Technologies for More Productive Warehousing

Written by Shankar Kumar, DLSM

by Shankar Kumar, DLSM

Technologies for More Productive Warehousing

Written by Shankar Kumar, DLSM

by Shankar Kumar, DLSM

by Shankar Kumar, DLSM

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 the technologies being more productive to warehousing?

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. The picture below shows the self-driving forklifts carrying carton boxes.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Implementing a WMS can help an organization reduce labor costs, improve inventory accuracy, improve flexibility and responsiveness, decrease errors in picking and shipping goods, and improve customer service.

Modern warehouse management systems operate with real-time data, allowing the organization to manage the most current information on activities like orders, shipments, receipts and any movement of goods.

Warehouse design, which enables organizations to customize workflow and picking logic to make sure that the warehouse is designed for optimized inventory allocation. The WMS establishes bin slotting that maximizes storage space and accounts for variances in seasonal inventory. Inventory tracking, which enables the use of advanced tracking systems, including radio-frequency identification (RFID), automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) and barcode scanners to make sure that goods can be found easily when they need to move.

Receiving and put away, which allows inventory to put away and retrieval, often with pick-to-light or pick-to-voice technology to help warehouse workers locate goods. Picking and packing goods, including zone picking, wave picking and batch picking. Warehouse workers can also use lot zoning and task interleaving functions to guide the pick-and-pack tasks in the most efficient way.

Radio Frequency Identification (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 like barcoding in that data from a tag or label are captured by a device that stores the data in a database.

RFID has 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.

The picture below shows the RFID readers scanning the carton boxes as they passed through the conveyor belt.

Here are the top five reasons why RFID should be used in warehouses:

1. Tags do not have to be seen to read data. This means that tracking products or people can happen from anywhere in a specified range which maximizes speed and efficiency.

2. RFID tags can store up to 100 times the data of barcodes, allowing you to keep track of all the data you need for your inventory such as lot and serial number, size, manufacturer, vendor, expiration date, user, location on a production line and anything else you might want to know.

3. Readers can read up to 200 tags at once. This will increase speed and productivity since employees will not need to physically scan each label.

4. The position of each tag is flexible (if they are not blocked by metal or water) since the tag doesn’t need to be physically seen by the reader. For example, you can place tags in boxes or within a pallet.

5. RFID technology is functional inside and outside the warehouse. The technology has the capacity to withstand harsh environments and temperatures, even the tags!

Pick to Voice Warehouse Systems

In a complex and high-intensity warehouse where there are multiple picking locations that require pickers to be fast and accurate, a “pick to voice” or voice-directed system can be implemented to improve picking accuracy and the speed of the pick performed by the warehouse staff.

The voice picking system allows warehouse staff to concentrate on the picking process without looking at paperwork and having both hands free to perform the pick. The original voice picking systems were used where items were not bar-coded such as fresh produce, so a handheld scanner could not be used.

Voice picking gives tremendous advantages over traditional picking solutions in the warehouse. The operator using a voice-directed picking headset does not require paperwork to be reviewed so will be concentrating on the pick they will be performing and the location they are going to. In addition, the voice picking scenario does not require the operator to hold or operate a handheld device to scan barcodes, so they will have both hands free to perform the pick. The voice picking system is more efficient for the warehouse and means that more picks will be performed by the warehouse staff per hour than regular picking. The overall accuracy of the pick is likely to increase as the operator is confirming their pick with the system before it is complete, so the operator knows that they have the correct part.

This picture below shows the Pick-to-Voice order picking.

Barcode System

You see barcodes everywhere – from identification cards, to mail, to goods you purchase in a store. The small image of lines, or bars, and spaces are affixed to nearly everything you can imagine, for identification purposes. Specifically, barcodes use a sequence of vertical bars and spaces that represent numbers and other symbols; typically, a barcode consists of five parts – a quiet zone, a start character, data characters (often including an optional check character), a stop character, and another quiet zone.

Barcoding increases efficiency and productivity in several industries when paired with barcode readers. Barcode readers use laser beams to read the barcodes and translate the reflected light into data that is then transferred to a computer for action or storage. Most people are familiar with barcodes and barcode readers in supermarkets and retail stores. However, barcodes are useful in several other applications, from taking inventory to checking out books, to tracking bees for research. Barcode readers often are attached to computers in retail settings, but they also are handheld and portable for other uses, such as scanning barcodes in warehouses and tracking inventory.

Conclusion

The use of technology in warehouse operations 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 suitable technology, and that warehouse operator is properly trained on the use of such technology.

Inside a Warehouse Where Thousands of Robots Pack Groceries


References

Adam Robinson. (2019). “7 Innovative Warehouse Management Technologies to Adopt”. Retrieved from https://cerasis.com/warehouse-management/, accessed 22/06/2019.

Jon Goh WoonKeong, DLSM. (2018). “Nine Technologies to Boost Warehouse Productivity”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/nine-technologies-boost-warehouse-productivity/#Warehouse_Management_Systems_WMS, accessed 22/06/2019.

Margaret Rouse. (2018). “Warehouse Management System (WMS)”. Retrieved from: https://searcherp.techtarget.com/definition/warehouse-management-system-WMS, accessed 22/06/2019.

Martin Murray. (2018). “Pick to Voice Warehouse Systems”. Retrieved from: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/pick-to-voice-warehouse-systems-2221457, accessed 22/06/2019.

RM Somega. (2019). “The Top 5 Reasons for Using RFID in the Warehouse”. Retrieved from: https://rmsomega.com/the-top-5-reasons-for-using-rfid-in-the-warehouse/, accessed 22/06/2019.

Shelly Stazzone. (2019). “7 Smart Warehouse Technologies to Implement Today”. Retrieved from: https://www.camcode.com/asset-tags/smart-warehouse-technologies/, accessed 22/06/2019.

Winnie Soh Pin Pin, DPSM. (2019). “Five Essential Technologies for Inventory Control in a Warehouse Contract”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/five-essential-technologies-inventory-control-warehouse-contract/, accessed 22/06/2019.

About the Author: Shankar Kumar has several years of experiences in the field of warehousing and logistics management, specifically in the semiconductor industry. Shankar is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). He completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) on June 2019 at SIPMM Institute.

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