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Nov 1, Technology , Warehouse 3 comments. Imagine stepping back in time to visit a large warehousing operation in Welcome to our tour of a logistics warehouse in the late 20 th century. Pay attention as we move through the building, because while a lot of things are different to the warehouse of today, many of them appear subtle to the eye, but have huge meaning in terms of warehouse efficiency and productivity.
See that supervisor over there, distinguished from the operatives by his different coloured hi-vis vest? Warehouse management systems have advanced considerably in the last couple of decades.
In the process they have made many warehouse activities faster for people to perform and generated efficiencies to reduce labour-intensiveness. For example:. In , picking was a task in which a warehouse operative would spend almost as much time recording activities on paper documents as performing the actual task of moving items from pick-face to pallet. More advanced solutions even eliminate the data entry altogether, leaving the operative to concentrate solely on the actual picking.
Scanning technologies have had a similar impact in other areas of warehouse operation, such as receiving, put-away, and dispatch. By adding voice-guidance to the range of WMS functionalities , a warehouse operation becomes even more efficient, as operatives no longer need even to look down at a display to see their work instructions. Like other solutions already mentioned, voice technology reduces labour needs in more ways than one. In addition to helping warehouse personnel get more done in less time , it makes human error a less frequent occurrence, in turn reducing the need for labour to be expended on checking and rework.
Automated solutions are pervasive, and becoming more so as the technology improves in affordability as well as sophistication. The warehouse of was typically bereft of automation though, with the exception perhaps of rudimentary but still important solutions such as gravity-fed racking or in companies with larger budgets, pick-to-light systems. Notice how many people on the warehouse floor have paperwork in their hands? In fact, there seems to be paper everywhere… And look up there in the racking.
There are rows and rows of file boxes stored on pallets, presumably containing years of paper records and documents. What a wasteful use of good warehouse cube. WMS software, scanning solutions, and other IT applications in the warehouse have eradicated the vast majority of paper forms and documents from the warehouse environment. Warehouse technology has changed data entry processes, enabling data to be entered directly into digital storage and reducing the scope for errors caused by readability problems, lost paperwork, and other issues arising from the translation of handwritten data into electronic bits and bytes.
It has also contributed to sustainability , since warehouse operations now place less demand on forestry resources.
Warehouse management systems, automation, barcode and RFID technologies, and voice guidance systems all combine to make warehouses more efficient, less impactful on the environment, and less reliant on manual labour.
Even now, in our less labour-intensive warehouse environments , technological progress continues to disrupt and transform the way we manage inventory storage and throughput. This warehouse is fairly advanced in terms of technology, but clearly not at the cutting edge.
How do we know that? Yes, warehouse operations are currently being disrupted by the development of advanced robotic systems , the most basic of which use digital add-on systems to transform forklifts and other types of MHE asset into robots.
Some time ago we published a post about how brewing company Carlsberg uses these automated forklifts to move up to pallets per hour around one of its Swedish distribution centres. Further examples can be seen if you look around. Over there for instance, you can see a number of pallets on turntables , spinning fast as they are cocooned in shrink-wrap ready for dispatch. First let your eyes adjust to the gloom, because there are few lights on here. That being said, full automation is still a big ticket item in terms of capital costs, often requiring customised warehouse construction to house high-bay storage and specialised infrastructure.
For companies that can afford it, and operate in sectors compatible with automated logistics, full automation delivers a great many benefits, including:. While full automation is still relatively rare, even traditional man-to-goods warehouse operations have been impacted by new technologies, though people may still shoulder the greatest part of the workload.
Indeed, few businesses remain untouched by the disruptive influence of information technology. While automation removes the need for manpower, many companies still consider it either too expensive to implement, or are concerned about the length of time to ROI , which is typically around five years. On the other hand, many software solutions offer a much faster return on investment and are affordable even for smaller businesses. Sophisticated analytics help operators find and eliminate process weaknesses ; Inventory management software helps companies to optimise stock levels , while modeling tools do the same in construction design and warehouse layout planning.
When considering the impact of technology on warehouses and distribution centres, it would be remiss to overlook disruptive technology in the wider commercial environment. As consumers have progressed from shopping online to mobile shopping, they have driven a revolution in retail commerce, which has in turn set off a ripple effect to initiate similar changes in business-to-business trading.
All this transformation has led to a distinct shift in warehouse function, from being a staging point for supply chain inventory, to becoming a vital element of the value chain.
Few warehouses today are simply storage spaces, but instead host multiple value-adding processes , like just-in-time packaging, assembly, product customisation, and in some cases, customer collection services. The respite however, could be short-lived, as a new wave of disruptive technology emerges—one which many believe will spell the end of the warehouse as a significant source of employment and transform it into a centre of wholly automated activity.
In earlier sections of this article, we touched on some of the limitations of current automation technology. To recap, we discussed the need for specialised warehouse infrastructure and the associated cost of constructing purpose-built automated warehouses.
All that may soon change, as robotics development begins to solve these problems. Robotics is probably the answer to many automation constraints in warehousing. For example, unlike automated storage and retrieval systems, robotic warehouse machinery even at the current time is able to operate in any industrial space, meaning it can be deployed in existing warehouses without expensive structural modifications.
At the same time, robotic capabilities are continually improving ; with robots being developed that can perform tasks such as dressmaking, which up to now has always required a human touch. They are also becoming increasingly mobile and capable of multitasking , which means companies will need less machinery to perform more activities. Smaller businesses may access robotic technology too, by contracting with third-party warehouse providers which thanks to robotic advances, will make outsourcing the most economically viable way to stage and store inventory.
Of course there is more to a warehouse than the operation it houses, and as time goes on, technology will impact warehouse facilities by changing the way they are constructed, maintained, and powered.
