Mar 31, 2022

Safety must lead automation in warehouses

  • supply chain management
  • digital
  • automation
  • warehousing

Speed and efficiency have always been dominant indicators of business performance. Even on the warehouse floor, seemingly mundane tasks like picking up stock from racks and sorting them for dispatch need to be done with clockwork precision and a steady pace. An ineffective retrieval and dispatch system, manual or otherwise, could mean millions in sales down the rack (pun intended!)

Till a couple of years ago, most of these processes, while they were aided by smart solutions, were still largely labor intensive. In the new normal, human intelligence and interventions remain integral to operations, but optimization through effective utilization of existing resources and, to an extent, automation, have become essential for businesses trying to derive maximum value. However, as we embark on a journey to automate, ensuring people’s safety at every stage of the process becomes all the more important with greater machine and human interactions on the warehouse floor.

Exponential growth in warehouse sizes necessitate focus on safe systems

Warehouses are growing both vertically and horizontally, requiring advanced storage solutions as well as machinery for movement. The focus has been on optimizing operations amidst this complexity while utilizing both machine and human power efficiently.

Apart from delivering products and solutions that help achieve our customers’ efficiency requirements, at Godrej Storage Solutions, there is additional emphasis and focus on safety aspects, right from materials to people. For instance, apart from using high-grade steel -- the basic raw material for storage solutions in a warehouse -- there is also strong focus on component designs that prevent material fall, improve operator safety & ergonomics, eliminate accidental contact by Material Handling Equipment (MHE), and minimize man-machine conflicts.

Similarly, taller and denser warehouses require sophisticated fire detection and suppression systems. Our designs factor in fully integrated in-rack sprinklers.

Complexity of operations necessitates trained personnel

The focus on people within a warehouse is two pronged: safety and comfort during operations, and conditions to ensure optimal efficiency. Consequently, prominent signages as well as use of floor markings, use of equipment such as conveyors, dock levelers and battery-operated pallet trucks are among the measures taken to ensure safety. Also, function-based lighting, emphasis on proper ventilation and insulation to create conducive work environments for better performance are now becoming standard in warehouse settings.

Adoption of common standards is imperative

Despite the ubiquity of warehouses and the crucial role they play in receipt, storage and delivery of raw material and goods, when it comes to safety, there are no common standards that are currently accepted and deployed industry-wide. The pandemic caused massive disruptions in transport and distribution of goods leading manufacturers to take a keen interest in their logistics planning going forward. This should also trigger a demand for improved safety solutions within warehouses.

Godrej Storage Solutions offers rack safety audit services to clients with a focus on two aspects: storage safety and operational safety.

In storage safety, the focus is on materials chosen for construction of a storage system, design parameters and standards and in-built safety measures to prevent incidents due to unskilled or untrained staff.

As far as operational safety is concerned, the emphasis is on training and skilling warehouse floor staff to deploy MHE and other equipment appropriately. Handling of loads within capacities and safe placement on storage systems, maintenance of aisle spaces without encroachment, and use of low construction equipment such as battery-operated pallets as opposed to heavy equipment throughout the warehouse are among important operational considerations.

It is not just material and warehouse staff that are positively impacted due to a focus on safety. For businesses, more importantly, productivity witnesses an upward swing. While safer choices in storage and handling systems result in increase in space productivity by over 90%, the deployment of loading and unloading systems at the docks leads to enhanced capacity to handle inbound and outbound volumes by over 40%.

It is also essential to remember that a warehouse safety assessment is not a one -time activity. Periodic internal and external audits are integral to the progress in safety levels of your warehouse. Reassessing safety levels is very essential as operating scenarios could change from time to time.

In the coming years, there is likely to be consolidation in terms of warehouse practices. Overall warehouse safety must become a priority for the entire ecosystem including developers, users and system providers. The automation and automation-led solutions being leveraged by manufacturers and supply chain players will also result in standardization of best practices from a safety point of view and what is considered a good-to-have today will become hygiene in the future.