No matter how big or small a warehouse is, there is no shortage of equipment and automation in today’s modern fulfillment centers. While the idea of 100% automation is out of reach for many companies, there are many benefits of automation that exist below the 100% mark. In this article we’re exploring what dark warehouses are and other ways warehouses use automation.
What Does Dark Warehousing Mean?
While the term may sound like a plan to save energy, dark warehousing is actually a fully automated fulfillment strategy. Everything from storing, picking and maneuvering, to preparing packages for transit can be done – in theory – with machines and robots. The cost of fully automating a warehouse has become more attainable in recent years. So it goes with technology, the cost of entry has lowered exponentially as new equipment has been invented, new manufacturers have come to the market, and new processes have been developed.
With human operators removed from warehouses lights are technically rendered useless. Lights are still available, however the term dark warehousing is more in reference to the concept of operating a warehouse or fulfillment center without humans, fully relying on automated equipment, machines, and computers.
The sensors and communication networks that make up the Internet of Things (IoT) in packaging is a major reason that dark warehousing is possible. IoT connects everyday objects and machines to each other through data exchange via sensors and chips. In fulfillment centers it helps to connect all of the materials and technologies, through a smooth automated process that does not involve human operators.
Robotic equipment is also important in dark warehousing. Robots (and co-bots) are becoming more common in warehouses, even below the 100% automation mark. Robots are important for stacking, sorting, and other operations that involve moving objects through the warehouse. In futuristic warehouses, there are robots that are designed to service other machines – ie. robots fixing robots.
Advantages of Dark Warehousing and Automation
Space saving – Shelves and equipment can be closer together in dark warehouse since you aren’t relying on human operated fork lifts and other human operated machines.
Labor risks reduced – People get injured very often in warehouses. It is an unavoidable risk that people take every day when they walk into a warehouse. While companies spend a lot of time and resources to reduce the number of injuries and potential risks in warehouses, there is always a chance that something can go wrong.
Environmental impact – the burden of labor on the facility (from water to electricity and more) can make a substantial impact on the energy bill for a company. Also, machines and robots have higher accuracy in regard to the way things are packed. This could include anything from accurately packing boxes to avoid returns, reducing the amount of tape used, etc.
Covid – Since Covid started impacting warehouses in early 2020, the problem of keeping people and products safe in warehouses took on a whole new meaning. Covid propelled more companies to consider reducing and removing human interaction and operations where possible (and as much as possible). As we have lived through a global pandemic, the idea of removing human touch-points is appealing to most.
One step at a time for Automation
It is not very common for a company to start with a dark warehousing approach from day one. It takes time and business growth for it to become opportune for a company to reach 100% automation. In the interim, companies start with smaller pieces of equipment and work their way up in a logical flow. PDA equipment experts are experienced with creating automation plans for companies of all sizes.