Demand to increase efficiency in warehouse management is at an all-time high. Warehouse managers also face challenges with finding and retaining the right talent, as well as added pressure from customers and shareholders alike. One of the possible ways warehouse managers can improve efficiency is through the implementation of dark warehouses. Let’s take a closer look at dark warehouses and what they mean for the future of warehouse management.
Defining Dark Warehouses
The concept of a dark warehouse can sound like a lights-out facility, saving energy, but its real implication is more profound than that. According to Ben Ames of DC Velocity, dark warehouses refer to the full automation of material handling equipment, warehouse execution systems, and automatic identification of inventory and shipments. The word ‘dark’ refers to the lack of human input in the facility. In other words, automated systems would not necessarily need lights to operate, so that the warehouse could be running in the “dark.” Unfortunately, dark warehouses remain elusive in modern warehouse management.
Why Companies Haven’t Embraced Dark Warehouses
Although more companies are working to implement automated systems, few have achieved 100-percent automation. As explained by Gary Forger of Modern Materials Handling, costs of implementing a fully automated warehouse have left companies embracing the dark revolution avoiding the final 5 percent. The investment to achieve 100-percent automation is significant, so companies that view it as an all-or-nothing investment will continue to avoid the concept. However, the opportunities for savings and productivity gains exist below 100 percent. Instead of trying to achieve full automation, warehouse managers should focus on attaining 80-percent automation.
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Pre-requisites to Dark Warehouses
Before a company can implement a dark warehouse, warehouse managers must ensure a few systems are in place, including:
- An automated storage and retrieval system. The design of automatic storage and retrieval systems, ranging from conveyors to racks, leave no room for human operators. The systems may work best in distribution centers and those that move a high volume of inventory.
- High-speed sorting equipment. For the dark warehouse to function, a high-speed sorting system would operate independent of human input and move products and freight throughout the warehouse. Also, the system would need to scan packages for information relating to its destination or bin location.
Take Advantage of Automation and New Software Today
The road to automation is built on integrated WMS and supply chain management systems, as well as an understanding of the tools and resources available to streamline production. Robotics need a unified, dedicated foundation to function. Warehouse managers should start thinking about how to integrate systems and take advantage of automated processes and technologies in their facilities. Veridian can help warehouse managers navigate this process.