Technology that will increase the efficiency of warehouse operations
Technology is part of our daily lives, so it was only a matter of time before it started changing the way we look at distribution and logistics in warehouses. Let’s take a closer look at the technologies that are transforming warehouses, and why supervisors and CEOs should consider implementing these new advances in their facilities.
1. Cloud-Based Warehouse Management Systems
Warehouse management systems (WMS) are a must in today’s fast-paced logistics industry, but most of them use local hardware that limits their capability and means the team must have an IT professional on staff to maintain it. A cloud-based WMS uses software as a service (SaaS), creating a system workers can seamlessly integrate and sustain without downtime. It’s also more cost-effective than purchasing dedicated hardware, which can save warehouses money in the long run.
Sustainability is a hot-button topic these days, and this focus is changing nearly every industry in the world. Technology can help companies reduce energy consumption, cut down on product waste and lessen emissions while aligning with federal and local rules and regulations. Replacing traditional fluorescent lighting with LED alternatives can reduce power usage while saving the facility money. Smart warehouse designs rely on monitors to regulate power usage, becoming more energy efficient over time by preventing power ghosts from drawing energy when they’re not in use. Technology is helping warehouses become more sustainable, both in house and in their dealings with other facilities.
3. Handheld Devices
Handheld devices, such as barcode scanners, have always been a part of the logistics and distribution industry, but recent advances have helped these devices become more efficient and useful than ever before. Warehouses that still rely on manual counts and physical paperwork should consider transitioning to digital inventories and handheld devices equipped with RFID scanners and GPS to increase efficiency and reduce theft and inventory loss.
4. Internet of Things
IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a broad term that encompasses all smart or networked devices. If you’ve got an Amazon Echo or a smart appliance in your home, you’re already familiar with IoT. An IoT-enabled warehouse can make picking and packaging more efficient by reducing the workload on human employees. Instead of sending a human worker with a list of items to pull, smart shelves can talk to robotic pickers, letting them know precisely where each item is. IoT can also play a role in packing, labeling, and virtually every other step in the logistics process.
5. Improved Warehouse Design
It’s easy to sacrifice efficiency in favor of squeezing as much inventory as possible into your limited square footage. Warehouses in the United States cost an average of $5.50 per square foot, but space efficiency is just as critical as stuffing every spare square inch with inventory. Using new technology can help you find your optimal warehouse layout, maximizing the efficiency of product storage, inbound and outbound operations, and any value-added processes you use.
One of the most time-consuming steps in the packaging process is choosing the right size carton, especially if your warehouse is home to a variety of different-sized products. Cartonization can reduce the time wasted on this step by assigning a carton size to each product, removing the guesswork and saving your employees a ton of time in the long run.
7. Big Data
Big data is a tech industry buzzword that refers to all the information a company generates and collects. In a warehouse management system, this could be anything from inventory counts to sales and productivity numbers, and everything in between. A big data system collects this information and sorts through it. Algorithms can navigate through the data, identifying patterns and even predicting future changes with a surprising degree of accuracy. While this technology does represent a significant investment, the benefits are nearly limitless.
8. Print-and-Apply Labeling
Using human employees for the packaging and labeling process is a time-honored tradition, but it can also lead to packing and shipping errors. Print-and-apply labeling systems remove the possibility for human error by closing and labeling packages automatically, according to their contents. When integrated with IoT systems, these systems can run autonomously, preventing costly shipping errors.
9. Robots and Drones
Amazon is already jumping on the robotics bandwagon. After purchasing Kiva Systems, a small robotics startup, the e-commerce giant started introducing more than 30,000 picking robots to its distribution centers around the globe. These robots will eventually be capable of picking, packing, and shipping orders on their own, but right now they still require human oversight. Robots and drones are quite literally the waves of the future for logistics and distribution. We’re just waiting for the technology to catch up.
10. Pick by Voice
Most warehouses employ RFID or barcode scanners to enable their team to pick items for packing and shipping. Pick by voice is a technique that is growing in popularity. Instead of tying up a picker’s hands with mobile devices, he or she can speak the item they’re picking into a microphone. From there, the warehouse management system can process the pick and remove the item from inventory. This tech frees the picker’s hands and makes their job easier and more efficient.
Technology Makes the Future Look Bright
There may be a time a little way down the road where robotics and automation replace the human workforce in the logistics and distribution industry, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime, these new technologies can help improve efficiency and make the job easier for your teams while reducing waste and cutting costs.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/