In warehouse logistics, many companies are working with several challenges at the moment. Especially in B2C but the same challenges come in B2B but often with some delay. The first challenge is increased costs due to low order value and liberal order rules. Mainly because of e-commerce boom. Therefore, it is a lot of investments and development in automation and robotics. Everything to meet the demands on increased service but at the same time keep the costs down.
The next challenge in warehouse is the demands on more volume efficient packages with as little environmental impact as possible. The ongoing climate debate have made customers more aware of the environmental impact. They are completely allergic to air in their e-commerce packages. The transport companies are also getting aware of transporting fresh air and implements volumetric charging that can be expensive with oversized boxes.
Packaging operations have always been a real time thief in warehouse and often almost completely manual. Often it is a real bottleneck in the warehouse flow. An half hour before the trucks leave the warehouse it is usually chaos in the packaging area with staff running on each other looking for the right boxes and packing material to finish in time. This also affects the quality with mixing of the goods from different orders as a result.
It is tough if not impossible to optimize manual packaging operations enough to meet the new demands. If you going to handle an e-commerce flow with thousands of small packages per day, you need to automate the processes. In my opinion it is often more profitable to first automate packaging and then look at the picking operations.
There is WMS solutions with pick and pack features that uses master data from the goods you pick and calculate total volume and weight in order to give the picker suggestions of the optimal package. In this way, you save a lot of expensive time. Many companies work with small suppliers with bad or no master data at all. There is solutions with advanced scanners and scales that can calculate the dimensions in no time at all and send it directly to WMS in the goods receiving area. Having the right data is critical to getting an efficient flow and being able to utilize the systems optimally.
Next step is to completely automate packaging and invest in machines that make boxes exactly with right volume or shrinking materials etc. for the goods. In this way, you also avoid using filling materials. These machines can also be integrated with WMS to receive data about the products. You can automate the whole flow from picking, packing and labeling the box or bag.
I believe this is the way to go if you want to meet the demands on increased efficiency, quality and with minimal environmental impact. Especially in e-commerce with so many packages with low order value. You can´t optimize manual processes enough to compete with the new automation technology that creates exact packages on demand. In no time at all.
I think we only have seen the beginning regarding automation of packing operations. Many companies tries to develop new packing materials and machines to lower costs and minimize environmental impact.