Warehouses today are more than a facility used for storage and inventory. Smart warehouses that rely on the latest technologies and IoT are being increasingly used to boost efficiency and improve the speed of the supply chain. By seamlessly integrating new technologies with warehousing systems, companies can boost productivity and optimize stock and associated shipping costs. Right from wearables used by workers to sensors and smart equipment, technology is having an impact on logistics management.
Let’s look at how these smart warehouses can address some of the business challenges effectively using some of the latest technologies.
What is a Smart Warehouse?
Warehouse management has become more robust and efficient with the use of highly automated facilities managed by bots. Technology has revolutionized the entire supply chain management process. This has led to “smart” and connected warehouses being deployed by visionary companies.
Smart warehouses have features like handheld devices, automatic storage and retrieval systems, carousels, and specialized forklifts. Their supply chain management systems have turned more intelligent and the warehouse itself has been automated with wireless solutions and a network of sensors used for tracking movement of robot carts.
A Smart warehouse can provide better information about what’s happening inside the warehouse. This can help in making necessary improvements and further optimize the process. The use of sensors across the warehouse can help in tracking the performance of the entire fleet. This improves overall efficiency. This can also reduce damages from work equipment and injuries resulting among workers leading to better safety and a secure work environment. Unlike traditional warehouses, these new generation warehouses can help in tracking and efficiently managing inventory, along with providing better insights about the users. They also assist in eliminating errors which leads to inventory optimization and better cost control.
How are smart technologies drastically transforming warehouse management?
Some research on the future of warehousing technology says that7 out of 10 decision makers are set to increase the use of technology for creating a smart warehouse by 2020. The rising expectations of consumers will encourage more investment in IT and related operational areas in warehouse management in the next few years In another study, Samsung estimates that retailers will spend over $2.5 billion for hardware and IoT by 2020. Here’s how it would work.
Here are a few IoT-enabled technologies that have the power to transform the supply chain sector over the next few years.
Investment in IoT can reduce manual labor and boost the speed and accuracy of shipping. Better insights into the supply chain and inventory systems also become available. Companies such as UPS are experimenting with the use of IoT devices such as smart glasses for reducing the amount of labeling required for packaging. Lids- an athletic sportswear company is also making use of a IoT-based robotics platform for making their warehouse more efficient. They use robotic carts for picking products, placing them in bins and shipping them to employees. The commercial telematics used for tracking fleets is yet another striking example of the use of IoT for efficient logistics management.
Wearable technologies present huge opportunities for boosting operational efficiencies in warehouse and logistics management. These wearables are likely to be adopted quickly as they can help in improving communication, safety, and productivity. For example-Transparency and communication can be improved using smart glasses or voice command based devices. It’s possible to provide step-by-step instructions for manufacturing through visual messages via smart glasses. Similarly, two-way audio headsets may be used for providing real-time notifications related to the shop floor activities. Hands-free wearables also assist workers to move around freely, without restricting them to workstations.
The use of robotics in warehouse management is the next big thing slated to cause disruption in this field. Amazon has already made an investment worth $775 million with robot maker, Kiva Systems which has completely transformed many of its warehouse related functions. After their successful initiative at using robotics, the company came up with Amazon Picking Challenge, where exceptionally talented and brilliant minds from the field of mechanical engineering were invited to design robots. These robots were intended to manage critical tasks in the warehouse such as picking objects and putting them at the intended destination.
How can smart technologies address business challenges?
The adoption of smart technologies such as IoT have led to increased automation in warehouse management. This opens up opportunities in areas like inventory tracking and picking, self-driving forklifts with the ability to track and diagnose themselves. Sensors, devices and RFID tags can allow warehouse managers to track the precise location and progress of any product at any point of time. Smart robotic solutions can also manage multiple tasks which helps in improving productivity and boost the efficiency of the overall warehouse management process.
Companies that invest in such solutions can reduce the dependency on manual labor and improve speed and accuracy in shipping. Retailers also stand to gain better insight into their supply chains and inventory systems.
Another growing area of interest is energy utilization. Smart systems can be deployed for building control and monitoring systems for reducing consumption of energy from everything from lighting fixtures to HVAC systems. There are other new technologies which are likely to make the warehouse smarter as well. For eg. Tesla introduced new batteries with the capability of storing electricity via grid or using solar energy. This could help reduce the dependency of warehouses on local grids. The implications are far-reaching when it comes to choosing the location for industrial facilities. Utility bills can be controlled for companies deploying such solutions while being sensitive to the environment.
Technology is still taking shape and new benefits and applications are emerging every day. That said, it is already clear that new generation smart warehouse can lead to improved productivity in the entire supply management chain. And that’s reason enough to make your warehouse smart!