Automation in a warehouse is about identifying repetitive tasks and automating them. The combination of readily available specialists, with the right technology and the sheer growth of the market, has meant more and more companies have invested in automating part, or all their storage, sorting and distribution centres. A modern warehouse is full of opportunities for automation, increasing efficiency, reducing the chance of human errors and reducing costs. Companies are keeping pace with increasing volumes and demand levels rising whilst requiring faster turnaround times with highly accurate solutions – this is proving a major catalyst to automate.
For any business to be competitive, whether it’s an international e-commerce retailer or a high street department store with an online presence, it needs to be efficient. Key aspects of running a slick operation include the speed of delivery, the accuracy of delivery and volume of delivery. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the current marketplace, how to get into the sector and delve into the roles of Engineers in an automated warehouse.
According to LogisticsIQ, the automated warehouse market was worth $19 billion in 2019 and is expected to be worth $30 billion by 2026. Whilst global companies such as Amazon continue to grow at mind-boggling rates, it’s a misconception that automating a warehouse is just for the multi-billion pound e-commerce giants. Smart automated solutions, when done right, can benefit businesses of any size. Automated technology can be key to allowing small businesses to process tasks quicker and deal with orders more efficiently, which ultimately improves customer experience and makes the business more competitive whilst reducing costs and improving margins.
What Challenges Is the Market Facing Going Into 2022?
As the market continues to grow, one of the main challenges facing the specialist system integrators that are normally responsible for the design and development of the automated systems is having a team large enough and capable enough of delivering on projects. Pre, during and post-COVID there has been an increased demand for buying products online, but COVID meant accelerated growth for many businesses. Throughout 2021 there have been no signs to suggest this growth is letting up and with new, large scale distribution centres seemingly popping up on a regular basis, 2022 is already shaping up to be another bumper year for the sector.
This continued growth means companies need to look at ways of either training or developing their existing teams as well as offering attractive opportunities for bringing in additional talent. As well as hiring, companies working in the automated warehouse sector are likely to face the continued threat of team members being poached and having their heads turned for a move elsewhere.
Another key challenge some businesses in the automated warehouse sector will face is balancing the upfront costs with long-term return on investment. Smart, automated solutions can help businesses manage their budgets effectively, by delivering high accuracy and efficiency, reducing the chance of human error there reducing the cost per error. The initial cost may seem high to organisations, but the long term return on investment has proven to almost always justify the investment.
According to Steffen Sorrell’s book “The Internet of Things: Consumer, Industrial & Public Services 2018-2023”, they’ll be 50 billion devices (yes, you read that right, 50 billion) connected to the Internet of Things by 2022 and as businesses continue to embrace IoT, the sheer volume of connected devices in automated warehouses opens up significant access points for cyberattacks with costly repercussions. According to Zebras Warehouse Vision Study, 68% of businesses stated that IT/Technology utilisation will be their main challenge over the next five years, even before the outbreak of COVID.
How to Get Into the Automated Warehousing Market?
Samuel Frank is a specialist recruitment business that specialises in the automation & controls market, so that’s where we’ll focus our attention!
There are loads of routes into becoming a successful Engineer in the automated warehouse sector. Lots of people go down the apprenticeship route, working for a specialist engineering company, learning and studying simultaneously. This “hands-on”, real-world experience gives budding Engineers practical experience whilst learning from experienced teammates. People who’ve shown an interest in engineering, programming or technical design at school, can often have some of the foundation skills required. Others go to college and study for an HNC/HND qualification giving them some of the theoretical know-how often combined with working a 4-day week and attending college on a day release basis. Popular college courses include Robotics & Automation, Engineering, Electrical & Electronics Engineering or Mechatronics.
Another option is to attend a university and study a course such as Electrical Engineering, Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Electronics, Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering or Computer Science. It’s usual to have a requirement of 2 or 3 A-Levels which often include Maths and Physics to qualify for a course. Some Engineers start with a BSc level course in a subject such as Electrical Engineering then take on an MSc and specialise in a course such as Artificial Intelligence or Automation.
What Roles & Technologies Are Involved From an Automation Perspective?
We’ve listed some of the main job titles here that we’re involved with within automated warehousing;
- Control Engineer
- PLC Software Engineer
- Electrical Design Engineer
- Robot Programmer / Cobot Programmer
- Commissioning Engineer
- Installation Engineer
- AI Engineer
- Vision System Specialist
- Project Manager
- Project Engineer
Technologies include Siemens, Allen Bradley, Profibus, Profinet, WMS, WCS, MES, RFID, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things, 5G
Engineers are working on flexible and intelligent software solutions to develop automated storage & retrieval systems, automated transport & conveyor systems as well as picking and palletising solutions.
Job Description & Typical Responsibilities
Employers typically look for Engineers who have great communication skills and who can deal well with customers in face to face environments. Other appealing attributes include collaboration and team working skills as well as being able to critically think and problem solve.
Here’s a template for an Electrical Control Engineer position we recently worked on. This role has an Electrical bias and was for a Controls Engineer to join a company on a staff basis rather than sub-contract.
Electrical Control Engineer
- Permanent Position
- Flexible Working Hours
- £40-45k + bonus + overtime when working on site
Samuel Frank Associates require an experienced Electrical Control Engineer to join a Derbyshire based specialist engineering company.
The client is open to bringing in an Electrical Design Engineer looking to develop and grow into a combined Electrical Design / PLC software programming Control Engineer level role or bring in a seasoned Electrical Control Engineer who can already do both!
Electrical Control Engineers applying for the position are likely to have some of the following;
- Electrical Design of control panels using AutoCAD or AutoCAD Electrical (candidates with EPLAN experience could also be well suited)
- PLC software writing capability ( Allen Bradley or Siemens or B&R or Mitsubishi )
- Designed systems for bulk / material handling, conveyors, automated warehouse solutions
- An ability to develop a technical specification
- A logical approach to developing automation software
- Practical electrical / electronic knowledge
Other areas of interest that often come up on job specifications include;
- CAD skills
- AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning
- ROS (Robot Operating System)
- 2D and 3D vision system experience
- IoT (Internet of Things)
- Hydraulics and pneumatics
Of course, salary ranges depend on the skill level and experience people are working at. A lot of companies pay a salary + overtime as the hours on-site can belong. Experienced Control Engineers could be earning between £45-70k when overtime payments have been taken into consideration. An experienced Project Manager with knowledge of the automated warehouse sector could be earning £50-70k.
Junior level Control Engineers who’ve recently qualified could be earning £25-30k again, potentially earning overtime payments on top.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. If you’d like to discuss anything related to automated warehousing and industrial controls, please get in touch via the website, call us on 01133201800 or email Andrew Longfellow at email@example.com