How to start integrating automation in your distribution center

starting warehouse automation blog header image century
how do I start automating my warehouse blog header image

Venturing into the world of distribution center and warehouse automation poses many questions, a burning one being “Where do I start?”

It’s critical to select a solution that checks off all your operational improvement boxes but doesn’t run up against parameters that you need to maintain. For automation to perform as best as it can, careful preparation and engineering must be done, among a few other tasks.

  • Identify inefficiencies
  • Evaluate existing systems
  • Consider demand futures
  • Warehouse capabilities
  • ROI analysis
  • Internal coordination
  • Assemble a project team

Century wants your warehouse automation operation to perform as well as possible, no matter what it is. Our recommendation is to complete a few or all the steps below before you begin.

Identify inefficiencies

Is there an obvious weak point in your warehouse that automation could solve? Or has it been a while since you’ve looked at efficiency reports or commenced in continuous improvement? It’s important to understand the current challenges your warehouse faces and validate that the automation solution you’re researching will solve most of those issues.

Another component to this point is predicting the operational outcome of the integration. Will your other manual operations be able to seamlessly accommodate for the increased processing rate? Evaluate potential impacts the system may have on other areas of your warehouse and adjust accordingly.

Evaluate existing systems

Updating older equipment that’s already a part of your operations is the simplest way to increase output and bolster distribution. The typical lifespan of most systems varies, but it may be time for an improvement solution if it’s over 15 years old.

Even if the solution still operates well, the advancement of material handling technology has increased drastically, and a newer, more modern application can outperformance the current system and provide additional functionality.

Consider demand futures

What are the predictions for the future of the industry (or industries) you primarily supply distribution services for? Is there an expectation for growth? If so, can your current operations realistically sustain satisfactory output? Consider the direction your company is heading in and apply automation in a way that’s flexible.

For example, there might be an exception in the future to handle products that have unique dimensions. Is the automation solution you’re researching able to transport smaller or larger products? Maintaining a dynamic, forward-thinking mindset and applying it to warehouse automation applications will benefit future expansion.

Warehouse capabilities

Every warehouse is different and has varying limitations and specifics. It’s important to understand this critical point, as some solutions may not offer optimal benefits if it won’t integrate seamlessly in your warehouse layout.

Keep in mind, many warehouse automation systems are designed with this mind. Mezzanines can be used to suspend conveyor lines in the air, while ground operations can continue unhindered below. Narrow aisle racking and autonomous lift trucks can be implemented to decrease the footprint of a storage structure. Robotic solutions like AGVs and AMRs come in multiple shapes and sizes and can move freely throughout a building without having to be “bolted down” in a static position.

When working with your engineers or an integrator, carefully examine the warehouse layout (typically a CAD drawing) and familiarize yourself with both limitations, and room for expansion.

ROI analysis

Price varies greatly depending on the automation solution used. Understand that it will pay itself back in time but know that the return-on-investment timeframe will be longer the more costly a system is. Take into account the system rates of the solution, what your current daily output is, and calculate the profits from the increase. Ensure that your ROI is financially viable and within your criteria.

Internal coordination

While you may be the main operations or warehouse executive, a good leader understands that they can’t possibly be aware of every oversight in their organization. It’s important to connect with other key individuals to gain a perspective on the warehouse challenges they encounter. Some of these departments may include:

  • Staffing
  • Maintenance
  • Transportation
  • Material suppliers
  • Third-party supply chain partners
  • Procurement

Scheduling a meeting to inform them of your automation initiative may bring about some pain points that the solution could solve or identify additional parameters that can be kept in mind as a solution is created.

For example, a maintenance lead may suggest a system that can be serviced easily or might have some insights about the warehouse that should be considered as an automation project commences.

Assemble a project team

Spearhead an effort to acquire resources to begin development. Depending on who’s employed at your organization, your team would ideally include engineers and project managers.

Alternatively, you can contact an automation integrator who will manage all aspects of the project. Here at Century Systems, we offer full-service automation engineering capabilities. Our team of engineers, project managers, account executives, fabricators, and installers see to it that your project is completed, from cradle to grave. Send us a message or give us a call to have a quick consultation with an automation expert.

