E-commerce is at an all-time high, with consumers making regular online purchases and expecting next- or even same-day delivery. This demand for immediacy is pushing us into the “now economy” and often causing tremendous supply chain disruption. Meanwhile, there is a shortage of workers, constant technological advancements to master and a need for greater transparency. These pressures are forcing supply chain executives to rethink warehousing to achieve optimal order accuracy for customers.
At Ryder, we’ve done our research and found that building a smart warehouse is a proven way to provide value for users and truly set apart a business from its competition. For a warehouse to be dubbed “smart,” it must be automated; provide real-time visibility; be agile, as relates to space, staff and software; scale to respond to needs instantaneously; take a web-driven approach to running the business; and maintain focus on delivering a customer-centric experience. These key attributes can be brought to life by properly implementing
- robotics and automation
- wearable and mobile technology
- sensors and automatic identification tools
- drones and artificial intelligence
- warehouse control and execution systems.
Robotics and automation. Autonomous mobile robots and forklifts, transporters, tuggers, and assembly line vehicles all provide a safe, efficient and reliable way of moving goods in a warehouse. They also improve productivity, transparency and customer service levels. Ryder has found that autonomous forklifts and robots, in particular, significantly reduce travel time, freeing up employees to focus on more complex tasks.
Wearables and mobile technology. These solutions support core processes, such as shipping, receiving, routing, inventory management, picking and replenishment. They include smart phones, tablets, glasses, scanners and head-mounted systems that provide employees convenient and instant access to tools and information anywhere in the warehouse. For example, a headset that is in a warehouse employee’s field of vision at all times enables that worker to scan a product completely hands-free, replacing the need for a handheld scanner. Headsets have been proven to increase picking process efficiency by 20 percent in one of Ryder’s customer warehouses.
Sensors and automatic identification tools. To track, trace, consolidate inventory, and monitor and manage events and security, the solution is now as simple as implementing sensors and identification tools in the warehouse. This type of technology automatically locates and profiles supply chain objects to capture and communicate data across the network. The best part is that it’s cost-effective and easily implemented. For example, a Bluetooth sensor requires a simple Wi-Fi connection, and, once employed, it consistently measures utilization and operational efficiency, creating opportunities for training and learning.
Drones. Aerial drones are extremely valuable when it comes to the facility and inventory management, as well as security. Drones can travel through facilities and outside yards to map the warehouse and update data on inventory and facility conditions. Users can create and alter rack patterns for pallets, and a drone will follow that pattern. Using a joystick, minor adjustments on the flight pattern are easy to enter as needed. With an aerial drone, for instance, more than 100 bar codes on pallets can be captured in just 20 minutes.
Warehouse control and execution systems. It’s no longer enough to simply have a warehouse management system to manage distribution activities. The generation of so much data and the real-time nature of the modern technologies previously mentioned call for warehouse control and execution systems. These solutions integrate all of the automation within a warehouse with the business processes in enterprise resources planning systems and material handling equipment. The results include better support of distribution and logistics activities, a cadence of activity that maximizes processes based on the key data being collected, and constant optimization of technology and labor assets.
The concept of time being of the essence is taking on a whole new meaning for today’s supply chains. Given the levels of disruption we’re seeing in this era of heightened e-commerce, smart warehouses are becoming absolutely essential. It is a cost- and time-intensive undertaking, but certainly well worth the investment. The “now economy” is only going to intensify.