Stacking Up – Business Insights from Aaron Young: Automated Picking Systems

Posted on October 14, 2020

This month, I had the opportunity to attend an industry trade show in China and visit some of Storepro’s manufacturing facilities. It’s something I do on a bi-annual basis because it allows me to ensure we continue delivering high quality products, whilst also keeping ahead of industry developments and innovative ideas.

There is one key development I saw which I believe will revolutionise our industry within the next five or so years – automated warehouse picking systems.

Here are my thoughts on the system and why I think it’s simply a matter of time before they are common place.

Automated warehouse picking systems: What and why?

Essentially, automated warehouse picking systems are a robotic method for retrieving products from storage in order to meet a specific customer demand. They eliminate or significantly reduce the need for traditional person-power techniques. Whilst automated pallet storage and retrieval systems are now very common and Storepro are completing a handful of these every year now, the automation of tote bins or small parts is the next big thing….I believe!

They’re beneficial for businesses because they increase productivity, provide faster order fulfilment, improved accuracy and can be used in a wide range of environments.

The current situation

In New Zealand currently, we are “still” spoilt for choice when it comes to land and labour. As time goes on, we’re starting to feel the pinch of our growing population and rising land costs. Like other counties, we’re seeking out systems that allow us to better utilise small warehouse spaces that house a higher volume of products.

Key factors influencing change

Kiwis will hate me saying this, but our size and geographic location allows us to act like a state of Australia. We’re closer and more interconnected than ever, making freight, supply and distribution between our countries increasingly more time and cost efficient. We can meet local customer demands by shipping straight from overseas headquarters. You can buy nearly anything online through Amazon and the likes and probably have it delivered within a few days, it could be coming from any warehouse anywhere in the world.

We’re already seeing this trend impact the nature of our warehouses. They’re now able to hold smaller quantities of stock, but for a wider range of products. This in itself can complicate the picking process. But as time goes on and you couple this with the need to minimise land costs by maximising smaller spaces, automated picking systems will become a no brainer.

It won’t happen overnight

None of this will happen overnight. As a country, we don’t tend to be early adopters of new technology like this. Larger nations who act as a central warehousing hub for their multi-national divisions will see the need to implement automated technology quicker and sooner than us.

As more international companies adopt automated picking systems, the cost will decrease, kinks will be ironed out and they’ll start to make more economical and financial sense to us. It could even be within the next five years that they are main-stream, even down here in NZ.