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The challenges and benefits of brownfield automation

12 September 2023

Implementing advanced technologies to improve efficiency, productivity, and overall warehouse performance is possible for most existing facilities, regardless of their age or limitations, says Shane Faulkner.

THAT SAID, when it comes to brownfield sites, embarking on the automation journey presents unique challenges that demand innovative solutions. Fortunately, modern robotic and data-driven automation systems can tackle these challenges head-on, effectively extending the lifespan and productivity of older warehouses. While some operators might assume their facilities are unsuitable for automation due to age or other factors, the truth is that most brownfield warehouses can benefit from automation.

In a new facility, designers and automation system suppliers collaborate to optimise building design for automation density and performance. However, when integrating automation into a brownfield site, the automation system must adapt to the existing structure.

In the past, this posed a significant obstacle, but today's automation systems offer a new degree of flexibility, capable of conforming to irregular building shapes, working around columns and obstructions, and even functioning in buildings with low ceiling heights.

Older buildings often present challenges such as uneven or cracked flooring. Nevertheless, certain automation systems can be configured to compensate for these irregularities. In cases where this is not feasible, repairing or replacing the flooring is still a significantly more cost-effective solution than constructing an entirely new building.

To assist warehouse operators in determining the suitability of their facilities for automation, Swisslog has developed a site assessment process. This process helps ensure that automation can be accommodated while maintaining or enhancing safety and fire protection standards.

Another concern when considering automation for an existing site is the potential disruption to operations. Typically, constructing a new warehouse is less disruptive than integrating automation into an existing facility. However, modern automation technologies offer a level of flexibility that was previously unavailable.

These technologies feature modular designs that experienced integrators can leverage to implement automation in phases. This allows for continued service to customers through established manual processes while automation is being deployed.

ASDA, a leading retailer, opted for AutoStore empowered by Swisslog to optimise small case lines. This solution significantly improved space efficiency and productivity. Colleagues were able to pick items at twice the speed with an accuracy rate of 99.8%. The entire system was implemented without disrupting ongoing operations.

The technologies available today can be configured to adapt to existing building limitations, resulting in increased storage capacity and higher throughput. Moreover, experienced integrators like Swisslog often adopt a phased approach with the latest modular technologies, minimising disruption to operations during implementation.

In a nutshell, the challenges of automating brownfield sites can be overcome with the right partner and technologies. By leveraging adaptable automation systems, cost saving opportunities, and a phased deployment approach, warehouse operators can optimise their older facilities, enhance productivity, and achieve long-term success.

Shane Faulkner, head of sales UK, Swisslog

For more information, visit www.swisslog.com