How to turn your warehouse into a smart warehouse?
Warehouses have different operations but generally follow a similar pattern. A typical warehouse will have operations of receiving, putaway, internal replenishment, order picking, accumulating & sorting, packing, cross docking, and shipping. ¹
Recently, there has been a change in customer expectations as new sales outlets are being introduced. With the rise of social media and e-commerce platforms, customers now have more choice than ever- more price options, more selection, many delivery options and shopping experiences. This makes it difficult to keep your customers satisfied and loyal to your business. ²
With technology ever-evolving and becoming more influential in our everyday lives, many warehouses have adopted technology that is changing the way warehouses do business, turning into a Smart Warehouse.³ A Smart Warehouse is where a warehouse automates various components of their operations and is enabled with several interconnected technologies. These technologies work together to increase productivity and efficiency of the warehouse, minimizing the amount of humans workers and errors. ⁴
“In manual warehouses, we usually saw workers moving around with lists, picking products, loading them into carts and then delivering them to the shipping docks,” but in smart warehousing, “Orders are received automatically, after which the system confirms if the products are in stock. The pick-up lists are then sent to robot-carts that place the ordered products into containers and deliver them to workers for the next step.” ⁴
A smart warehouse system forms a technological ecosystem- where goods are received, identified, sorted, organized and pulled for shipment automatically. The best smart warehouses automate almost their entire operation from suppliers to customers with minimal errors.⁵
It has been predicted that by 2030 all warehouses will become smart, using automation and AI in all operations. ⁵
If you want to create your warehouse into a smart warehouse, there are a variety of areas you can focus on to fine-tune your operations. These are automation, flexibility and real-time connection.⁴
When you mention automation, many may have an image of a walking, talking robot that resembles humans- sadly these aren’t working in warehouses yet. However, automation in warehouses does include robots that physically bring product shelves to human workers packing and sorting orders. Essentially they are more manoeuvrable pallet jacks that move faster and move more.⁵ These robots are called AVGs (automated guided vehicle) which follow markers or wires on the floor, or can use vision, magnets or lasers for navigation.² These “robot workers” are actually proven to be a great asset, taking the example of Amazon’s Kiva, productivity of the company has increased because of the AVG's 5 minute charging time, instead of a worker’s 8 hours night of sleep.⁶
Automated picking tools reduce errors and boost picking procedures and could be a great asset to your warehouse too. These could be voice automated order picking, robotic order picking and pick-to-light technologies which all use barcoding that integrates seamlessly with your software for fast reporting.³
Automation doesn’t have to be this big for companies just beginning though. A simple automation can also be implemented such as software- a warehouse management system- that provides alerts for every step along the order process, or automatic billing software that ties warehouse activity together with accounting which can improve efficiency of product production, packing and/ or shipping.⁴
With automated systems implemented in your warehouse, errors and financial losses are predicted to drop taking the average error rate from 15.5% to 9.4% and potentially saving hundreds of thousands pounds each year.⁶
In order to have a truly successful smart warehouse, you must be prepared for rapid changes in your industry or within your customer base. A smart warehouse would have set processes in place for an almost endless list of scenarios, all with the goal of getting the right product in the right place at the right time.⁴
Real- Time Connection
In a smart warehouse you should be able to get real time updates on all activity happening day and night. This is not only beneficial to the company and your employees but also the customers too- they can know what is happening with their order at all times.⁴
The Internet of Things (IoT) involves several internet- enabled devices communicating with each other and sharing data. In a smart warehouse, this means robots can communicate with RFID scanners, which can communicate with conveyors, which communicate with a warehouse management system and so on. Without IoT, a human worker would have to complete all these stages manually which is prone to errors, and is much more time consuming.⁵
Many believe the future of warehouse automation will become even more prevalent, where smart warehouses will dominate the industry. So, is it time for your business to start implementing smart warehouse solutions?
¹ A, R., N. Subramanya, K. and M. Rangaswamy, T. (2012). Impact of Warehouse Management System in a Supply Chain. International Journal of Computer Applications, 54(1), pp.14-20.
² Futch, M. (2017). Rise of the Warehouse Robots. [online] Material Handling and Logistics (MHL News). Available at: https://www.mhlnews.com/technology-automation/rise-warehouse-robots [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
³ Stazzone, S. (2019). 7 Smart Warehouse Technologies to Implement Today - Camcode. [online] Camcode. Available at: https://www.camcode.com/asset-tags/smart-warehouse-technologies/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
⁴ Palmer, H. (2019). What Is a Smart Warehouse? - LTX. [online] LTX. Available at: http://ltxsolutions.com/what-is-a-smart-warehouse/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
⁵ Selecthub.com. (2019). What are Smart Warehouse Systems? | SelectHub. [online] Available at: https://selecthub.com/warehouse-management/smart-warehouse-systems/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
⁶ Young, T. (2017). Warehousing Logistics International. [online] Warehousinglogisticsinternational.com. Available at: https://www.warehousinglogisticsinternational.com/how-will-ai-transform-the-smart-warehouse/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].