Nine Technologies to Boost Warehouse Productivity

Written by Jon Goh Woon Keong, DLSM

by Jon Goh Woon Keong, DLSM

Nine Technologies to Boost Warehouse Productivity

Written by Jon Goh Woon Keong, DLSM

by Jon Goh Woon Keong, DLSM

by Jon Goh Woon Keong, DLSM

Warehousing is in the midst of a tech-driven revolution as companies race to identify and adopt emerging technologies that cut costs, optimize operations and improve overall supply chain efficiency. In some of the largest economies and companies, warehouse drones and robots already have been employed.

It’s not just logistics giants who are adopting innovative tech-based solutions. With the cost of automation falling, increasing numbers of SMEs and start-ups are investing in these efficient technologies. This article discusses the top nine technologies that are shaking up the traditional warehousing scene.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)

Automated storage and retrieval systems have been around for years, and though they have 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 out all of their original benefits–reduced labor costs/restraints, modular possibilities, and, of course, increased accuracy. You do not need to complete a comprehensive overhaul of your warehouse to make it smarter and more efficient; instead, introduce the technologies that make sense for your business and all of its processes first. Then, you will see that any warehouse can become a “smart” warehouse.

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

There is 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 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 manual labor. Some of their most important functions include pallet, rack, and other container storage, and even functions that control and automate the entire receiving process.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Warehouse Management Systems, otherwise known as WMSs, are comprehensive software systems that wrangle all of 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 do not see coming. All in all, the use of warehouse management – or warehouse execution – systems perfectly complements other automated elements.

Robotic Palletizers

Robotic palletizers were introduced in the early 1980s and have an End-of-Arm Tool (EoAT) to grab the product from a conveyor and position it onto a pallet. The EoAT is often custom-designed to handle one or more specific products.

Robotic palletizing systems are capable of dispensing and conveying pallets, metering cases on the product infeed and utilizing robotics to palletize cases and apply slip sheets where required. Additional components of a robotic palletizer are infeed conveyors that deliver products to the robot, pallet dispensers that automatically deliver a single pallet to the robot from a stack of pallets, and outfeed conveyors that take pallets with full stacks away from the robot.

These solutions also employ automatic slip sheet or tier sheet dispensers and safety devices such as fencing and light curtains. At the end of most palletizing systems is an automatic stretch wrapper. Douglas will purchase and integrate most stretch wrappers.

Automatic Stretch Wrapping Machine

Packaging is the final step of your production line, but the first thing that your customers see after your products are delivered. Efficiency and consistency are the two most important elements of any successful packaging.

Good stretch wraps will protect your pallets from dust, damage and other forms of tapering. Although wrapping pallets isn’t complicated, hand stretch wrapping causes inconsistencies. Companies are now finding it easier to invest in stretch wrapping machines that can comply with their unique daily operations.

Picking Robotics

Automated warehouse picking is the implementation of robotic or semi-robotic technologies that enhance the work of human pickers. Though there is a wide range of options to choose from in the realm of automated warehouse picking, the most efficient automation tools work with your team members and can be easily integrated into existing warehouse processes quickly and seamlessly.

Automated warehouse picking can also reduce the walking time and shorten picking routes, integrate with your existing WMS and support accurate picking and packing. It can be used in a broad spectrum of industries, including e-commerce, manufacturing, retail, transportation, food and beverage, medical equipment and more.

Drone Technology

Drone technology is more often associated with outside activities. However, drones can also be used internally to a business, such as in a warehouse. Technologists have developed a system that allows aerial drones to read RFID tags tens of meters away.

The technology comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it could save retailers billions lost through faulty inventory records. The drones have been equipped to read radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags’ locations. The equipped drone system has the potential to be used in large warehouses in order to prevent inventory mismatches and locate individual items.

RFID Technology

RFID is an acronym for “radio-frequency identification” and refers to a technology whereby digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels are captured by a reader via radio waves. RFID is similar to barcoding in that data from a tag or label are captured by a device that stores the data in a database. RFID have taken away much of that administration effort, by allowing operatives to simply scan a pick face and enter picked quantities on a keypad. More advanced solutions even eliminate the data entry altogether, leaving the operative to concentrate solely on the actual picking. Scanning technologies have had a similar impact in other areas of warehouse operation, such as receiving, put-away, and dispatch.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The internet of things, or IoT, is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

A thing in the internet of things can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and is able to transfer data over a network.
The IoT offers a number of benefits to organizations, enabling them to:

• Monitor their overall business processes
• Improve the customer experience
• Save time and money
• Enhance employee productivity
• Integrate and adapt business models
• Make better business decisions, and
• Generate more revenue.

Conclusion

Industrial robots are a mainstay in production environments and they function as a dependable tool to assist workers in their daily operations. These robots are capable of performing applications based on what it has been programmed to do, such as pick-and-place, machine tending or palletizing. The human operator holds the responsibility of programming the robot and installing it based on the needs of the assembly line on the production floor.

In conclusion, the use of technology in warehouse operation is dependent on the type of goods that are to be stored in the warehouse. This also depends on the willingness of companies to invest in technology, so as to increase their productivity and reduce human error. It is important for companies to understand their criteria for a suitable technology, and that warehouse operator are properly trained on the use of such technology.


References

Agility (2019). “9 New Warehouse Technologies”.Retrieved from: https://www.agility.com/en/technology-news/warehousing-on-the-edge-9-new-warehouse-technologies/, accessed 15/03/2019.

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

Fergal Glynn. (2019). “What is automated warehouse picking?” Retrieved from: https://6river.com/what-is-automated-warehouse-picking/, accessed 15/03/2019.

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

Jill Lahman. (2018). “Robotic Palletizers: What Are They & How Do They Improve Productivity?” https://www.douglas-machine.com/robotic-palletizers-what-are-they-how-do-they-improve-productivity/, accessed 15/03/2019.

Mat Bedard. (2017). “8 Benefits of Using an Automatic Stretch Wrapping Machine”. Retrieved from: http://www.planautomation.com/blog/8-benefits-of-using-an-automatic-stretch-wrapping-machine, accessed 15/03/2019.

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

Tim Sandle. (2017). “Using drones in large warehouses to prevent inventory mismatches” Retrieved from:
http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/technology/using-drones-in-large-warehouses-to-prevent-inventory-mismatches/article/504812, accessed 15/03/2019.

About the Author: Jon Goh Woon Keong has substantive experiences in the field of warehousing management, specifically in the specialty chemicals sector. He is a member of Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Jon completed the Executive Certificate in Logistics Management (ECLM) course in 2018. He completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) course on March 2019 at SIPMM Institute.

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