SUPPLY CHAIN INSIGHTS
FIVE DISRUPTIVE WAREHOUSE TECHNOLOGIES THAT YOU CAN’T IGNORE! By Lisa H. Harrington, president, lharrington group LLC and Senior Research Fellow, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.
Technology is man’s new best friend in the warehouse.
Five disrupter technologies There are five disruptive technologies that are helping
Companies have always looked to warehouse technology
companies re-think work in and around the warehouse.
to improve productivity and reduce costs. That’s still the
Here we explore what they are and how they benefit
case, but technology has taken on an additional, and
increasingly essential role in the warehouse. 1.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)/drones
It provides companies with new tools to deal with
Drones, it turns out, are well-suited to warehousing
the escalating shortage of warehouse labor in
applications. Companies use them for security and
two important ways:
surveillance. In security applications, UAVs patrol warehouse interiors and exteriors 24/7, providing live
They work with or alongside employees to augment
feedback to the warehouse operating systems. They
their capabilities, and
slash patrol timeframes from hours to minutes, thereby reducing windows of vulnerability and decreasing the
They support entirely new activities that make
number of security personnel required to man a facility.
warehouse labor more efficient, safer and more secure. When employed for inventory and asset management, The bottom line: When talking about the latest generation
drones fly throughout a facility and use their optical
of warehouse technologies, it’s not man versus machine;
sensors to identify product location, check inventory
it is man PLUS machine.
and feed that data back to the warehouse management system (WMS). Better location data improves labor productivity by reducing time spent searching for stock.
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In addition, drones can be equipped with passive
augmented by applications and data analysis – all
RFID, sensors, GPS, cameras, sonar, and other systems.
designed to enable better asset management and deployment. Forklifts and conveyor systems, for example,
can communicate their health status, allowing predictive
The latest generation of warehouse robots self-navigate
maintenance that avoids expensive breakdowns.
through complex structures – aisles, picking locations, sortation areas and the like. Unlike traditional industrial
Wearable technologies such as smart watches are
robots which are designed to perform one task, these
gaining rapid acceptance in warehouses. They are
new robots can perform multiple tasks. And thanks to
designed to replace the RF “gun” currently used by
spatial self-awareness and intelligent motion control
personnel in receiving, picking, packing, cycle
technologies, they can safely work alongside people. In
counting and other activities. These devices are
tests, robot assistants boosted employee productivity by
hands-free, greatly enhancing the mobility of the
as much as 25 percent.
worker – and hence his or her productivity.
Robots also form the basis for automated pallet
Augmented & virtual reality
transportation systems. These systems employ a
Augmented and virtual reality technologies offer a
modular or cellular approach to moving goods
new way in which people can interact with
through palletization and sortation – as opposed to
environments, objects and digital devices. Augmented
the traditional fixed conveyors and sortation setups.
reality (AR) expands physical reality by adding layers
Mobile cells can be reconfigured to meet the needs of
of computer-generated information to the real
the workflow flexibly, reducing the need for
environment. Virtual reality (VR) goes a step further,
expensive, mechanical-physical infrastructure changes.
and creates an entirely new environment.
In the warehouse, AR smart glasses – vision picking –
Mention the term autonomous vehicles (AVs) and
used in tandem with RF and voice-picking functionality
most people think of self-driving trucks or cars.
allow the worker to visualize which location to go to
A growing number of companies, though, are using
next, which items to pick and where to place them on
autonomous vehicles inside their warehouses.
the trolley or cart. They help workers be more productive – on the order of 15 percent in test
These vehicles can drive to and from a destination
applications. They also improve accuracy, all whilst
without employee control or supervision. Unlike their
reducing employee onboarding and training time.
hard-wired predecessors, the new generation of AVs use camera sensors, magnets or navigation lasers to
VR applications are particularly well suited to training
direct their movement. They often are “smart,”
applications. Computer simulation provides immersive
enabling them to work individually and adapt to
training in such jobs as forklift operation, truck driving
warehouse traffic jams or other bottlenecks on the fly,
and order picking, or even responding to a hazardous
to keep goods moving.
material spill or other dangerous situation. Training can occur anywhere – it is not tied to a location and
AVs offer many benefits. In picking operations, for
does not require a special training facility. Nor does it
instance, they drastically reduce worker travel and
require employees to travel to a specific training site.
wait times, bringing inventory to the person. They also
VR, as a result, greatly increases the flexibility and
enable a modular approach to warehouse layout –
immediacy of training, allowing workers to get up to
one that allows fluid reconfiguration of space based
speed faster and more interactively.
on demand, throughput and other factors to continuously optimize the space.
A perfect platform Technology developers constantly look for new markets and
4. IOT & wearables
new applications. Warehousing, with its growing shortage
The Internet of Things (IOT) is best described as an
of workers, appears to be the perfect platform for marrying
ecosystem of dedicated objects—vehicles, items,
man and machine to enhance work, assist workers, and
sometimes buildings – that communicate, sense or
deliver the services companies need to serve their customers.
interact with their internal states or the external environment. IOT includes a communications layer,
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Five Disruptive Warehouse Technologies That You Can't Ignore!