Intralogistics replaces repetitive tasks with automated systems that eliminate labour-intensive, time-consuming duties. Of course, human workers will always be the foundation of a smooth-running facility, so the goal isn’t to replace personnel. Instead, intralogistics operates alongside workers to free up their time to focus on more value-added tasks, such as quality control.
A future-proof facility
Warehouses with an intralogistics approach can automate fundamental processes and improve overall agility to scale up automation as the facility grows – without interrupting existing operations. It also enables operators to embrace 24/7 warehousing to help meet unprecedented customer demand for immediacy, visibility, and sustainability.
Value-added customer experience
The benefits of positive customer experiences fuelled by intralogistics automation in the warehouse are too great to ignore. Take advantage of the various solutions to streamline operations and reduce bottlenecks. This is an invaluable advantage in a world where consumer demand for faster delivery and pickup times is higher than ever.
What are the key trends in intralogistics?
E-commerce’s immense growth has triggered three trends that will play an essential role in how the intralogistics industry will evolve.
Just a few years ago, ordering groceries via an app and having them delivered to your doorstep on the same day was hardly imaginable. While commonplace today, the infrastructure from order to delivery can be costly and unprofitable for the grocer if not handled smartly.
However, companies can achieve a profitable and sustainable infrastructure by automating their warehouse operations. By not relying on manual order picking, the grocer eliminates human errors while speeding up the process immensely.
2. Micro fulfilment centres (MFCs)
Two types of micro fulfilment centres will shape the future of logistics.
One is the dark store, only accessible to employees for order picking. The other is a dedicated storefront where an allocated space in the back acts as the micro fulfilment centre. As the micro fulfilment centre is closer to the customer, companies often let them choose whether to pick up the order or get it delivered.
3. Automation as a Service (AaaS)
Not all companies can afford, or want, to invest in intralogistics automation before they’re sure it is what they need. The AaaS subscription-based model could be handy for young companies that will be able to access automation at a much earlier stage of their development.
This could facilitate rapid, sustainable growth without a sizeable first-time investment burden. A solution like AutoStore is ideal for AaaS because of its modularity and flexibility – it fits any space and is easy to scale when necessary.
Choosing the right intralogistics solution
Intralogistics automation is highly variable, and a “one-size-fits-all “approach won’t suffice. But identifying inefficiencies in your warehouse and selecting an appropriate intralogistics solution is the first step towards optimising all resources and processes to deliver a much more agile service.