Many companies today recognize that implementing environmentally friendly, or “green,” policies and practices can result in cost savings that directly impact their bottom line.

By Dan Labell, president, Westfalia Technologies, Inc.

However, being green also has the added benefit of enhancing a business’ brand reputation. In fact, in a Nielsen survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, 55 percent of respondents said they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies committed to making a positive environmental impact.

One key business area that companies can go green is their warehouse and distribution center. How? By automating warehouse operations. Through automation, warehouses and distribution centers can minimize land usage, lower energy expenditures and reduce waste production, thereby lessening their environmental impact.

Minimize Land Usage

A conventional warehouse typically requires a considerable building footprint to accommodate a company’s inventory. And, as business grows and more products are added, additional construction and increased land usage may be required. But by installing a high-density automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), companies can store more products in a smaller space and minimize building requirements. On average, an AS/RS translates to a 40 percent or more reduction in square footage requirements when compared to a conventional warehouse, and often reaches reductions of up to 300% if building a taller AS/RS. So, when building a new facility, less land is needed. And, growing companies with an existing warehouse who are contemplating expansion via a building addition or a new facility can forego construction expenses and additional land use by using their existing space by densifying storage through an AS/RS.

Lower Energy Expenditures

In manual warehouses, lighting requirements, as well as ingress and egress from climate controlled spaces can lead to higher energy costs. Perishable goods warehouses are particularly affected by higher refrigeration costs due to larger ceiling square footage and opening and closing of wall penetrations. In contrast, automated warehouses require less energy to function. With fewer aisles that are automated, no lighting is required except for maintenance and viewing. Cameras with LED lighting provide visual connections to operators, if desired.

Additional energy savings are possible by using storage and retrieval machines (S/RMs) outfitted with regenerative braking. These mechanisms allow surplus braking energy to be stored or transferred to the power grid and used by other machines operating on the same grid.

Reduce Waste Production

In conventional warehouses outfitted with forklifts, a lot of waste can derive from re-packaging and product loss due to damage and mishandling. But an automated warehouse eliminates the need for most fork trucks, which reduces the likelihood of product damage and loss. Notably, an AS/RS can retrieve and transport pallets safely and smoothly across the system through the use of S/RMs and conveyors. This prompts less plastic stretch wrap consumption, as securing the pallet is not as big of a concern as with a fork truck. Moreover, without forklifts, warehouses no longer need to replace forklift batteries nor use battery charging stations that expend considerable energy. Fewer old batteries end up in landfills, which pose ecological concerns due to hazardous waste.

Companies can further reduce waste and damage by implementing a warehouse execution system (WES), which optimizes the movement of products within the warehouse. A WES marries the automated equipment control of warehouse control system (WCS) with the inventory control of a warehouse management system (WMS) into a single application. With greater control over inventory, warehouses with time-sensitive products can employ first-expired, first-out (FEFO) inventory management methods to minimize product loss due to expiration dates.

Through warehouse automation technologies like AS/RS, companies can uncover new cost savings and position themselves as market leaders in sustainability. By establishing an industry reputation for being environmentally conscious, they can differentiate themselves among the competition and strengthen consumer loyalty.

About Dan Labell
Dan Labell is the president and owner of Westfalia Technologies, Inc. (www.westfaliausa.com), a leading provider of logistics solutions for plants, warehouses and distribution centers since 1992. Westfalia can provide expert advice regarding the design and execution of your next warehouse and/or distribution center by taking a data driven, analytical approach to warehouse design. To contact Dan, please email DLabell@WestfaliaUSA.com.