Technology in all sectors of the economy is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and warehouses must keep up with the pace of production, manufacture, and consumer demand. To do this, they must be equipped with the latest technologies to ensure improved productivity, efficiency, and accuracy. Smart warehouses are automated to give employees the flexibility and capability to meet their processes.
Let’s take a look at the technologies you should be using in your smart warehouse, and how to keep them flexible, functional, and effective.
Why Automate Your Warehouse?
Automating your warehouse offers a range of benefits, including reduced human error, lower risk of injury, optimized throughput, reduced overhead costs, flexible hours of operation, and the ability to accurately assess workforce requirements.
1. Warehouse Management System
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) consolidates all of your critical warehouse data into one easily accessible platform, giving select members of your supply chain a comprehensive view of your operations, rapid reporting, real-time statistics, and precise planning capabilities.
The WMS should be integrated with your other automated processes to provide the following advantages:
• Real-time access to quality data, giving you increased visibility throughout your supply chain
• Accurate demand forecasting
• Reduced labour costs due to efficient labour allocation
• Streamlined warehouse processes
• Optimized warehouse layout
• Improved inventory accuracy
• Improved pick accuracy
• Decreased time between picks
• Improved warehouse flexibility and responsiveness
• Improved warehouse safety and security
• Improved supplier relationships
• Improved customer service levels
• The ability to implement an ongoing optimization strategy
2. Automated Picking Tools
We have worked with several companies who have progressed through the stages of pick technology evolution – from paper to automated tools. Automated picking tools can help to reduce the time taken to pick orders, improve accuracy, and reduce the risk of injury.Pick technology evolution – from paper to RF – and seen huge improvements in productivity and accuracy. In high-volume, high-labour cost distribution centers, picking is either performed or aided by using material handling equipment such as put-to-light, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and goods-to-man.
Your warehouse can benefit from near-perfect picking rates with the inclusion of automated picking elements into your warehouse operations. There are a variety of different tools within this grouping, such as voice automated picking and pick-to-light, that can help streamline your warehouse operations. These tools can improve picking by making it faster, improving labor allocation, and reducing human error. Instead of manually having to calculate the best locations, storage media, and pick paths for stock, your WMS can do all the heavy lifting for you.
3. Automated Guided Vehicles
AGVs are an efficient way to ramp up your storage and retrieval process, in put away, loading, and stock take. AGVs are self-guided and can include forklifts and pallet carts, which follow digital paths through the facility to quickly and accurately load and unload pallets, boxes, and other containers.
These vehicles can be implemented in your warehouse without a complete overhaul of your layout and systems, with the ability to add and expand your AGV complement as required, in line with the growth of your business.
4. Automated Inventory Control Platforms
What do you rely on for inventory logging, cycle counting, and stock take? If you are still using pen and paper for these processes, you are not alone: One report published in 2018 that 41% of warehouse facilities still relied on this manual cycle-counting process.
Automated inventory control platforms are essential for efficient inventory logging, cycle counting, and stock take. Unfortunately, many warehouse facilities still rely on manual processes, such as pen and paper, which are notoriously prone to errors in data, transcription, and consistency, leading to disruption in operations. By implementing an inventory control platform with the use of asset and inventory tags, you can automate stock counting and quickly synthesize data for real-time, accurate reporting that can be accessed remotely.
5. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an overarching concept that informs how you control all the moving parts of your warehouse. By leveraging the IoT, you can reduce risk and avoid mistakes or accidents that can create losses in the supply chain through early detection. Sensors in the warehouse can monitor temperature, moisture, and other conditions, while data coming from shipping conveyances, vehicles, and the products themselves can be combined to reduce theft, counterfeiting, diversion, and spoilage. Whether automated or manual, the IoT system synchronises all of your data in an easy-to-access network, helping to optimise your inventory control, labour planning, and customer experience through streamlined processes and improved turnaround time.
6. Robots, or “Cobots”,
Collaborative Robots, or “Cobots”, are fully autonomous and robotic technologies that require a sizable investment and infrastructure overhaul. However, they are a great addition to a busy warehouse, as they are designed to work with your existing associates, not without them. Warehouses using these technologies can often keep most of their existing processes and infrastructure designs while benefiting from increased efficiency and productivity.