Automation in warehouses

In the recent years, automation has become increasingly common in the warehouse industry. “Automation solutions are being implemented in all those industries where it is desirable to accelerate and optimise logistics processes. They can be seen as an obvious step in the development of every company,” says Ludwika Korzeniowska, Business Development Manager, JLL.

While this trend is highly conspicuous in the United States and Western Europe, developments in the area of automation in the Polish market can mostly be observed in large factories, retail chain distribution centres and large e-commerce facilities, usually those built as BTS properties. Why is that the case? “The most important factor are relatively low costs of labour compared to Western European countries. Hence, most warehouse processes are still carried out using human labour,” says Ludwika Korzeniowska, JLL. Additionally, many Polish entrepreneurs believe that automation will not bring returns on investment within the expected time frame, and that maintaining such modern systems will cost them too much. As pointed out by JLL’s expert, in times of high competition on the market, investing in automation can be a sure-fire way to get the upper hand in the domestic and foreign market.

Prospects for the future

In the Polish market, one of the largest companies investing in automation is Amazon. One of its Wrocław warehouses has over 260 robots weighing 332 kg capable of lifting 1.3 tonne racks. The Polish warehouse is one of the first in the world to test this form of transportation. “We are very excited, since no other warehouse in Europe has implemented an Amazon Robotics system so far. Thanks to the talent we have recruited and their willingness to use innovative solutions, Poland seems to be the perfect place to implement state-of-the-art technologies. A technologically advanced environment is very important, particularly considering the fact that our operations are still growing parallel to the increasing demand for our services. Over the years, we have been developing and implementing breakthrough technology in our logistics centres to support our team's work and deliver on the promises made to our customers,” says Kerry Person, Amazon's Director of Operations in Poland. Thanks to an advanced IT system, after selecting the rack containing the relevant product, Amazon’s robots lift the rack and move it to the appropriate picking station. Once the employee has picked up the product, the robot goes back to put the rack in its place. Meanwhile, other robots carrying racks queue up at the picking station. Thanks to this solution, employees no longer need to waste their time searching for the products in the racks, which accelerates order processing. Moreover, a special algorithm used by the system allows the robots to choose the shortest path from the rack to the picking station, as well as arrange the racks containing the most often ordered products in a way that decreases their distance to the picking stations. Amazon’s network is made up of 109 logistics centres around the world, including 29 centres in the European Union. Amazon Robotics solutions are used in 13 logistics centres throughout the US.

A few weeks ago, one of the most advanced logistics centres in Poland was opened in Zakroczym by Inter Cars – the largest distributor of car parts in Central and Eastern Europe, which ranks fifth in the entire European market and tenth globally. The investment amounted to PLN 200 million. The centre automates the most important processes used in the distribution of products ordered by customers from around the world. It enables the company to dispatch almost 10 million packages containing nearly 130 million items yearly.

Automation pays off

“Automation makes it possible for companies to better use their warehouse space, as well as maximise its capacity. It has further gained in importance as the price of land has increased and the development conditions have become more restrictive, especially in urban areas,” says Tomasz Olszewski, Regional Director at JLL. Olszewski adds that another major advantage of automation solutions is decreasing the time necessary to perform handling operations while at the same time reducing the risk of human error.

Still, there are even more benefits to automation. “Automation decreases the demand for workforce, thus reducing costs of labour. What is more, automated warehouses are safer for both employees and the stored goods,” adds Ludwika Korzeniowska, JLL. “Automation can ultimately turn out to be the antidote to the increasing volatility in the labour market, especially in industries with adverse working conditions, such as those relying on freezing and cooling,” says Tomasz Olszewski, JLL.

Ludwika Korzeniowska