Warehouse automation trends that will dominate in 2022

warehouse automation trends 2022 blog header image
warehouse automation trends 2022 blog header image

2021 has proved to be a year of unforgiving supply chain challenges. From shortages in raw materials and important electronic components to understaffed operations and demand congestion. What trends in warehouse automation have been developed to avoid supply chain disturbances in 2022?

If there has ever been a time to consider warehouse automation, it would be now. Many DCs and warehouses have experienced an increase in demand, whether it be for products, or in clients. Adversely, the required labor needed to accommodate has subsequently dried up. Positions have gone months unfilled, leaving warehouses to turn to higher incentives for applicants or forms of automation that would eliminate the need for such positions. A growing trend among warehouse staffing is to maximize productivity by equipping employees with technology, and the knowledge to utilize them.

2022 automation trends MHI quote 1

1. Co-op automation


Humans and machines working together, and not as counterparts, can eke the most efficiency out of warehouse operations. Voice-to-pick solutions, when combined with a robotic pick module, benefits when a human operator can continually pack orders, and use voice commands to operate a pick solution for the next order.


Employees can be equipped with a plethora of devices to boost accuracy and productivity. Tablets running WMS software can be outfitted with wrist or armbands, so employees can always have both hands free. Enabling on-the-go access to inventory and order information keeps operators on-task, instead of having to access a static terminal.

2. Developments in warehouse automation technology

As new technology becomes more developed and available, so does the functionality of specialized solutions. Every warehouse is different, which means unique material handling challenges are posed for solutions provides to tackle. A few automation systems that have seen continued usage and advancements in 2021, and are expected to be major focuses in 2022 include:

  • 5G connectivity adaption
  • Warehouse distribution drones
  • Climbable pick robots
  • WMS automation integration platforms
  • Micro-fulfillment
  • Advances in machine vision
  • Electric standard (UL and ISO) revisions
2022 automation trends MHI quote

Century is constantly keeping up with new trends and technology, all in an effort to engineer the absolute best in efficiency systems for our clients. Our firsthand experience of the stressors has provided us with the insights to recommend scalable and dynamic warehouse solutions. 2021 has been unkind to all facets of the supply chain, and new warehouse technology and processes are in place to make sure there’s not a repeat in 2022. Get in touch with one of our automation experts and re-engineer the efficiency of your warehouse.

3. A focus on domestic supply chain partners

Supply chain turmoil, while affecting all involved, greatly disrupted those using overseas resources. Port congestion, expensive container prices, sky-high shipping fees, and the Delta variant have strangled international lines. In response, companies are searching closer to home for materials and services, avoiding such headaches in the future.

While outsourced partners may be cheaper up-front, eliminating loss and inefficiencies associated with overseas supply chains may prove fruitful after an extended period of using a domestic partner. 2022 will show how many companies decide to make the flip.

4. ScaaS (supply-chain as a service)

While not an entirely new idea for 2021, the expectation is that 2022 will see more users of SCaaS platforms. Essentially, SCaaS follows the footsteps of SaaS (software-as-a-service) by offering users supply chain functions through an external company. While full-service third-party logistics companies exist, SCaaS solutions strive to provide services for every step, from sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, procurement, reporting, and more.

With more and more companies strapped for staffing and adequate resources, enrolling in a tailored SCaaS platform can alleviate some of those operational pressures. Warehouse flexibility should be a key implementation goal as the new year inches closer.

5. DTC eCommerce disruptors

The explosive and continued growth of eCommerce continues to lead companies to invest in online shopping. For example, Shopify, a leading eCommerce platform grew 110% YOY in the first quarter of 2021, achieving a total revenue of $988.6 million. Industries that typically see a majority of sales via traditional brick-and-mortar channels have dipped their toe into direct-to-consumer sales, such as the alcohol industry, with companies like Drizly experiencing significant demand for home-delivery services. This boom has turned many eyes to new customer behaviors, and 2022 will see many larger organizations adopting DTC eCommerce warehouse automation systems as an additional revenue source.

In summary, the major focus for 2022 is FLEXIBILITY. Ensuring operations can scale quickly due to outside stressors like demand increases and staff shortages is the next step in continuous company improvement. 2021 was the year of reactivity, a learning lesson that hit hard and continues to sting. 2022 will be the year of proactivity- building up resources to avoid losses, establishing high-performing automation, and closely adapting to target consumer behaviors will separate the organizations that will thrive, from the ones that will remain stagnant or even worse, fail.