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Streamlining air cargo warehouse operations & improving process efficiencies using automation mechanisms


Discover how warehouse automation can help airlines and ground handlers eliminate bottlenecks, cut overhead costs and help in improving the market share by offering better services.

Air-freight demand is growing by 8% a year [1], twice as fast as IATA's 20-year growth forecast [2].

But that doesn't mean air-freight companies can sit back, relax and rely on the good times to come to them. There are challenges that could stop the businesses from benefiting from this boom, unless tools that are capable and scalable to support the growing requirements are identified and deployed.

Capacity constraints, supply-chain disruptions, staff shortages etc. cause challenges that make it harder to transport the volumes required [3] [4]. Carriers also face competition not just from airfreight integrators such as FedEx or DHL but from global freight forwarders, the shipping industry, and e-commerce companies.

To reap maximum benefits from the growing air-freight demand and overcome the competition by providing value added offerings, airlines and service providers must move more cargo more efficiently, offering the best service end-to-end – in the air and on the ground.

One of the biggest air-cargo pain points is that most of the time, cargo sits idle in a warehouse either at its origin, at transit points or at the destination. One way to overcome this challenge is to use advanced, improved "warehouse optimization" mechanisms there by reducing delivery/build-up timelines.

Why should you care about air cargo warehouse automation in 2024?

The key to revolutionizing air cargo efficiency is through freight hubs. Across the globe, advanced warehouses are getting built to support these freight hubs to cater to the growing demand and to offer better services. These central nodes in the air-freight system enable companies to consolidate and streamline: 

  • package sorting
  • air-cargo processing
  • security screening
  • customs clearance
  • forwarding
One of the fastest evolving and growing trends of recent times – the e-commerce industry need enhanced quality, reliability and real-time information which can be offered by this way of operation.

To master the challenges and seize the opportunities of modern warehouse operations, you must ensure storage, tracking and retrieval with pinpoint, split-second efficiency. Otherwise, higher-value-add operations cannot be supported or will not yield the expected returns.

That is a problem for many cargo ground handlers and freight operators. Much of the industry still uses, at best, outdated software platforms. Siloed on the company's local servers, these lack the sophistication required to integrate with new warehousing needs.

And you cannot even take this level of digitization for granted. Many ground handlers still use printed job lists and manifests. This isn't just a bottleneck now, slowing cargo processing and causing increased rates of human error. It's also a brake on future innovation.

Only with flexible, agile and scalable digital technologies will air-freight operators cope with today's demand and get ready for the ultra-competitive market of tomorrow.

What does air cargo warehouse automation look like and what can it do for you?

So, what does warehouse automation look like for an air-freight operator?

The exact mix of technologies you deploy will depend on your business model, your operational needs and the dynamics of your specific market. That said, there are several core warehouse-digitization capabilities that most digital-transformation projects will require in some form. These are:

  • Automated warehousing & sorting: AI powered robotic systems sort and pick cargo from storage areas, assist loading and improve overall productivity.
  • Automated Storage & Retrieval System (ASRS): file and retrieve goods faster, with minimum error rates, using cranes that retrieve goods between aisles and racks.
  • Goods-to-person technology (G2P): goods-to-person picking robots deliver items to picking stations, where operators fill orders as items are delivered.
  • Inventory Management: robots with cameras and sensors enable accurate inventory tracking, loading and unloading by performing regular inventory checks.
  • Screening machines: these measure shipment dimensions, update booking information, run security checks, process item-specific identification — and so on.
  • Unmanned Aerial vehicle (UAV): commonly known as drones, they provide real-time inventory within warehouses when equipped with RFID technology.
  • Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV): these move shipments between different points within the warehouse much more efficiently than a forklift operator can do.
  • Quality-control robots: using cameras and sensors, these quality-check items for defects or damage. They help improve operational functions and improve safety.
  • Collaborative robots: these robots, or "cobots", work alongside humans, assisting in various tasks. Cobots can help with tasks like lifting heavy objects, loading etc.
  • Data collection & analytics: AI collects operational data that can be analyzed to identify and eliminate service failures, bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and so on.

What's the best, fastest way to automate your air cargo warehouse?

Every warehouse digitization and automation project is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution or implementation. To get the right results for your business, you need a warehouse-automation ecosystem that's tailored specifically to your needs.

Doing this requires access to a wide range of skills, from stakeholder engagement and processing auditing, through system design and deployment, to data analysis and ongoing systems optimization.

Having software which can cater to these integration requirements without the need for heavy customization is key to ensuring that you are able install these warehouse automation tools and extract business benefits much faster.

The best way to access these skills quickly, with minimum overheads or recruitment costs, is by working with an expert technology partner: one that knows the challenges of warehouse automation and has an insider's understanding of the aviation industry and air-cargo sector.

IBS Software is a global leader in solutions for air-freight operators. Drawing on almost three decades of experience working with industry leaders, our consultants and engineers help customers optimize their warehousing operations for the maximum possible positive business impact.


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