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A brief explanation about automation of distribution warehouses! Introducing from merits to case studies


Automation of a distribution warehouse is to automate the flow from arrival to shipment in a warehouse with a computer or robot. In recent years, the trend of automating warehouses has been accelerating against the backdrop of labor shortages and work efficiency.

However, even if you say “warehouse automation” in a word, not many people have a solid understanding of the details. Where and how do you automate it? I think there are many people whose image is ambiguous.

distribution warehouse
distribution warehouse

In this article, first of all, what is warehouse automation? Starting from that part, we will introduce the merits, points to succeed in automation, and examples of warehouse automation.
If you have any problems with the current warehouse operation, or if you are considering automation of the warehouse, we would appreciate it if you could refer to it.


What is distribution warehouse automation?

Three systems used for warehouse automation
– Automated transfer robot
– Automated picking system
– Warehouse management system (WMS)

Key points for successful automation of distribution warehouses

Explanation of warehouse automation cases
Case 1. Amazon
Case 2. Nitori
Case 3. ASK
Case 4. Monotaro


What is distribution warehouse automation?

Automation of a distribution warehouse is to automate the flow from arrival to shipment in a warehouse with a computer or robot. Introducing unmanned warehouses, such as by introducing robot trolleys, is expected to have the effect of reducing the physical burden and labor costs of workers.

In the world, attention is also focused on automated systems that store products in warehouses at high density and allow robots operating on the grid to enter and leave the warehouse. It is expected that it will be suitable for the mail-order industry, which handles a wide variety of small quantities of long-tail products.

In recent years, with the spread of infection with the new coronavirus, it is said that the burden on the site is increasing due to the increase in demand for EC. This is also the reason why automation of distribution warehouses is attracting attention all over the world including in Japan.

Three systems used for warehouse automation

Three main systems are used to automate warehouses: We will explain the outline and advantages/disadvantages of each.

Automatic transfer robot

There are three main types of automatic transfer robots.


AGV (Automatic Guided Vehicle) is a robot such as an automatic guided vehicle or an automatic guided vehicle. As it means a vehicle that is automatically guided, magnetic tape or magnetic rods are installed on the floor and moved by magnetic force.

While it has the advantage of reducing the burden on workers and human error, it has the disadvantage of being able to move only by a pre-entered route.


AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot) is an autonomous mobile robot. Unlike the AGV, it is characterized by being able to run without a guide.
The advantage is that it automatically avoids people and obstacles. However, there is a risk of damage due to a fall if the luggage is large.


GTP (Goods To Person) is a floor-moving robot. When you load the picked list, the shelves where the target products are stored will be brought to the worker.
Since the picker does not have to move, there is an advantage that the physical burden on the worker is reduced. However, the layout of the warehouse must be changed and the operation must be reviewed at the time of introduction.

Automatic picking system

The automatic picking system is a system that automates the work of collecting necessary items by a robot that automatically carries the shelves with products.
Solutions vary depending on the form of the product, such as size, shape, and weight. While it has the advantage of reducing labor, it has the disadvantage of using a large space.

Warehouse management system (WMS)

The warehouse management system is an abbreviation for Warehouse Management System, which is a mechanism to streamline the distribution process in a warehouse.
For example, barcode management based on a wireless handy terminal keeps track of inventory status. It will help prevent over-orders and lost opportunities.
If it is installed in some warehouses, there is a risk that the business flow will not be unified and the warehouse management operations will be confused.

Key points for successful automation of distribution warehouses

For successful automation of distribution warehouses, there are important points to be aware of, both hard and soft.

On the hardware side, it is important to set the machine capacity according to the work volume in warehousing and warehousing. In terms of software, if there are too many functions, the cost will increase, so let’s focus on the minimum functionality and compatibility of the upper WMS.

It is also important to introduce it based on the management strategy. Unplanned automation of a distribution warehouse can confuse the site. There may be a backlash from field employees who want to maintain the status quo, so management must be deeply involved and gain the understanding of employees.

If necessary, consider setting up a department to promote automation of distribution warehouses and securing human resources to support the introduction.

Explaining warehouse automation cases

I will explain four examples of warehouse automation so that you can see the effect of the introduction.

Case 1. Amazon

Amazon Robotics Kiva, a transfer robot, has been installed in Amazon’s distribution warehouse. When the worker selects the desired product, the product is carried to the worker along with the shelves.

The moving speed is about 1.7 m / s, and the loading weight is about 340 kg. The program that does not collide even in the dark is also characteristic. It is expected that workers in the warehouse will not have to roam the huge area.

Case 2. Nitori

An auto store robot storage system has been introduced at the Nitori Group’s mail-order shipping center.

Autostore is a robot that runs freely on a dedicated container in which products are stored. It lifts the target container and automatically transports it to the workstation where the worker is. After the introduction, the efficiency of picking work has increased 4.5 times, and the inventory space has been reduced to about half of that before the introduction.

Case 3. Ask

ASKUL, known for selling office supplies, has introduced 10 AGVs, the above-mentioned automatic transfer robots, for the first time at distribution bases for transportation from the arrival area to the automated warehouse. We have succeeded in saving about 10 people by automation and even saved labor in transporting heavy objects.

We also introduced two robot arms in the picking process. We have also succeeded in increasing the computational power of the base robot controller from the operation data of existing bases and speeding up the operation.

Case 4. Monotaro

Monotaro, a sales company of tools and packing materials, has decided to purchase about 400 small automatic guided vehicle robots for distribution warehouses from Hitachi, Ltd. in 2022.

By introducing an automatic guided vehicle, we aim to achieve work efficiency that is more than three times higher than the manual product removal work that has been done so far.


So far, we have explained the merits and examples of automation of distribution warehouses. You may want to know the various types of automation systems and consider introducing them.

However, there were not only advantages but also disadvantages to the automation of distribution warehouses. Let’s proceed with the automation of the distribution warehouse under the initiative of the management, not forgetting the hardware and software aspects so that the introduction of the system will not fail.

If you ever want to know about similar things, check out the Facebook page Maga Techs.



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