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70% of organizations are planning to increase their use of technology in their warehouses in the next few years, according to a study by Zebra Technologies Warehouse Vision. In fact, retailers are expected to spend a total $2.5 billion for updated IoT hardware and installation.
But what is a smart warehouse, what does it mean for the future of your supply chain and is it equipped for Industry 4.0?
Smart warehouses are inventory systems where part or all of the inventory processes are automated. Interconnected technologies work together to streamline warehouse operations towards increased productivity and efficiency.
Smart warehouses use artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect each warehouse process. This helps automate tasks, consolidate information, and analyze data towards improved operations.
Smart warehouses simplify the processes of stocking, storing, inventory, labeling, and packaging.
Warehousing is the first step of the transportation and logistics supply chain. If you can optimize these operations from the get-go with smart technology, you’re better able to streamline the rest of the transportation process like loading, shipping, unloading, and delivery.
These different technologies:
• Decrease need for manual labor
• Minimize human errors
• Reduce damage and inaccuracies
• Boost visibility and transparency of inventory process
• Increase speed and accuracy
• Enhances analytics, reporting, and strategy creation
Because of these benefits, giant online sellers have already started implementing a number of smart warehouse technologies. Although the tech is still new and growing, warehouses are quickly moving in a smarter direction. Amazon has autonomous robots for picking and storing, and UPS uses smart glasses to reduce labeling.
If you’re not jumping aboard the “smart” warehouse train, you’ll be left in the dust.
So what can you do to easily and effectively implement smart technology in your warehouses and hubs?
Smart warehouses consist of several technologies that are programmed to interconnect and share data. Below are the most common components in resourceful smart warehouses.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is replacing traditional labeling, storing, and finding products. These are digital tags that are placed on goods and packages that come into the warehouse. They can replace the scannable barcodes, which take up a significant amount of time to attach and scan.
With RFID, radio waves can scan tags from afar. They can automatically scan an area of the warehouse to detect where the digital tags are. This data is then sent to a handheld scanner, where the worker is then told the number, quantity, and information about the product.
Rather than having to manually scan each package, RFID can identify packages just by general direction and proximity. This saves significant time and energy on identifying, finding, and pulling goods.
RFID tags also minimize inventory inaccuracies. A scan of the warehouse can immediately detect how many products there are, rather than having to count boxes by hand. It can also determine if any products are located in the wrong area of the warehouse. This inventory control is the most accurate system to date.
How would RFID tags work? A digital tag is attached to packages as they enter the warehouse (or earlier in the supply chain). Automated machines scan packages as they come in, counting and identifying each set of goods.
This speeds up the inventory pulling process. If everyone along the supply chain uses RFID, it can also improve loading, unloading, and shipping by always knowing where individual inventory products are.
After an RFID tag is attached, robots can store those goods in the appropriate place in the warehouse.
Or after an RFID tag has identified where goods are in the warehouse, robots can retrieve ordered goods and bring them to human packers to be sent out for delivery.
Robots are being used for the storing and picking processes primarily because they’re able to move faster and carry more goods than humans.
Some robots can even identify the optimal route for finding and picking goods, literally cutting out the time and distance between point A and B. This is especially important in larger warehouses, where the majority of time is lost simply moving between aisles.
Robots are expected to play a greater role in the warehouse system as artificial intelligence improves and develops.
Artificial intelligence (AI) allows machines to collect, analyze, and learn from data. This learning aspect allows consistent development and progression of the most efficient processes.
For example, artificial intelligence can alert robots to the most efficient route for storing and picking products. It can even help determine the appropriate box size based on the package type, number, size, weight, and density.
Artificial intelligence is also being used for warehouse security. AI can identify internal and external theft before it happens by analyzing and solving areas of risk. This is drastically cutting down on loss and inaccuracies in the warehouse.
With the assistance of IoT, artificial intelligence can gather data to create a holistic strategy for the warehouse.
The Internet of Things (IoT) connects all internet-enabled devices. This allows technologies to communicate with one another and share data. This creates a more comprehensive system for the entire warehouse.
For example, robots can connect with RFID data to automatically find and pick products in the warehouse. The robots can send information to the conveyors, which then programs the data into the warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS then tells humans how to process and pack that item to be sent out. Then, the WMS connects with RFID scanning to mark that good as “sent” when the package leaves the warehouse.
This minimizes error throughout the process by gathering all operational data in a single connected tech. Artificial intelligence can then utilize this congregated data to make the most comprehensive and predictive analyses.
Execution is one of the greatest challenges of building a smart warehouse. You want to ensure all of your smart systems integrate and share information properly, or you’ll hit even more roadblocks. You also want all of your workers to be able to utilize these new devices at peak capacity.
But change execution can be lengthy and complex.
That’s why we recommend implementing one smart device at a time. This simplifies change management, so leaders and employees alike can get accustomed to the new technologies.
The cheapest and easiest to start with is an IoT warehouse management system (WMS). This creates a “backbone” of connection and data. When you implement other smart devices, you can interconnect them to that WMS, so you have an integrated system right from the start.
However, this might not be the first solution for all businesses. You might want to start with other tech strategies if you are on a budget or want a clearer direction of growth.
If you want to get on the “smart” train towards future successes, Redwood Logistics is the right partner for you. We are at the forefront of transportation and logistics technology to streamline your supply chain from A to Z.
Contact us now to get “smart.”