When we talk about the future of warehousing, cutting-edge automation technologies often steal the spotlight. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and warehouse tugs are making waves, promising flexibility and adaptability in the fast-paced world of logistics. However, amidst this technological revolution, one ‘old school’ system remains steadfast: the conveyor.
The unwavering strength of conveyors
Conveyors have been a staple in warehouses for decades, and with good reason. Here’s where they truly shine:
- Efficiency and Throughput: The primary advantage of conveyors is their ability to move products efficiently from one point to another in a seamless flow. Unlike AGVs, which move back and forth and require a return journey, conveyors have a constant flow of goods, allowing for consistent throughput.
- Predictability and Reliability: Conveyors are straightforward. Once installed, their pathways are fixed, ensuring a predictable flow of materials. This predictability aids in better planning and ensures uninterrupted operations. Moreover, the durability of conveyor systems means they often have fewer breakdowns, ensuring continued productivity.
- Space Optimization: Designed for vertical and horizontal transportation, conveyors can be customized to fit within any warehouse’s structural constraints. They can move products above the ground, maximizing floor space for other operations.
- Integration with Other Systems: Conveyors can be seamlessly integrated with other warehouse systems like sortation, packaging, and labeling. This cohesion allows for a smoother end-to-end operation, reducing the need for manual interventions.
Where simple automation systems step in
While conveyors hold their ground in many areas, there’s no denying the potential of AGVs and warehouse tugs in some scenarios:
- Flexibility: Warehouses are constantly evolving, and having a system that can be easily reconfigured is essential. AGVs provide this adaptability. Unlike conveyors that have a fixed path, AGVs can be reprogrammed to follow different routes, accommodating changing warehouse layouts or product lines.
- Variable Workloads: For warehouses that do not have a consistent flow of products or have peak periods, AGVs can be scaled up or down based on the demand, ensuring that you’re not over-investing in infrastructure.
- Complex Movements: Some products might require careful handling, rotation, or specific placement, tasks that are beyond a conveyor’s scope. Here, the dexterity of AGVs comes into play, ensuring delicate or specific handling of products.
Marrying the best of both worlds
The future warehouse is not about choosing between conveyors and AGVs; it’s about leveraging the strengths of both. For instance, conveyors can handle bulk movement from receiving to storage areas, while AGVs can be deployed for more intricate tasks or to serve areas where conveyors might not be feasible.
Furthermore, combining both systems can lead to hybrid solutions that elevate warehouse operations. Imagine a scenario where products are moved swiftly through conveyors for initial sorting and are then picked up by AGVs for specific placements or further processes.
In the evolving landscape of warehousing, it’s easy to get swayed by the allure of new technologies. However, the continued relevance of ‘old school’ conveyors is a testament to their value. By recognizing the strengths of both conveyors and emerging automation systems, warehouse managers can architect a future-ready environment that is efficient, flexible, and resilient. After all, the warehouse of the future is not about replacing the old with the new, but about harmonizing them for optimal results.
About the Author:
Bill Denbigh serves as the vice president of product marketing at Tecsys. Bill started working in supply chain software some 30 years ago; his entire career has been laser-focused on designing and building pragmatic supply chain solutions that address the real problems that customers are facing in their supply chain operations. Bill has worked on virtually every aspect of the software in the supply chain, gaining insight into the inner workings of some of the industry’s most complex challenges; Bill, however, tackles those challenges with a no-nonsense levelheadedness that has earned him great repute both internally and among customers.