Smart Technologies for E-commerce Fulfillment

Written by Eva Chua Bee Hui, DLSM

by Eva Chua Bee Hui, DLSM

In e-commerce sector, the interaction of human and technology is key to success in the evermore competitive market. With the conveniences provided by smart devices, consumers could easily conduct research and make instant purchase through the growing number of e-commerce platforms. Online shopping has become normal consumption for millions of consumers around the world on a daily basis.

At the same time, the evolution of technologies is helping to bring about tremendous improvement to logistics and warehouse management, enabling various modes of collaborative workflows between human and robot. With the smarter technology and warehouse system, fulfilment process is now more efficient and accurate thereby reducing logistics and warehousing errors and improves work quality.

Artificial Intelligence for E-commerce

Artificial intelligence is now deeply embedded in our daily lives. With the rapid growth of AI capability, machines are expected toassist in simple or repetitive tasks, humancould than focus more on things that requires more human ingenuity & creativity.These machines, together with latest 5G technology & connectivity via internet of things, will bring life-changing evolution in the decades to come.The evolution in AI technology in e-commerce will be life & death for all e-commence company in coming years. AI allow organizations to collect and analyze big data in real time, thereby allowing businesses to be more efficient at operation end like inventory andlogistic management, and at the other far end, personalizing customer experience to maximize sales. AI in an automated warehouse will enable machines to learn through experience, standardize new processes, and at the same time continuously improving performance and maximizing efficiency and ultimately profit in the most competitive environment.Artificial intelligence will also expand the potential of automation & robotic application, for example computerizing all fulfilment processes, like accurately lifting, fetching and handling without fatigue.

An Automated Warehouse

In the development of automated warehouses, storage, delivery and requisition work can be realized with minimum human supervising or may even eliminate the need ofhuman involvement. In an automated warehouse, automatic racking structures, for example, will have the system to track even a single item in storage and precious inventory control to eliminate spoilage or damages. The upfront investment cost will be extremely high; however, the substantial improvement of efficient & long-term cost reduction certainly outweighs the cost. Recently Amazon USA had been repeatedly criticized for its labour practice in fulfilment centres throughout United States. Amazon was forced to compromise and improve on the working conditions after labour strike.

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse management system is a comprehensive software system that can organize all the important data into one platform. It can be easily accessed by internal participants and members in the supply chain. This compartmentalizing of data makes lightning-fast reporting, which translate into more efficient planning, even for situations one might not expect. All in all, the use of warehouse management or warehouse execution systems perfectly complement other automation elements.At any point of time, the supply chain may deal with hundreds or even tens of thousands ofinventories from all over the world. With the right warehouse management system implemented, the team, for example could automatically identify the products via RFID technology, and then perform the order fulfillment process at the instant of click of a computer button. In this process, the manual workload can be greatly reduced, increases the efficiency of warehouse management, and reduce picking errors. The application of WMS system starts from receiving, put-away, inventory management, order processing, replenishment, picking / packing and monitoring of the delivery process.

QR Codes and Smart-phones for Inventory Management

QR code is commonly used nowadays. We can quickly and easily access to information by simply scanning the QR code. The storage capacity of the QR code far exceeded the limit of the conventional one-dimensional barcode. Inventory management software that uses QR codes could help track and analyze inventory. In one scan, we can upload more details information than barcode, and spend less time manually entering for customization. It enables better and faster data for inventory management.By implementing QR code system, the warehouse personnel can scan the QR code using designated device or any simple smartphone to check and trackany inventory items. The specific information of the products is automatically identified and simplifies the inventory management procedure.

Automated Picking Technologies

In the logistics industry, will encounter many types of objects, different kinds of objects to manage is a certain difficulty.

A variety of tools can be used to improve the picking process, such as voice picking, robotic order picking, pick-to light etc. These technologies also take advantage of using of barcode that seamlessly integrate with the management software to provide the fastest and most accurate reporting. Fulfilment can be done with the use of robotics, starting with transfer of the products from inventory, to packaging and labelling for final delivery. Picking technology can help to increase efficiency, reduce picking errors, increase accuracy, productivity, flexibility and improve customer service to meet just-in-time order fulfillment.

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs are designed specifically to transport materials in warehouse. They are used in many warehouses and industries to compensatefor the shortages of manpower, reduce labor costs and improve warehouse efficiency. AGVs can significantly reduce damage to goods and industrial accidents in facilities.AGVs come in various versatile forms, it can be functioned with pallets, racks, and other container storage, and even automating the entire receiving process. AGVs are proven to optimize processes and improve efficiency, thereby providing good return of investment (ROI).

AR and VR for E-commerce Fulfillment

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) ccould be used to improve efficiency in the logistics sector. Although the setupcosts associated with AR and VR are relatively high, many companies are reported to strongly believe that they ccouldhave significant savings and improvement of operation efficiency.Use of AR devices, which include a head-up display (HUD) field for warehouse, enables the human operator to improve picking accuracy and productivity. DHL successfully tested the use of AR glass in picking operations in 8 facilities around the world since 2015.

VR systems can be used to design warehouse layouts in advance, ensuring that the operation processes areefficient and practical before implementation. In addition, the AR system can provide information about content, recipients and processing requirements. AR and VR can also be used to train new workers in real logistics situations without affecting current operations.

Photo taken from https://www.itproportal.com/features/what-will-be-the-killer-app-that-takes-vr-ar-and-ai-into-the-business-world/

Last-mile Drone Delivery

A last-miledelivery drone consists of two parts, an advance drone and an intelligent cabinet. It’s unique vertical take-off and landing function combined with high-precision GPS, visual recognition, intelligent flight path planning, fully automatic flight and real-time network connection and scheduling, enables the drone tobe fully automated. This cutting-edge new delivery technology will certainly revolutionize the whole industry when fully implemented. The new drone, which can carry up to five kilogram of cargo per flight, will take off and land even in the busiest urban environment using the latest guidance technology, is designed to be fully autonomous without any human intervention.DHL Express in China has implemented this solution to undertake last-mile delivery in urban areas.This smart solution has greatly enhanced DHL’s delivery capabilities. With this express delivery service solution, DHL can meet the increasing demands for time-sensitive delivery. Although this was just a small-scale experiment, it has already proven to be a working solution with imaginable potential.

Conclusion

Delivery speed is undoubtedly a competitive advantage in the era ofe-commerce. It could be achieved by combining warehousing and distribution services with various smart technology. By combining inventory management, customer communication, analysis, and integration with all major e-commerce platforms,the smart solutioncould also help to streamline the warehouse and logistics process, eliminating costly waste and offers the opportunity to meet customer ever increasing demand of competitive pricing  and speedy delivery.


References

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About the Author: Eva Chua Bee Hui has substantive years of experience in the manufacturing industry, specifically providing administrative support for inventory, operations, and special projects. She is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Eva completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) on December 2020 at SIPMM Institute.

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