With consumer service demands increasing and omni-channel operations becoming the fulfilment benchmark, development in warehouse technology is very much on the rise. Here’s a look at the warehouse technologies currently gaining traction in supply chain operations.
According to Tradegecko 66% of warehouses plan to expand their technological investment by 2018. Therefore, if you don’t want to be left behind you need to get on top of the technology game. Warehousing in the modern age is a highly technological business. It’s no longer a case of simple stores with forklifts and manpower, but cutting edge technology.
Implemented correctly, technology in warehousing is an enabler for the supply chain to operate at maximum efficiency and accuracy. Efficiency is what keeps costs in check, and makes a healthier bottom line as well as improving business reputation. So which warehouse technologies are making waves globally?
Drones and Warehousing
Drone development isn’t just focused on last mile delivery, they are also being used to make processes within warehouse operations simpler and less labour heavy. Drones are being used for barcode scanning, removing the need for forklift trucks and cage access, and thus reducing manpower requirements. Drone Scan declare their 800g drones as being capable of counting as much stock in just two days as an 80-strong workforce armed with forklift trucks and handheld scanners could complete in three days. That’s a significant efficiency to be made in any warehouse.
Described by Fortune as the ‘airbnb’ of warehousing, on-demand warehousing continues to be more and more possible due to technology. With Just in Time (JIT) operations, management of seasonal business profiles and fluctuations in supply and demand, on-demand warehousing and shared warehousing are the way of the future, made possible by technology. Similarly, a more flexible and dynamic approach can be taken to supply with developments such as Argos using larger stores for same day click and collect from a range of retailers.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Making tasks easier within the warehouse operations is key to reducing inefficiencies. RFID uses radio tags to send messages to ‘readers’ making it easier to keep a track of inventory and increase visibility without physically and manually checking. Whilst the use of RFID has seen a slow take-up due to security, cost and technical issues, the technology is constantly improving and the benefits are now starting to outweigh the negatives.
Cloud-Based Data Sharing
Using the web to streamline processes throughout the supply chain, and specifically within the warehousing process, reduces waste and maximises output versus input. By using cloud storage, data can be more accurately shared, stored, and used for forecasting and accountability. Cloud-based data sharing is also an enabler of ‘Big Data’ which can facilitate major computational analysis of the warehouse operations with the aim of continuously adjusting and optimising operations to maximise performance and efficiency.
Omni-Channel Operations and Retailing
Technology has revolutionised not only how people shop, but also how they expect to be able to shop. Warehousing technology now needs to be capable of working within an omni-channel system with sales demand coming from online, onsite, and mobile apps. Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) now need a much more focused workflow foundation, fully integrated with order management systems, enabling accurate inventory visibility and improved agility to respond to customer demand across all channels.
Automation through the use of robotics, such as Amazon’s orange warehouse robots, will continue to boom. No longer does the warehouse need to be specifically configured for the use of automation and conveyors, and automatically guided robots that learn efficient routes around non-automated warehouse layouts are increasingly being used in place of traditional picking carts. This allows the picker to be completely ‘hands-free’, with significantly reduced worker walking, enabling up to 5 times more pick efficiency.
Warehouse Technologies – The Future
As technology capabilities increase, and the profit margins of supply chains are increasingly narrowed, the integration of technology in warehouses will continue to boom. Whilst the technological focus is currently centred around high velocity B2C operations at the moment, those involved in all sectors of warehousing will start to see an increase in technological applications as B2B demands start to reflect consumer demands.