Industrial automation

Why Warehouses Now Need Dedicated Warehouse Automation Networks

Jordan Luecke
As more industrial automation is adopted, IT networks won’t cut it for warehouses much longer. Find out why today’s material-handling facilities require dedicated automation networks.


When you think about smart industrial sites, material handling isn’t usually high on the list for pushing the envelope. True industrial production sites that are more complex, such as automotive plants or food and beverage manufacturers, have moved faster than the material-handling industry to deploy fully automated solutions. Until now, warehouses and distribution centers have relied mostly on the basics.


While there are many reasons for this, one has to do with costs. Often considered a cost center vs. a profit center, leaders aim to decrease spending on material handling when they can—and that includes holding off on automation investments.


Because there isn’t much automation or data to manage, many warehouses lack dedicated warehouse automation networks. Instead, they rely on existing IT networks. While this may seem like a practical solution, there are downfalls to operating in this manner.


What’s driving the shift to dedicated automation networks

What worked in the past won’t work in the future. Just like many other industrial segments, material handling is changing in response to unpredictable external factors, which range from more e-commerce (online buying is positioned to capture 41% of global retail sales in the next three years) to tight labor markets (warehousing will be one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the next decade).


These rapid and drastic changes leave many warehouses with no choice but to explore automation and digitization in more depth through things like:

  • Autonomous robotics that can be programmed to perform specific repetitive tasks, from picking and placing to assembling and packaging.

  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that can move materials and goods from location to location.

  • Artificial intelligence that informs decisions about things like workforce requirements and route optimization within the warehouse.

  • Drones to support inventory audits, cycle counting, verification of stock levels, etc.

  • Wearable technology, such as smart glasses or voice-control headsets, which supports productivity and safety.


As warehouses adopt more technology and automation, their IT networks won’t cut it much longer. Every day, these facilities inch closer to requiring the functionality of a dedicated automation and management network.


How are IT networks and automation networks unique?

Because warehouses have run on IT networks for so long, many managers and leaders don’t realize how IT and dedicated automation networks differ (or that there’s a difference at all).


What IT networks do

IT networks keep business applications working by supporting front-end business activities. For example, they’re designed to monitor, manage and secure information involving core enterprise functions and applications like:

  • Accounting
  • Email
  • Enterprise software
  • HR
  • IT
  • Marketing
  • Sales

To meet the changing needs of users and applications, IT networks and the devices that connect to them are updated and reprogrammed frequently.


What dedicated automation networks do

These networks manage back-end business activities and support the devices, processes and infrastructure that keep warehouse operations running smoothly.


Instead of running business applications, they connect, monitor, manage and secure the information that controls physical equipment processes, including real-time data processing and physical access to devices that impact floor operations and warehouse management.


Dedicated automation and management networks can support:

  • CNC machines
  • Control systems
  • Manufacturing execution systems (MES)
  • Robots and cobots
  • SCADA software
  • Scheduling systems


Unlike IT networks, these networks remain pretty static. Industrial systems aren’t updated or upgraded as frequently as those managed by IT systems.


Separate … but together: the importance of bringing networks together

IT networks and dedicated automation networks may be separate, but they still need to interact.


In fact, establishing convergence of dedicated automation and IT networks enables greater resources for the entire facility.


Perhaps a SAP/ERP system—traditionally considered IT technology—is pulling live data from the floor so the office can track analytics and costs. The more information you can communicate from the plant floor to the office, the more patterns and trends you can recognize and capitalize on.


For example, operational data can be ingested and analyzed in conjunction with existing IT data to:

  • Optimize machine performance and maintenance
  • Pinpoint production issues so they can be addressed
  • Reduce operating costs
  • Scale production up or down as needed
  • Support real-time asset tracking


By tying operational data to metrics like revenue, customer satisfaction and profit margins, the IT department can even help warehouse leaders understand what their data is telling them.


What you can gain from a dedicated automation network

When your warehouse deploys a dedicated network, you enable new opportunities that automation technologies and workflows can support.


To help you understand what’s possible with an automation network, we created a whitepaper that explores real examples of what warehouses accomplish with dedicated networks.


Ready to see what you’ve been missing?



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