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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

warehousing operations.

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,


Warehouse robotics

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.

Autonomous vehicles

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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DHL - Supply Chain Insight  

Five Disruptive Warehouse Technologies That You Can't Ignore!

DHL - Supply Chain Insight  

Five Disruptive Warehouse Technologies That You Can't Ignore!