Key Digital Technologies for a Smart Warehouse

Written by Leong Jian Jie, ADLSM

by Leong Jian Jie, ADLSM

Key Digital Technologies for a Smart Warehouse

Written by Leong Jian Jie, ADLSM

by Leong Jian Jie, ADLSM

by Leong Jian Jie, ADLSM

A smart warehouse is the culmination of warehouse automation. In other words, automating various components of your warehousing operations. Like a smart home, a smart warehouse is enabled with several automated and interconnected technologies. These technologies work together to increase the productivity and efficiency of the warehouse, minimizing the number of human workers while decreasing errors.

As Royce Digital explains, “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”.

A Smart Warehouse

Ostensibly, the world of smart warehousing can be a difficult one to navigate, especially once you take the time to consider on the rate with which new products are being introduced to the market. This article discusses the most popular products and processes that are essential for smart warehouse technologies.

1. Automated Picking Tools
2. Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
3. Automated Inventory Control Platforms
4. Warehouse Management Systems
5. Internet of Things (IoT) Implementation
6. Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
7. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

Some of these technologies you may have heard of whilst some of which you may have not.

Automated Picking Tools

Long gone are the days of the error-riddled picking; now, warehouses can benefit from near-perfect picking rates when picking automation elements are integrated into the flow. There are a few varieties of different tools that can be used to boost picking procedures, such as the voice automated order picking, robotic order picking, and pick-to-light. These technologies can also make use of cutting-edge barcoding options that integrate seamlessly with your chosen management software for the fastest, most accurate automated reporting experiences.

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

There’s no better way to ramp up your storage and retrieval processes than to integrate automatic guided vehicles, otherwise known as AGVs, into your warehouse. The structural integrity of AGVs are evolving as the technology moves forward, but even the models that have been on the market for some time have proven to be safer and yield a quicker ROI than the manual labor. Some of their most important functions include pallet, rack, and other container storage, and even functions that control and automate the whole entire receiving process.

Automated Inventory Control Platforms

When used in conjunction with a handful of other technological mainstays, such as asset and inventory tags, automated inventory control platforms are implemented to take the labor, guesswork, and extraneous time out of traditional inventory control. To sweeten the deal, most of these platforms are built to automatically count the inventory and synthesize the data for fast, real-time, and ultra-accurate reporting that can be accessed remotely.

Warehouse Management Systems

Warehouse Management Systems, otherwise known as WMSs, are comprehensive software systems that wrangle all your important data into one platform that can be easily accessed by internal players as well as any chosen members of your supply chain. This compartmentalizing of data makes for lightning-fast reporting which, when used tactfully, can mean uber-efficient planning, even for the scenarios that you didn’t see coming. All in all, the use of warehouse management – or warehouse execution – systems perfectly complements other automated elements.

Internet of Things (IoT) Implementation

You may have seen commercials and also online advertising for everything from predictive maintenance to home automation using IoT. It is a simple, largely intuitive concept that is helping to digitally transform the supply chain and the way that consumers live. From home automation in smart homes to smart cities and DDOS attacks, IoT is in the news frequently these days.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is more of an overarching concept than an individual technology, but it is regularly put into place in the world’s most effective smart warehouses. When IoT is utilized to control a plethora of moving parts, both the automated and manual, it can optimize all of your processes so that their data lives in one, easy-to-access network. This helps us to optimize a warehouse’s inventory control procedures, labor planning, and, of course, its overall customer experience through more rapid fulfillment rates.

Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

A cobot, or “collaborative robot” is specially designed to ease human-machine interface and enhance security. These machines also can work with human workers in the same areas and manage risks thanks to their sensitivity and also the programming.

Through machine learning applications, programming robots will become really easy for anyone, giving much more flexibility than before. A picker would just have to “show” the moves once to the robot and then he could repeat it.
Multitask machines will appear, being placed in the warehouse only where needed.

For repetitive activities such as loading pallets and packing, this kind of machine could be helpful for human workers. They will be specially designed to work together with humans and not to replace them. It is not always feasible for every warehouse to immediately embrace such technology, especially considering that this implementation requires sizable funds and infrastructure changes. That is why more and more warehouses are embracing collaborative robots, or cobots, autonomous elements that are built to work with your existing associates, not without them.

Cobots allow warehouses to keep many of their own processes and infrastructure design choices intact while still benefiting from the optimized workflow that fully autonomous elements provide

• Enhanced security in a robotic environment
• Highly flexible on “self-learning” machines
• Automate picking for loose items and complex shape
• Reduced picking error rate/Improve on picking rate

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

Automated storage and retrieval systems have been around for years, and though they have already done their job of improving throughput and accuracy, they have often been regarded as being expensive, clunky, and generally inflexible. Having said that, today’s AS/RS’s are only getting sleeker and still tout all their original benefits–reduced labor costs/restraints, modular possibilities, and, of course, increased accuracy. There is no need to complete a comprehensive overhaul of your warehouse to make it smarter and more efficient; instead, introduce the technologies that can make sense for your business and all its processes first. Then, you will see that any warehouse can become a “smart” warehouse.

• There is a very high volume of loads being moved into and out of storage
• Storage density is very important because of space constraints
• No value is added in this process (no processing, only storage and transport)
• Accuracy is critical because of the potential expensive damages to the load

Conclusion

Technology is an ever-evolving and ever-influential part of our everyday lives. It is advancing so quickly that it can be difficult for us to predict what is coming next. This sentiment is particularly true regarding the fields of warehousing, distribution, and logistics. If you purchase, or influence purchases, within your operation, you would have been aware of the emerging “smart warehouse”. Once regarded as a buzzword, or even a far-fetched pipe dream, the smart warehouse is becoming a reality, backed by ready-to-purchase technologies that are changing the way warehouses do business.

References


Ann Chong Fong Ting, DPSM. (2018). “Warehouse Technologies for Effective Inventory Control”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/warehouse-technologies-effective-inventory-control, accessed 15/03/2019.

Datex. (2019). “IoT and the Smart Warehouse”. Retrieved from https://www.datexcorp.com/iot-and-the-smart-warehouse, accessed 15/03/2019.

Helmi Salleh, ADLSM. (2019). “Autonomous Devices For Digital Warehousing”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/autonomous-devices-digital-warehousing, accessed 15/03/2019.

SelectHub. (2019). “What are Smart Warehouse System”. Retrieved from https://selecthub.com/warehouse-management/smart-warehouse-systems, accessed 15/03/2019.

Shelly Stazzone. (2019). “7 Smart Warehouse Technologies”. Retrieved from https://www.camcode.com/asset-tags/smart-warehouse-technologies, accessed 15/03/2019.

The Future Warehouse. (2019). “Cobots – Collaborative Robots”. Retrieved from https://www.thefuturewarehouse.com/cobots, accessed 15/03/2019.

About the Author: Leong Jian Jie has several years of experiences in the fashion wholesale industry, specifically in luxury goods production and supply management. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Jian Jie holds a Diploma in Supply Chain Management. He completed a leadership course, the Advanced Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (ADLSM), in April 2019 at SIPMM Institute.

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