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Warehouse automation to alleviate industry risks in SA

Some of the most talked about risks in the storage industry are the growing costs of labour and energy, a general lack of skills and productivity standards. These threats are putting supply chains at risk of losing their competitive edge, which has triggered a major industry trend towards warehouse automationin SA, despite its initial capital investment.

The trend, which originated in Europe where space utilisation and energy-efficiency are key drivers towards automation, is gaining popularity in SA due to its ability to drive-down operating expenditure by between 20-30% in both ambient and cold storage warehouses.

“Although the cost of labour locally is comparatively lower than in Europe, it is predicted to inflate by between 8-10% annually for the next five years. This, and the fact that in South Africa general warehouse productivity is up to 70% below the European average, due to an industry-wide skills shortage, warehouse automation is beginning to make more and more sense as a viable alternative,” says Fred Albrecht, MD of APC Storage Solutions SA.

Low pick rates have been identified as a major profitability limitation factor in SA: it drives the cost of labour up as warehouses tend to employ more staff and operate a greater number of forklifts. Automated warehouses successfully mitigate this risk by reducing the number of personnel required inside a warehouse. Additional benefits include greater accuracy, thanks to warehouse management software that controls the location where items are stored, when they need to be picked, among various other parameters.

“This helps warehouses to improve picking rates, and gets items moving in and out of a warehouse at higher speeds than are possible with systems that depend exclusively on manual labour and conventional material handling equipment. With automation, longer work shifts can be obtained, absenteeism is a non-existent problem, and setting a higher pace throughout a warehouse further drives down-the overall cost per movement,” says Albrecht.

APC Storage Solutions SA has been paving the way for warehouse automation in SA, having recently installed a large-scale FMCG mobile racking system near Cape Town, while it continues to receive orders to install automated shuttle-mole systems from some of the country’s largest distribution and supply chain operators.

“On average, our automation systems and products help our customers achieve a return on investment within two years of commissioning by reducing operating expenses such as labour and energy. We have over 30 products specifically for the cold storage industry, of which 12 are either full or combination automation solutions. We seamlessly integrate these into a single, highly productive warehouse system, which is where we’ve established our brand strength and positioned ourselves to the market,” concludes Albrecht.

Automated warehouse product range: 

  • vertical lift module
  • satellite mole racking
  • stacker cranes for pallets
  • stacker cranes for boxes
  • conveyors for boxes
  • conveyors for pallets
  • horizontal storage carousel
  • mobile racking | movirack