SMART warehousing using disruptive technology

With the business being forced to be competitive, it is important to look at all the areas of business to improve. Traditionally warehouse has been a neglected area but now is being looked at in a focussed way to improve the profitability of the organisation.

Today’s warehouse managers have a wide choice of technologies to choose from in order that they are able to reduce costs, improve efficiency and streamline the operations. Warehouses must ensure that the goods, material and products flow effortlessly by optimising their warehouse operations through use of such technologies. Warehouse is an important link in achieving customer service targets and as we know “Any chain is as strong as it’s weakest link”.

Let us look at some of the advancements in the technology that we can use to build a “Smart” warehouse :

With the advent of M2M (machine-to-machine) evolving into more sophisticated systems combined with WMS (Ware House Management system), it is very easy to control all the equipment within the warehouse which helps to a very large extent  in order fulfilment.

There are light displays available which can direct warehouse operators to product location with information on the product and the quantity to be chosen. This technology can also plan, control and analyse volumes of orders picked. This system obviously increases the productivity of the warehouse with the drastic reduction in errors. This system can be easily custom designed and can combine durability needed in different warehouse environments with the smart intelligence needed to run changing and diverse workflows with transparency.

Robots are increasingly being used for movement, storage and sorting of warehouse inventory. A new concept of Cobot is becoming increasingly popular which is basically a combination of using robot technology with human. This is helpful in countries like India, China where the labour is abundantly available. Such systems in a big way reduces  the operational costs, labour costs and improve operational efficiency with minimal errors. By using such systems the warehouses will become much safer operations. Cobots reduce the human efforts thereby increasing the human to increase their efficiency.

The traceability of products is becoming very important and therefore it is very much essential to go for the technologies like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) QR codes to maintain such traceability. This type of identifications also enable certain mandatory systems like FIFO (First In First Out) to be followed.

With IoT (Internet Of Things) making it’s way in the industry it is very important to understand what it really means and how the same can be used for the business. Concepts of Augmented reality, Virtual reality will have wide use in coming years.

For example, if workers in order picking system are equipped with head mounted display then the augmented reality can improve the information visualisation.

Drones are also becoming common in larger warehouses. Walmarts and Amazon see a big potential in use of this technology to locate misplaced stock in the big warehouse or deliver packages in a very short time.

Some of the warehouses have developed special trucks which have laser guided fork positioning, quick change load wheels which help a big way in reducing storage and handling costs.

Use of intelligent LED lights is on the rise which allows the light levels to be controlled in different areas, track occupancy and traffic patterns and thus minimise the maintenance as well as energy costs.

Wearable technology has also started becoming pertinent in warehouses. Voice control handsets which are linked to ERP to give real time inventory updates is a classic example. Smart Watches is another such example. These watches are capable of displaying the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) which can be used very well for ensuring that the customer service levels are being met.

Data management is today a big concern from the storage as well as security point of view. It can now be saved digitally on a remote location server or cloud based storage. This enables users to create a back-up related to inventory , sales, billing etc which can be used as a  reference at any point in time in future.

Receiving and despatching the material are two important activities of any warehouse. The process of assigning the doors for trucks to load and unload is sometimes complex and time consuming. Dock Door Scheduling software makes this task simple. It is a very good tool used to streamline inbound and outbound operations increasing the warehouse efficiency. This ultimately brings down the cost of moving goods.

Loading and shipping can use the GPS technology which can optimise loading, routing and deliveries

Though technology is the key, collaboration between the various departments cannot be undermined.  The organisation can make use of the best suited wireless technology like radio, laptops or smart phones. The selection of technology is very important because the entire organisation has to use it consistently.

At the same time some of the basics of warehouse management cannot be forgotten. Efficient layout and the most efficient picking procedures also need to be adopted so as to increase the warehouse efficiency.

Warehouse also will have to adapt to these technologies to the fullest.

With the use of such technologies becoming more and more obvious, it is utmost important to train all the concerned warehouse personnel for the use of such technologies. It is very much necessary that all the people in the warehouse use these technologies with passion and understanding which will enable the organisation to reap full benefits of the same.

It should be made clear that every operations manager needs to review what is the need of his/her warehouse & then should prioratise the introduction of technology to get the best payback period as well as keep on investing in right technology & right time.

The world of technology is changing very fast and the warehouse manager and his team will have to be fully ready to be “technology savvy” so as to stay ahead in the competitive race.  

Hemant Jog,
Director – Dietz Consulting Partners Pvt. Ltd.