5 Exciting Developments
With all the changes happening in society, one truth remains the same — when customers place an order, they want it delivered quickly and accurately with minimal fuss. Warehouses play a valuable role in conveying goods from the manufacturer to their final destination, and innovations in automation are improving warehouse processes to help retailers better serve buyers.
The people in charge of such facilities face many decisions. What types of AI should they integrate to streamline processes, and which are inefficient and cause knowledge gaps that threaten to slow down production? How can they boost productivity while honoring valid human needs for rest from physical labor?
Technology leaders have worked on answering these questions and delivering solutions. Here are five exciting innovations in automation that are changing the modern warehouse.
1. AI-Guided Inventory Placement and Management
What if the same algorithms that tell social media sites what posts to show in your feeds could streamline inventory management? Such technology exists, and this innovation is changing the modern warehouse by placing inventory more strategically on shelves.
It matters because the average commercial warehouse now spans over 180,000 square feet — meaning even the zippiest robots take time traveling from point A to point B as they collect various items for customers. Storing items that typically ship together can shave countless valuable minutes off the average packing time per order.
Well-run warehouses see less turnover in human talent. A turnover rate of 20% to 30% incurs hidden costs that managers must consider when determining a return on investment. Proper inventory placement keeps workers happier and more engaged, making them less likely to look elsewhere.
Automated systems also reduce inaccuracies and returned item costs, which impact your overall return on investment. Poor inventory placement can result in heavy objects landing atop tall shelves instead of near the bottom, increasing the risk of accidents and breakage during handling. Additionally, incidents can cause human injuries and cost organizations a considerable sum in worker’s compensation claims. Using AI makes product placement fast and efficient.
2. Using Robots to Protect Human Workers
Robots can make work safer. For example, have you heard of collaborative robots or cobots? Unlike traditional warehouse machines that often require safety fencing, cobots’ computerized sensors bring them to a halt, rendering them harmless when they detect movement. This feature makes it safer for warehouse workers to maneuver around them.
Firms implementing cobot programs allow human workers to perform challenging manual tasks in bursts, rotating among less strenuous warehouse tasks when they need rest while the robotics maintain constant production. For example, a worker in an automotive plant and robot might both gather car parts, but the human can pause to affix mailing labels when they need a break from heavy physical labor.
Older systems had workers running back and forth across warehouse floors, often while carrying more than they could safely handle. The alternative was a slow, clunky robotics cart they walked behind, wasting precious time. Today’s new generation of robots lets them work in tandem with humans while reducing safety risks.
3. Attack of the Drones
Robots aren’t the only automated innovation transforming modern warehouses. Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the process of getting goods to customers.
Last-mile delivery is the step in the purchase process that creates the most emissions — but it might not be for much longer. Traditionally, retailers used individual delivery trucks to get packages to customers’ homes, spewing tons of carbon into the air in the process. Utilizing drones for last-mile delivery reduces energy needs by up to 94%, resulting in fewer emissions, and avoids traffic delays.
Drones also play valuable roles in inventory management. For example, they can accurately count objects on tall shelves that otherwise present a safety hazard thanks to the height. Using these machines to scan top-shelf barcodes is much faster than counting by hand.
Furthermore, drones can keep an eye on workplace safety. Many construction sites already use them for this purpose, allowing superintendents to survey multiple areas that would otherwise take hours to visit in person. Drones can alert supervisory personnel to potential safety hazards like gas leaks, allowing them to evacuate the premises more quickly when necessary and implement necessary changes to reduce workforce risk.
4. Streamlining Processes Through the IoT
If a warehouse invests in robots, drones and other automated solutions to streamline operations, who controls all these devices? The Internet of Things (IoT) provides the answer. The global IoT is estimated to grow by 14% between 2022 and 2028.
The IoT allows you to connect, synchronize and monitor all your connected devices, including robots, drones, beacons, pallet jacks, equipment and inventory. Warehouse personnel can locate anything containing a scannable code, reducing loss and theft. It also saves time — instead of running around the warehouse asking who last used the forklift, you can bring that information up on your screen.
Such monitors also reduce loss from damaged goods. For example, sensors can keep tabs on internal temperatures in warehouse areas for cold storage. Vibration sensors can alert personnel to treat fragile objects with greater TLC.
5. Blockchain Reducing Customer Complaints
It’s a familiar scenario in business — a customer wants to return a product without a receipt. Once upon a time, companies had to set their individual policies and rely on employees to make wise decisions regarding exceptions. Fortunately, blockchain technology offers a better way to track who bought what and when, keeping customers happy without requiring them to save printouts of their purchases.
Warehouses can use blockchain technology to track orders from the manufacturer to the customer’s doorstep. Doing so helps prevent delays and protects both customers and businesses. It used to take forever to determine if an item left the warehouse, was lost or damaged in transit or was accidentally lost through delivery to the wrong address — that’s not the case anymore.
Blockchain technology doesn’t require a centralized ledger, creating an indelible electronic record accessible to anyone. If the item is lost between the warehouse and the doorstep, retailers can quickly replace it without the customer producing a receipt. If the item shows delivered as intended, the company has evidence to present in the unlikely event the case proceeds to court.
Automation Innovations Changing the Modern Warehouse
Automation is transforming the warehouse world, benefiting individuals, manufacturers and retailers. These innovations can make workplaces safer and protect organizations from liability when used correctly.
Consider the above five ways that innovations in automation are changing the modern warehouse. How will your entity use this information to accelerate productivity and promote a happier tomorrow for customers and employees?
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