Warehouse operations are an essential part of every manufacturing and retail operation. And there’s a close correlation between customer satisfaction and an efficiently-run warehouse. The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for eCommerce growth, with nearly 20% of retail sales now taking place online, compared to just 15% in 2019.
Traditionally, companies would store their inventory in large, open warehouses and devise processes to sort, store, retrieve, and ship items as needed. But the fast pace of growth in the industry, demand for a higher level of service, and continuing supply chain issues have created a series of challenges for online sellers and logistics companies. Many are finding that smart warehousing solutions improve operations and enable the organization to make more informed business decisions.
Here is what you need to know about smart warehousing and five ways your business can make its warehouse smarter.
What is a “Smart Warehouse”?
A smart warehouse is a warehouse that has implemented various technology solutions to automate and improve accuracy, productivity, and efficiency. This provides additional capabilities to the operation, gives it more flexibility, reduces errors, and improves the customer experience.
In a manual warehouse, workers move around with task lists, store items away, pick products, pack them for shipping, and deliver them to different places. But, in a smart warehouse, various parts of this process are automated and/or integrated with technology solutions.
Key Features of a Smart Warehouse
Smart warehouse systems use a variety of interconnected technologies to improve efficiency. If you are considering implementing some of these solutions to improve your results, here are several of the main features of a smart warehouse:
- Agile Warehouse Management - Warehousing is much more complex than it was just a few short years ago. Companies have had to pivot in response to supply chain troubles and find ways to manage labor issues and growth. Smart warehousing solutions are agile in that they can work with a variety of sales systems, platforms, and other warehousing functionalities.
- Warehouse Scalability - eCommerce is growing by leaps and bounds, meaning there is also a pressing need for more warehouse space and logistics capabilities. Smart warehouse solutions are easily scalable so that a company can react quickly to seasonal or other growth factors without experiencing slowdowns in operations.
- Warehouse Visibility - Data visibility has become essential now that supply chain issues are commonplace and warehouse operations are more complex. Warehouse owners want real-time data about products, and customers want the same about their orders. A smart warehouse allows these interested parties access to this information for a variety of purposes.
5 Ways to Make Your Warehouse Smarter
Having a smart warehouse can mean different things for your business. But it should increase efficiency and improve your results. Here are five ways your business can make its current warehouse “smarter.”
1. Warehouse Management System (WMS)
The foundation of most smart warehousing systems is a warehouse management system (WMS). A WMS is a technology solution that allows your business to keep track of your warehouse’s day-to-day operations. It includes modules for inventory tracking, picking, packing, shipping, and more.
When your warehouse implements a WMS, it can reduce order fulfillment time because it will have greater visibility into order activity and the entire inventory and logistics system. It can also improve accuracy by automating various aspects of storing, picking, packing, and shipping with the integration of other automation solutions.
2. Automated Picking Tools
One of the most time-consuming and error-prone tasks in a large warehouse is order picking. In high-volume warehouses, picking is a labor-intensive process and one that can benefit from automation.
Automated warehouse picking solutions can reduce or eliminate walking time by workers as wells as support accurate picking and packing of orders. There are a variety of options that integrate with your existing WMS. For example, your worker can collaborate with a robotic system that moves swiftly around the warehouse to pull items.
3. Mobile and Voice Solutions
Warehouses are fast-paced environments that no longer lend themselves to management via clipboard or desktop computer. Today’s logistics companies are boosting efficiency by leveraging mobile and voice solutions that allow workers to access data and get tasks done simultaneously.
Mobile carts, smartphones, wireless headsets, and eyeglass technology are freeing workers from the constraints of stationary hubs. Workers outfitted with these solutions can receive instructions on the fly and communicate back to the WMS without having to stop to enter data into a spreadsheet or check something off on a form.
4. Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to an online network of objects and devices that communicates with each other and shares data. In a smart warehouse system, this means that all automation systems, like robots, can communicate with other connected systems in the warehouse, such as the warehouse management system (WMS).
As an example, your warehouse might receive a shipment of products. Those products can be marked with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Using a mobile cart, the items are scanned with an RFID scanner, which allows the WMS to record the incoming inventory. That inventory is then directed to its proper storage place in the warehouse.
Without using an IoT solution, a human worker would have to complete all of these tasks manually. Considering the massive amount of data involved, this is a time-consuming task that is prone to human error.
5. Artificial Intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) has exploded in every industry. The main reason for using it in warehousing is the potential to increase efficiency and reduce errors.
AI-powered solutions can determine the most efficient route in your warehouse to pick products and the best methods for packaging shipments based on their weight and size. When you have space constraints, AI can help you optimize the space you have. Finally, an AI-powered system can also analyze historical data to predict potential issues related to over or understocking, shipping delays, or labor issues so that you can make better business decisions.
Technology in every sector of the economy is progressing rapidly. To keep up, warehouses need to be equipped with solutions that allow them to meet the demands of consumers and business partners. Instead of a complete warehouse re-design, you can implement the right smart warehouse solutions that will enable you to achieve the efficiencies and cost savings you need.