Photo by Adrian Sulyok on Unsplash
Warehousing is one of the most innovative and exciting business spaces. Companies are constantly using it to trial and test new technologies and ideas, hoping to make breakthroughs that will make enterprises considerably more profitable.
This year is no different. We’ve seen an enormous number of new trends emerging from the woodwork, each of which seems to be better than the last. Robots, technical automation, new software, and AI are all having a massive impact on the industry.
The changes are so rapid that regulators are struggling to keep up. Warehousing is evolving from being something low-tech and low-skilled to a much higher-value-added operation.
But what’s going on, precisely? Let’s take a look.
Much More Reliance On Robots
One of the most prominent trends in warehousing is the increasing use of automation and robotics to perform various tasks, such as picking, packing, and sorting. These tasks usually require significant human labor, but that is diminishing, with regular workers playing more of a supervisory role.
Automation and robotics offer a host of benefits for businesses, including enhanced accuracy, safety, and cost-efficiency. It also helps to deal with the problem of labor scarcity, something that’s affecting more countries than ever before. Firms need more workers to satisfy demand, but it is difficult to find them.
Numerous examples of automation and robotics technologies for warehouses exist already and companies are implementing them. These include:-
- Robotic process automation (RPA), can automate repetitive and rule-based tasks, such as data entry, invoicing, or inventory management.
- Robotic arms and grippers can manipulate goods with precision and flexibility.
- Automated conveyor systems, can move goods along predefined paths within the warehouse or to other destinations.
The cool thing about these technologies is that they all benefit from advances in AI. Now that computer systems can recognize objects and learn how to operate servos and motors optimally, it becomes far easier for these machines to perform useful tasks.
Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning
On this topic, AI is having a significant impact on the warehouse sector. Smart software is allowing firms to automate more tasks and get more done. AI and machine learning can analyze large amounts of data from various sources, such as RFID tags, sensors, and cameras. They can then use that data to make predictions or recommendations. This approach can then enhance business operations, helping operators become more profitable and provide customers with better service.
For instance, AI and machine learning can help with:-
- Inventory optimization systems, which can determine the optimal inventory levels and replenishment strategies for goods based on demand forecasts and lead times
- Warehouse management systems that show colleagues how to arrange inventory optimally
- Quality control systems for detecting defects or anomalies in goods using computer vision or natural language processing
- Chatbots or other virtual assistants to improve customer service and provide colleagues with assistance during troubleshooting operations.
Integrated Floor Plans
We’re also seeing warehouses think more carefully about their floor plans and how their colleagues can access different parts of the operation. Companies are investing in strategies that enable them to move goods in and out of their facilities easily.
Integrated floor plans began with loading bays. However, Crystal Rubber, a PVC strip curtain supplier for warehouses says that it’s now possible to divide warehouses into many more seamless zones for more efficient operation. Firms can separate internal and external spaces with flaps instead of doors, allowing vehicles, people, and forklift trucks to move in and out seamlessly.
Internet Of Things
Photo by Adrian Sulyok on Unsplash
While the Internet of things might not have made it into the general economy yet, it is certainly a part of the warehousing sector, playing a significant role. IoT and cloud computing can facilitate real-time data collection, making it easier for firms to analyze their position on the fly. It also helps with processing and consumer safety because firms can track each unit as it makes its way through the system, reducing the risk of fraud and counterfeiting, which is so common in complex supply chains.
For instance, IoT enables:-
- RFID tags that can store and transmit information about the identity and history of goods in transit
- Smart devices embedded in products, such as NFC, can transmit data about products and inform operators about any tampering
- Cloud platforms that can host various applications or services for warehousing operations on-demand using a pay-per-use model
The Internet of Things has the potential to connect everything that companies do together. It makes it possible to track all units in the production space, even if they are currently awaiting transit with a different supplier. Firms can feel confident the goods they supply are the genuine article and come from high-quality sources.
Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles are also finding a niche in warehouse operations. These inexpensive robots can fly around warehouses and scan inventory, making it easier for managers to perform stock takes.
Drones may also facilitate the movement of goods between depots, ready for shipment. While they might not deliver to people’s homes just yet, they are much more useful in a controlled space on private property. Owners may use them for internal goods movement because of their high speed and ability to work in swarms to get jobs done quickly and efficiently, without the need to design warehouse spaces around them.
These are just a few of the trends currently transforming warehousing. It’s entirely possible that future operations will only require a handful of people to oversee, and that robots and computers will do most of the work. Some enterprises, such as JD.com, already have warehouses that are almost entirely automated. That number will expand significantly over the coming years as more firms jump on board and get accustomed to the technology.
How much the technology will develop will depend on how affordable it becomes versus human operators. While the technology to fully automate warehouses might exist today, relatively few firms have actually gone ahead and done it, mainly because of the cost. However, that’s set to change over the coming years, and robots and software become more capable and cost less.