How low energy warehouse robotics and automation are making supply chains more sustainable

In this guest post, James Smith, UK managing director of order fulfillment warehouse robot maker AutoStore Systems, explains how automation can bring sustainability benefits to warehouses and online order fulfillment processes.

The last five years have seen a boom in the implementation of warehouse automation, largely due to consumer demand and the continued investment in e-commerce. Even more recently we have seen businesses shift their mentality, with customer concerns focused on their carbon outputs and how they can improve sustainability practices – with automation being top of the agenda.

Supply chains are a big contributor to global carbon emissions, largely down to methods of transporting goods, but an often overlooked and easily rectifiable area is warehouse operations and picking systems. It is estimated that 90% of global warehouses are still heavily reliant on manual picking, which means more electricity is used to light and run each facility. Not only is this costly for a company but it also limits employee development and allows for human error as we, unfortunately, cannot always be 100% accurate.

For these reasons, the apparel and grocery industries are some of the biggest adopters of warehouse automation, as they work to meet growing consumer demand and tighter turn-around expectations.

The use of warehouse automation and robots significantly reduces the business need for electricity with each space operating as a dark warehouse. This coupled with energy-efficient robotics picking products means energy is saved and bills are reduced by – on average – 75%.

For example, AutoStore’s ​​Robots use regenerative technology meaning energy is returned to the battery making AutoStore one of the only systems able to run on solar power alone. And when using energy, 10 robots only require the same amount of watts as one household vacuum cleaner.

Automation goes beyond providing livelihoods for employees. It has a wider societal purpose by allowing companies to use this as part of their sustainability and environmental goals strategies.

The implementation of automated storage, particularly within the context of micro-fulfillment, also offers a massive bonus in terms of sustainable credentials. By creating urban fulfillment otherwise known as ‘localised warehouses’, there is less need for B2C petrol-based delivery services, making it easier for people to pick up their items on-site quickly and conveniently.

A big concern for businesses today is upscaling to meet growth targets. Those with manual-based warehouses tend to look for more space, whereas new technologies mean systems can be installed in existing locations, reducing the need for investing in commercial properties which would subsequently contribute to more energy use.

We need to focus more on scalability in an immediate sense, new systems with ultra-high-density storage mean more products can be facilitated and kept in one space, maximising the spatial use of an existing warehouse or even a stock room for better click and collect resources.

Micro and urban-fulfillment is a continued area of growth, negating the need for new builds by working with existing spaces. Companies are exploring ways of getting products to clients within minutes – not hours – and by introducing automated systems into stock rooms and local depots, brands can do this whilst cutting down emissions even further by limiting delivery distances.

Some are optimising this even further by installing solar panels to power the little energy automated warehouses require to completely remove the need for non-renewable energy sources.

Ultimately, we all have a responsibility to deliver the best client service and on a personal level, our clients have reported huge increases in the efficiency of processing stock and sending it out. We are enabling them to deliver a quality service to their customers which helps their bottom line and our environment.

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