If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a warehouse’s ability to adapt is more important than ever. Last year, facilities worldwide had to quickly pivot their processes and make in-the-moment changes to ensure their employees would be safe and their businesses could continue to run.
With the continued influx of online orders, many companies are turning to “smart warehousing” methods to simplify their processes, update outdated systems and increase their overall productivity.
Let’s take a closer look at what smart warehousing entails:
What is “Smart Warehousing?”
Smart warehouses use automated tools or machinery to improve their process, inventory management and employee tasks. Technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things (IoT) devices or material handling tools can be used to collect warehouse performance data, improve employee efficiency and cut down on picking times.
How Will Smart Warehousing Help Me?
Smart warehousing has proven helpful to manufacturing facilities across the world and continues to gain popularity. According to The 2020 Honeywell Intelligrated Automation Investment Study, 48% of companies are using warehouse execution software, 46% are using order picking technology and 44% use other robotic solutions. Honeywell also expects that smart tools like these will be receiving further investments soon.
Additionally, trends have shown that the manufacturing industry continues to move towards “equipment and designs that provide better materials handling within distribution/fulfillment centers.”
Smart warehousing can offer assistance to several areas of your warehousing process, including:
Decreasing human labor costs
Minimizing picking or shipping errors
Reducing the likelihood of employee accidents
Improving overall inventory visibility
Increasing operation efficiencies
Enhancing warehouse productivity data collection and analytics
But before you jump into smart warehousing, it’s important to strategize.
Where Do I Start?
Warehouses become smart a technology at a time. Trying to implement multiple devices at once often results in frustration for both employees and leadership teams. That’s why it’s essential to have an overarching plan for a smart warehouse transition.
The plan should outline what technologies you plan to implement and a change management process to ensure that employees understand how to use new systems. Letting people become comfortable with one technology before implementing another simplifies the process.
What Technologies Make a Smart Warehouse?
As technology has advanced, so has its application in warehousing. For example, with the right tools, employees may no longer need to walk up and down aisles looking for items or waste the time of several team members trying to hoist up large products. They can do this quickly and efficiently with tools like picking systems and industrial manipulators.
Let’s take a look at five more common technologies used in smart warehouses.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
If you don’t have a digital warehouse management system (WMS), that’s the place to start. A WMS is made up of software, hardware, and processes that allow warehouses to manage operations from the time materials arrive until they are shipped out. Centralizing the information makes tracking inventory, pulling goods and shipping products more efficient. A WMS controls many warehouse functions, making it possible for better data-driven decisions to be made. A quality WMS should be at the core of your smart warehouse.
Once you choose the right WMS, your team can expand and find additional technologies you need that are compatible with your system. Transitioning to a digital WMS also allows you to transition from a paper-based management system, which could be holding your warehouse back)
As warehouses continue to keep employees safe while staying busy, we’re likely to see an increase in technology wearables. These can be a helpful tool for leadership teams to monitor productivity and steps while still enforcing social distancing among employees.
For example, tech wearables can be a game-changer for your picking process. Employees wear headsets with a microphone connected to voice-activated technology. This allows employees to receive picking information via an automated voice without needing to circle back or refer to paperwork.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Labels were once the method of choice for storing and finding products. Later, bar codes were added to the mix, allowing employees to quickly scan items to accept, distribute, store and ship them. Now, instead of labels or barcodes, warehouses are placing RFID tags on packages as soon they enter the warehouse.
Once a tag is placed on an item, no one has to walk the floor to find a product. Instead, employees can scan the area for specific digital tags. The receiving device collects the data, showing the number, quantity, and location of items. Using RFID technology saves employees time and energy trying to locate specific goods.
When employees count boxes or pick items, there’s room for human error. They may lose count, skip a picking item or count a product twice. With RFID tags, those errors are minimized. By scanning the warehouse floor, employees can even identify if items are placed in the wrong area of the warehouse. (Of course, making sure that your inventory is kept well-organized makes it easier to pull and ship goods.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) allows internet-connected devices to communicate with other devices or systems to share data. When combined with other systems, IoT devices can provide a comprehensive view of the warehouse floor. By feeding sensor data back to a centralized system, IoT devices can identify temperature or humidity changes that might damage the stored items.
IoT sensors can monitor environmental factors to ensure products are stored correctly. These sensors can also report the status of warehouse equipment such as balancers and manipulators. The data can also be sent to a warehouse management system (WMS) for diagnostic checks.
Following the theme of enhancing employee efficiency productivity and lessening human error, we’re likely to see more companies adopting industrial manipulators in 2021. These machines will come in handy as warehouses continue to strive towards optimization and lower injury risks.
Industrial manipulators are frequently used when:
A product is too heavy for a person to move manually
A product must be moved to a location that is not easily or quickly accessible for a person to reach, like a very tall shelf
A person will be put at risk for injury if they move a product manually
A person will quickly fatigue from moving products manually
A high volume of product must be moved in a timely fashion
Industrial manipulators can be customized according to your warehouse’s unique needs and allow your employees to put their focus on more critical tasks than material handling (while keeping them safer as well).
Smart warehousing’s purpose is simple – to make your job easier. The technologies it provides are proven to boost your facility’s production, lessen employee burnout, keep your employees safer and save you money in the process.
While exploring smart transition, you may find that industrial manipulators could be a crucial asset in improving your facility’s operations. If you’re ready to discuss which material handling device could be right for you, contact us today.
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