As we get ready to welcome a new year, it’s time to take a look at new strategies and ideas to enhance your warehouse productivity and efficiency. It’s a given that warehouse management plays a vital role in the supply chain, but businesses often overlook simple solutions that can help them stay ahead of the game.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and increased international tensions have impacted businesses and countries around the world, supply chains have experienced massive shifts over the past year. To try to keep up, warehouse teams and logistics companies have evolved their processes and leveraged various technology solutions.
If your business wants to keep up with the pace of change and be able to rapidly adapt to future disruptions, now would be an excellent time to take a look at warehouse automation. Here are some of the top trends in warehouse automation to inspire your efforts in the coming year.
1. Industrial IoT
If your warehouse systems haven’t entered the 21st century, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Most of today’s products (cars, appliances, TVs, phones, factory machines, etc.) are embedded with software, sensors, processing ability, and other technology that connects and exchanges data over the internet or internal communication networks. This is called the Internet of Things (IoT).
On an industrial level, your warehouse can enable just about everything with IoT to facilitate smart inventory controls, automated picking and packing, and even smart lighting solutions for the facility. Having remote access to data and the ability to control systems remotely can improve efficiency and lower overall costs.
2. Automated Machines
Your warehouse can use a combination of big data, remote systems, and machine learning to automate things like pallet movers, forklifts, shelving, drones, and local delivery vehicles. Depending on your needs, these systems can operate with or without human input.
For example, Amazon uses Kiva bots at the base of its warehouse shelves to make inventory storage, management, and picking easier.
3. Mobile Robots
Mobile robots might be the same as automated machines, but they could also be something entirely different. A mobile robot, as it sounds, is one that isn’t fixed in place. They are designed to move about the warehouse to wherever they are needed. The robots can be autonomous or tied to a fixed path.
Automated mobile robots (AMRs) are becoming popular options because they can integrate quickly into just about any warehouse environment without changes to the infrastructure. They can handle functions like packing, packaging, and transportation.
4. Voice Technology
Smart technology would be less useful if workers still had to type in instructions or read everything from a screen. Those actions take time, and most people today have become accustomed to using hands-free technology, like Alexa, to order products or a car phone to safely make and answer calls.
When applied in a warehouse and combined with the right technology solutions, a worker can speak into a headset microphone to acknowledge instructions for putting away inventory or packaging an order. Workers can use the same technology to interact with warehouse equipment, such as turning lights on and off or troubleshooting a machinery issue.
5. Smarter Layouts
A huge element of efficiency and safety in a warehouse is its overall design and layout. It can be challenging to make changes to an existing warehouse, but you’ll be glad you made the effort once you realize improved productivity and lower accident rates.
Using your vertical space is one solution, but that may not involve automation. Some examples of technology solutions you can use for smarter warehouse layouts include automated shelving and big data. You can take a deep dive into your analytics to see where workers spend most of their time so that you can focus your automation efforts on those areas to improve safety and productivity.
Drones might seem kind of trendy, but they have an emerging use in a large warehouse environment. With improved hardware and software innovations and lower equipment prices, drones are an affordable and scalable solution for locating inventory in tough-to-reach places.
Drone technology is now also used in shipping and delivery applications. Specifically, it is used for barcode and RFID scanning, inspecting stocks, and retrieving goods.
7. Augmented Reality (AR) Wearables
Rather than replace all your workers with robots, you can better equip them to do their jobs more efficiently. They will take fewer steps for every task and be placed in fewer dangerous situations.
Combined with RFID tags and mobile warehouse management systems, employees can be outfitted with wearable technology like armbands, headsets, or eyeglasses (think Google Glass) to complete tasks. Using this type of hands-free technology, a worker has access to turn-by-turn instructions for picking, packaging, and storing products. Once a task is complete, it is automatically recorded in the system, and the worker is assigned the next task on the list.
8. Sustainability and Renewable Energy
All of these warehouse automation solutions require leveraging technology, which involves investment and operational costs. Warehouses already use a lot of energy. But many businesses are trying to improve sustainability and reduce their environmental impact by using renewable energy systems.
Amazon, Target, Kohl’s, and some other big-box retailers are already leading the way by using wind turbines and solar panels to offset power consumption in large facilities. This can help reduce costs for a large and busy operation.
Implementing automation solutions in your warehouse will likely be the fastest and most cost-effective way to increase the efficiency of your warehouse operations. As we move into 2022, these solutions will continue to provide your business with the competitive advantages and results it desires.