Digital Technology for Effective Warehousing

Written by Eddie Kek Chun Beng, ADLSM

When it comes to warehouse management, constant evaluation and adoption of crucial technologies are critical to improve profitability and stay competitive. Today, warehouse managers have a wide array of technologies to choose from as they strive to reduce costs, improve efficiency and streamline operations. They must ensure that goods, materials, and products flow effortlessly by optimizing their warehouse operations using warehouse technologies. What are some of the latest technologies being used in warehouse management today?

Some of the technologies used in warehousing include RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Tracking, Multi-Modal Technology, Voice Directed Warehouse, IoT (Internet of Things), Drones, Robotics, and Warehouse Robotics Technology.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Tracking

For forklift enthusiasts, the digital age has some cutting-edge technologies as well. According to Inbound Logistics, The RFID system saves on labor costs because workers no longer need to manually scan bar codes to identify pallets. RFID or Radio Frequency Identification is a prototypical material handling apparatus. Forklifts are outfitted with an RFID interrogator and a computerized interface picks up a pallet, capturing the tag’s ID. The forklift’s computer communicates with a digital warehouse management system (WMS), which guides forklift operators where to move the pallet. While this may seem trivial and novel, this leads to a great reduction in operating time in large-volume warehouses often found across the United States.

Multi-Modal Technologies

Multimodal human-computer interaction refers to the “interaction with the virtual and physical environment through natural modes of communication”, This implies that multimodal interaction enables a more free and natural communication, interfacing users with automated systems in both input and output. Specifically, multimodal systems can offer a flexible, efficient and usable environment allowing users to interact through input modalities, such as speech, handwriting, hand gesture, and gaze, and to receive information by the system through output modalities, such as speech synthesis, smart graphics, and other modalities, opportunely combined. Then a multimodal system has to recognize the inputs from the different modalities combining them according to temporal and contextual constraints in order to allow their interpretation. This process is known as multimodal fusion, and it is the object of several research works from the nineties to now. The fused inputs are interpreted by the system. Naturalness and flexibility can produce more than one interpretation for each different modality (channel) and for their simultaneous use, and they consequently can produce multimodal ambiguity generally due to imprecision, noises or other similar factors. For solving ambiguities, several methods have been proposed. Finally, the system returns to the user outputs through the various modal channels (disaggregated) arranged according to consistent feedback (fission). The pervasive use of mobile devices, sensors and web technologies can offer adequate computational resources to manage the complexity implied by the multimodal interaction. “Using the cloud for involving shared computational resources in managing the complexity of multimodal interaction represents an opportunity. In fact, cloud computing allows delivering shared scalable, configurable computing resources that can be dynamically and automatically provisioned and released”.

Voice Directed Warehouse

In a voice-directed warehouse, workers wear a headset connected to a small wearable computer, similar in size to a Walkman, which tells the worker where to go and what to do using verbal prompts. Workers confirm their tasks by speaking pre-defined commands and reading confirmation codes printed on locations or products throughout the warehouse. The speech recognition software running on the wearable computer ‘understands’ the workers’ responses.

Voice-directed warehousing is typically used instead of paper- or mobile computer-based systems that require workers to read instructions and scan barcodes or key-enter information to confirm their tasks. By freeing a worker’s hands and eyes, voice-directed systems typically improve efficiency, accuracy, and safety. Whilst VDW was originally used in picking orders, now all warehouse functions such as goods receiving, put-away, replenishment, shipping, and returns processing can be coordinated by voice systems.

Some of the benefits of Voice Directed Picking are as follows:

• Hands-free, eyes-free picking time
• Up to a 35% improvement in picking productivity
• Up to 99.9% picking accuracy
• Reduced operator training
• Direct interface to most WMS
• Rapid return on investment

IoT (Internet of Things)

Data is vital in enhancing the end user consumer experience, but it is just as crucial to the warehousing experience. As items in the supply chain make their way to their destination, they interact with a series of scanners and sensors. Wearable technology is already an option that allows employees within a DC to scan items from a device on their wrist. But with IoT, data is collected from sensors that are stored within the automated machinery itself. Sensors paired with scanning machines can interconnect with a centralized hub, network, smartphone, virtual assistant, and back to a central WMS. Distribution centers can take advantage of the interconnected nature of IoT to monitor their own data, with everything from best storage options to best labor management practices. After all, every bit of optimization results in better customer experience in the end. Real state-of-the-art systems can disseminate and present data in real time to operators so decisions can be made accurately instead of gut feelings or historical knowledge.

Drones for Warehousing

Drones are pieces of tech that have seemingly been pulled from the pages of science fiction and made a reality. Handy for a wide variety of applications, drones are set to make appearances in warehouses globally as firms seek to further increase levels of automation. They can aid with tasks that could require a large number of man-hours. One such use is for barcode scanning, according to drone specialists dronescan. Warehouses are often stacked to the roof with an inventory. This makes certain barcodes tricky to reach and could require the use of a forklift, cage, and staff to scan them. Navigating inside warehouses safely is the final challenge to complete before drones are further adopted. Major companies such as Amazon and Walmart are looking to expand their warehousing operations with drone technology, thus the future is bright for these airborne aids.

Warehouse Robotics Technology

Robots in the warehouse focus on improving productivity, increasing order accuracy, reducing safety incidents, and speeding up cycle times. Companies are exploring the notion of robots in the warehouse. And while the technology is still new, few can argue the merits of infusing mobile, autonomous robots into an environment that would clearly benefit from automation. With the key focus right now on making robots that can differentiate specific items, pick them, and then place them into an order. Driven in part by the tight labor market, all companies are looking for ways to replace and/or augment human capabilities with more automated systems. We’re exploring numerous automated picking solutions that work side-by-side with people, and don’t need to take breaks or sick days. More and more, we’re seeing that these solutions truly pay for themselves and provide high ROI in the warehouse environment.

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Warehousing and supply chain investment has generally been dispensable and deemed laborious and costly. This mindset should be reversed in the future, with better technological innovation and lower costs. Companies should bring their businesses to the forefront by a critical selection of multimodal methods which may be very effective and hence, successful.


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About the Author: Eddie Kek Chun Beng has substantive years of experiences in the field of logistics and warehouse management, specifically in the Aerospace sector. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Eddie holds the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) from SIPMM. He completed a leadership course, the Advanced Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (ADLSM), in April 2019 at SIPMM Institute.