Take warehouse lighting for example. If we take a brief hop back to , when you were looking up at all those boxes of papers in the racking, did you notice the forest of light fittings hanging from the ceiling? These lighting solutions are slowly but surely disappearing from the modern warehouse environment, to be replaced by more economical and environmentally friendly light sources , such as LED and induction lamps. LED industrial lighting consumes a fraction of the electricity needed to run conventional lamps, and when combined with management systems using sensors and timers, becomes even more economical.
In the warehouse of , sensor technology will enable everything from mechanical handling equipment, through warehouse robots and storage racks, to the very fabric of the warehouse structure, to monitor conditions and performance. Machine-to-machine communication will enable the sensors to relay data constantly to the warehouse management system, while integrated analytics and machine-learning capabilities enable that system to pass instructions back to warehouse robots perhaps including aerial drones for certain high-level tasks.
Interpreting those instructions, the robots will respond appropriately to perform basic maintenance and repair tasks on the building, MHE, automated machines, and perhaps even themselves or each other… And so the warehouse of becomes a virtual living entity , capable of taking care of itself and the operations it houses, with minimal need for human intervention.
Omnichannel commerce could for example, see warehouses evolve into a combination of mega-centres hosting operations for multiple companies in shared environments and urban mini-warehouses, used to place inventory close to target consumer markets. The result could be an overall reduction in the global warehouse footprint. For example, the views in this article are influenced by the projects we get involved in as a supply chain consulting company, but your company may be using technology in different ways, and your take on future developments may be very different.
If you sometimes like to stretch your imagination a little and combine it with your professional warehouse knowledge, why not do so now and share your predictions in the comments section below? There are many warehouse processes that includes a good use of technology and other aspects making the field grow better.
For instance WMS tools are making the warehouse management processes easier. Thanks for providing such a good information. Thank you for sharing useful information. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting. Now imagine what the distribution center of will look like if technology continues to disrupt logistics as profoundly as it has done since the s.
Is your mind boggling yet? For example: Paperwork and data entry: WMS has reduced the need for people to spend time completing paper forms or entering data from documents into spreadsheets and other data-management applications.
Picking efficiency: Warehouse operatives can pick faster with WMS , because the technology helps to organise warehouses more efficiently and with features such as system-guided picking enable more efficient working practices to be followed. Task Interleaving: As WMS solutions have become more powerful, they have extended the concept of system-guidance across all activities, especially those performed by forklift operators. Scanning Technologies In , picking was a task in which a warehouse operative would spend almost as much time recording activities on paper documents as performing the actual task of moving items from pick-face to pallet.
Technologies such as barcode scanning and RFID have taken away much of that administration effort, by allowing operatives to simply scan a pick face and enter picked quantities on a keypad. Voice Technology By adding voice-guidance to the range of WMS functionalities , a warehouse operation becomes even more efficient, as operatives no longer need even to look down at a display to see their work instructions.
Now, back to the tour… Notice how many people on the warehouse floor have paperwork in their hands? As already discussed, less paperwork is less work full-stop.
It also means physical space no longer has to be found for paper storage and archiving. A Summary of Our Trip Back in Time Warehouse management systems, automation, barcode and RFID technologies, and voice guidance systems all combine to make warehouses more efficient, less impactful on the environment, and less reliant on manual labour. The Partially Automated Warehouse This warehouse is fairly advanced in terms of technology, but clearly not at the cutting edge. But look, here comes a forklift—without a driver?
A combination of sensors, cameras, lasers, and software can be used to enable forklifts to work alongside people, but without the need for human operators. The cranes extract pallets using forks and transport them at incredible speed to a conveyor system, which will carry them to a dispatch area and straight into waiting trailers.
Automated Warehouse Benefits For companies that can afford it, and operate in sectors compatible with automated logistics, full automation delivers a great many benefits, including: Significant labour cost reduction Superior levels of productivity A high degree of efficiency Minimal risk of processing errors Improved inventory management Increased supply chain speed While full automation is still relatively rare, even traditional man-to-goods warehouse operations have been impacted by new technologies, though people may still shoulder the greatest part of the workload.
The IT Impact on 21 st Century Warehouses While automation removes the need for manpower, many companies still consider it either too expensive to implement, or are concerned about the length of time to ROI , which is typically around five years. The Indirect Impact of Technology When considering the impact of technology on warehouses and distribution centres, it would be remiss to overlook disruptive technology in the wider commercial environment. The biggest of these disruptions has been driven by changes in consumer behaviour, which in turn have been enabled by perhaps the most significant innovation of the last century — the Internet.
The Expanding role of the Warehouse Few warehouses today are simply storage spaces, but instead host multiple value-adding processes , like just-in-time packaging, assembly, product customisation, and in some cases, customer collection services. Rise of the Robotic Warehouse In earlier sections of this article, we touched on some of the limitations of current automation technology. Robotic Opportunities for All? But What About the Warehouse? Those were probably metal halide, sodium, or florescent lamps, all of which are expensive to run on an industrial level and are constructed using materials harmful to the environment.
The cost of artificial temperature control too, will be minimised, since temperatures will only need managing for inventory quality, not for human comfort. The Living, Sensing Warehouse In the warehouse of , sensor technology will enable everything from mechanical handling equipment, through warehouse robots and storage racks, to the very fabric of the warehouse structure, to monitor conditions and performance. Warehouses Get Bigger, Smaller, Fewer?
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Our mission is to help leaders in multiple sectors develop a deeper understanding of the global economy. Our flagship business publication has been defining and informing the senior-management agenda since As automation technologies such as machine learning and robotics play an increasingly great role in everyday life, their potential effect on the workplace has, unsurprisingly, become a major focus of research and public concern. In fact, as our research has begun to show, the story is more nuanced.
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