Overcoming warehouse automation challenges

Many businesses aim to increase their market share by enabling customers to place orders at any time and have them delivered as soon as possible. The times available for processing and delivering goods have therefore been shortened. The ability to cancel an order, change the delivery address, and provide a wider range of products makes the process more complex. Because of this, improving their logistics network demands more time and money if they want to remain competitive in this environment (Christopher, 2005).

Companies rely on warehouse operations in order to achieve such high levels of customer satisfaction. Operations at the warehouse are made more difficult by the variety of products and faster delivery times. Warehouses are using automation technologies to handle these complications because they give them a competitive edge in the market by reducing costs and raising productivity across all processes.

Increasing customer demands make warehousing more complex. Automation can provide a competitive edge to deal with this new reality

When implementing new technology, the company will face a plethora of challenges that may be categorized into three categories: organizational, technological, and human.

1. Organizational Challenges

Lack of management buy-in - To ensure the success of innovative projects, decisions made during the project should depend on a variety of organizational factors. This covers organizational structure, attitude of upper management, etc. The attitude of senior management towards these projects is a critical factor in determining their success. Even the idea of a lack of support can be as destructive to the implementation of a project as an actual lack of support. Furthermore, senior management should be willing to accept short-term risks for long-term gains. While allocating additional necessary resources and ensuring the integrity of the team, top-down planning, and visibility of the support of upper management are essential (Co et al., 1998).

Even the idea of a lack of management support can be destructive to the implementation of a project

Not taking into account the impact on the organization - The majority of automation projects demand significant financial commitment and alter organizational structures. It is challenging to determine the precise effects of these adjustments. Traditional methods of evaluation and justification, which are based on direct labor cost savings, are not sufficient since automation has a substantial impact on overall efficiency, effectiveness, and competitiveness.

How to handle

Select the right automation technology - For every warehouse process, there are now numerous automation systems on the market. However, one needs to decide which one is best suited for their organization. Technologies that are successful for one organization might not be successful for another. Setting-up the appropriate team to decide on an automation product is crucial.

Prevent looking at automation in a silo - Identifying the organizational changes that come with automation is a major and important task. As a result of automation, positions and human skill sets alter. Foremost, one should also identify impacted process and optimize those before in order to get the most out of an automatization project: optimization before automation.

Any business pursuing automation must view the supply chain as a whole, rather than just looking at the warehouse. If your suppliers can do certain tasks more affordably than you can at your warehouse, it might make sense to partner with them instead of automating that process within your own organization. In a similar vein, if completing specific duties at your warehouse results in considerable labor savings down the line (for example, quicker receiving and shelf replenishment at the stores), then those tasks should be performed at your warehouse.

Start small and develop a scalable solution - Sometimes, the road to advanced automation entails progressing through each level of automation one at a time as the company grows. You should plan ahead and choose an automation solution that is scalable and can be readily integrated with future solutions when making the first upgrade decision.

2. Technological challenges

It will not be able to do everything - One of the most widespread fallacies regarding automation is that it has developed to the point where it is capable of quickly and effectively performing every task. Although there are automated systems that can complete many activities that humans can, their effectiveness and reliability highly differ. Assuming there are fully automated off-the-shelf solutions for every tasks is a common mistake made.

One of the most widespread fallacies regarding automation is that it has developed to the point where it is capable of performing every task

In addition, automation involves the following technological complexities:

  • In addition to knowledge, skills, time, and effort, systems frequently need for enormous amounts of high-quality data.
  • Software is the brain and heart of any automated system, yet integration into a host system is frequently overlooked, with major financial and operational repercussions.
  • Once physical automation systems are deployed, you can’t easily take down or re-deploy those systems.

How to handle

Take into account changing business requirements - The design of an automated system created for the warehouse is directly impacted by frequent changes in SKUs, the addition of new products, variations in demand, and so forth. It is crucial that you build the automation system with future operational demands in mind. The automation system should be easily scalable and modular as well, allowing for quick and effective adaptation to any changes in the business.

Have a back-up process ready - If an automated system faces an error, procedures should be in place to monitor the system while it is in use or operations should be able to be conducted manually when the system faces an outage. Warehouse employees should be aware and trained regarding these procedures.

Conduct inventory audits - Inventory audits are necessary to confirm the accuracy of the automated system. They should be performed manually before, during, and after the installation of warehouse automation. Whether automated or not, periodic audits are a standard component of warehouse management. Since faults spread more quickly with the accelerated pace of automated systems, it is even more crucial that inventories be properly monitored.

3. Human challenges

Not taking into account the human factor - The job of warehouse workers will be impacted by the adoption of automation. With the advent of automation, a variety of things could change, including job duties, the physical architecture of the warehouse, the kind of communication, and the amount of information to process. Neglecting these human factors causes automation project to be less effective in terms of dependability, quality, adaptability, and responsiveness.

Neglecting human factors causes automation projects to be less effective

Opposition to change - People typically oppose change. When a system malfunctions and reports an error, employees can become irate and point the finger at the change rather than making an effort to find the mistake's primary cause and learn from it. Additionally, concerns with trust and a lack of operating knowledge can make employees unwilling to adopt a new system.

Skill misfit - The fact that automation frees the operator from physically taxing activities is one of its main benefits, but it frequently results in the creation of new, complex tasks. Automation changes the operator's role from one of physical labor to one of a decision-maker or problem-solver.

How to handle

Focus on growth opportunities - According to a poll by Harvard Business Review, workers' greatest concern was losing their employment due to automation. On the other hand, workers believed their occupation would become safer and more fulfilling. Employers therefore need emphasize growth possibilities (and provide related training) proactively to both address this anxiety and highlight its positive alternative.

Arrange appropriate training - A lot of companies struggle to offer training that is effective, especially for staff members who begin their careers with little to no technical knowledge of using the kinds of robotic equipment that are widespread in automated warehouses.

Training programs must provide hands-on practice and simulations on how to operate these machines as well as instructions on how to reset them when they break down, going beyond simple instructional videos or classroom sessions in order to help employees and managers feel comfortable using automated technologies. FedEx, for instance, trains its staff using VR simulations and gamified training courses for example. These initiatives have significantly decreased turnover among workers and are intended to increase confidence and safety.

Maintain your safety-related investments - The ability of automation to improve safety was the major perk that the study participants connected with it. Even if these new tools may make the workplace safer, firms should continue to make investments in new advancements. Employers are responsible for creating a workplace that is as safe and healthy as employees will still be required to perform heavy lifting or other heavy tasks.


Warehouse automation isn't a silver bullet that instantly catapults a business to the forefront of the supply chain. It is a step-by-step process that requires proper planning and anticipating potential risks. Implementing warehouse automation is difficult in many ways, and mistakes can lead to supply chain breakdowns that can be very expensive. However, when done properly, one can differentiate themselves from the competition and generate high returns.

We do however recognize that for many warehouses the step to full automation might be too large due to some of the challenges described above or because of the fact that many warehouse robotics have not yet developed to the point that they can deal with situations that require lots of flexibility. For these reasons, Powerhouse AI has chosen to make people better instead of fully replacing them. This results in a solution that can be adopted much quicker at lower costs. Powerhouse AI minimizes the impact on the organization and its team and requires little technological- and no physical changes to the warehouse. We use existing assets, mobile phones, that warehouse workers are used to work with.

Want to know more on how we support warehouses to automate their inventory counting and checking processes? Get in touch to see if we’re a fit for you or visit our website.

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