In today’s technology-centric world, it’s no surprise that a wide range of bakery products are being produced within fully automated processes. An increasing number of bakeries are turning toward warehouse automation to efficiently manage the short shelf life of fresh products, minimize labor costs and product damage, and maximize inventory accuracy and warehouse capacity. The implementation of automation allows bakeries to reduce overhead costs while increasing sales, since each item is on the store shelves well before its expiration date.
The implementation of warehouse automation allows bakeries to make better use of resources for more efficient throughput. An automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) coupled with a warehouse execution system (WES) allows bakeries to have an increased level of visibility for better planning, and to better control inventory by providing real-time data. This high level of insight can improve overall operational efficiency, and allows manufacturers to use data for future production and supply chain planning.
Many bakeries are embracing automation to reduce labor costs, maximize order efficiency and accuracy, and decrease the time it takes to get perishable products from the production line to the shelves in order to meet customer demand and minimize returned items. Automation is attractive to bakeries because it requires less human interaction on the production line — which means less product handling in the overall operation — creating safer working environments for employees and reducing labor risks. As automation continues to evolve and improve, machines will become smarter from natural language processing, resulting in reduced need for governance and human operator interaction.
Real-time inventory accuracy provides insights on how to plan future production to meet consumer demand. Bakeries that implement warehouse automation technologies like a WES and AS/RS will be prepared to meet the growing consumer demand of bakery products, both at the store level and in their warehouse operations. When paired with a WES, an AS/RS helps fresh food manufacturers and distributors have better control over material handling operations, including more efficient movement, storage, picking and creation of customer orders. Additionally, when used correctly, an AS/RS can improve space utilization within the warehouse, making it a strong solution for companies that are running out of warehouse space. By utilizing current facilities to their fullest extent rather than building additional facilities, companies can save on overhead costs and reduce their environmental impact.
Maximizing storage density is a key to reducing costs in frozen bakeries. An automated warehousing system simplifies operations and provides an increased level of flexibility to organize products by their relative inventory characteristics. By retrofitting a warehouse with a high-density, multiple-deep AS/RS, manufacturers and distributors can make better use of their space, allowing them to store more product and save on storage costs. Organizations that implement an AS/RS in an existing facility can increase storage capacity by 30 to 50 percent. With these space savings, companies are better poised to accommodate increased growth.
Additionally, automation can be useful in decreasing labor risks as the human body is not designed to work in sub-zero temperatures. In the frozen food industry, the majority of operations need to be conducted manually, requiring workers to physically withstand harsh environments. These practices are not only risky for workers, but can jeopardize the operation due to an increased risk of human error.
In order to combat these inefficiencies, companies are turning to automation technology to decouple labor from sub-zero environments. While there are many benefits of an AS/RS, such as improving productivity and increasing inventory accuracy, many companies are hesitant to make the investment. But, why? Often, companies deem automation as too expensive or too large of an undertaking. Some companies are putting off the inevitable investments to achieve short-term goals. Simply put, they are looking for the quick fix, rather than the long-term solution that will allow for a clear competitive advantage.
Just-In-Time Order Fulfillment
With the short shelf life of fresh bakery products, managing inventory efficiently is important. Combining an AS/RS with a WES provides greater visibility of available inventory in a warehouse along with real-time data of SKUs to manage and sequence the outbound order fulfilment process. Real-time inventory visibility allows warehouses to accurately plan for future production, including ingredient and packaging supply purchases.
Real-time inventory accuracy allows warehouses to leverage insights into operations from an inventory standpoint to satisfy orders of all sizes. In addition, automation software allows bakeries to control the inventory within the warehouse along with picking processes and order staging processes to ensure trucks are turned much faster and products arrive on store shelves fresh.
The Advantage Of Automation
It is clear that automated systems for bakeries have advantages over conventional systems. Automation not only saves space for additional expansion options and allows companies to operate on smaller plots of land, but it also maximizes operational efficiencies, labor availability and reliability, and fixes operational costs. Additionally, automation offers many long-term benefits, including space savings, reduced costs, increased safety and enhanced inventory accuracy to meet demands.
John Hinchey is Vice President of Sales at Westfalia Technologies, Inc.