Technology has become a driving factor of nearly every sector in the modern world. And warehouses are no different. The need to mass produce the handling of materials has necessitated the incorporation of technology in warehouse operations.
Warehouse technology has been accelerating rapidly, in part due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The drastic shift of commerce to online sources from brick and mortar stores has created an unprecedented demand for warehouse services. Consequent labor shortages have also placed pressure on companies to become as efficient as possible.
For a business to continue thriving, implementing tech is a must. But how do you know which innovative technologies you should be using? That’s starts with understanding your options. Here are some of the top innovative warehouse technologies your business could implement today.
1. Robotics and Automation
When most people think about warehouse technology, they probably picture some form of automation. As robots become cheaper, faster, and smarter, they are poised to revolutionize warehousing and distribution. From receiving and unloading, putaway, picking and sorting, processing and loading, robotic automation can help your warehouse run more efficiently.
For some companies, robotics seems like a distant dream. But others are already using the solutions with great success. Logistics giant DHL has tested robots in its warehouses that now handle most of the physical work, freeing up staff for other tasks.
2. RFID Technology
RFID is short for radio frequency identification, which employs electromagnetic waves to track objects in real-time. RFID technology has been growing in use in supply chain applications for several reasons. Unlike barcodes, a worker doesn’t have to scan the object for tracking, and no direct line of sight is required.
RFID tags can be attached to pallets, products, machinery, keycards, or even inside boxes. The warehouse can track anything it wants throughout its lifecycle, allowing for better inventory management and improved operational efficiency.
3. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
EDI refers to the process of regular data transfer and synchronization between different parts of the business and between business partners. This technology helps your warehouse scale and become more efficient by automating regularly occurring transactions.
It can reduce mistakes in transactions and eliminate the need for data validation. One example of an EDI transaction is automatically processing receivables that come to the loading dock. This helps speed up processing and can reduce the costs of doing business.
4. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Telematics
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the drivers of automation in the warehousing industry. IoT refers to a network of physical devices that are embedded with software, sensors, and other technology and then connected via the internet. In the case of a warehouse, this can be a closed (private) or open (shared) system.
With IoT, your warehouse can connect robots, drones, pallets, and other vital equipment. You can also tap into real-time data to manage inventory and supervise workers. Finally, that data is valuable as a window into your business for reporting and planning purposes.
5. Wearable Technology
Most people are familiar with wearable technology, such as smartwatches and headsets. These are now becoming more prominent in warehouses as a means to improve productivity. In the 2015 MHI Annual Industry Report, Joe Fitzgerald of Deloitte stated that wearables could be used for “improvements to existing processes, for monitoring operations, routing workers around factories, warehouses or installation sites, and providing remote expert support to workers in the field.” Some examples of wearable technology are:
- Smartwatches - Similar to fitness bands, these devices can be worn to track and improve employee efficiency.
- Voice Controlled Headsets - Headsets can provide real-time inventory updates and are used with voice-activated picking processes.
- Smart Glasses - Although relatively new technology, these devices allow operators to view records as they continue to work hands-free.
6. Handheld Devices
When workers have to repeatedly return to a central location to get instructions or report progress, this invites error and fosters employee dissatisfaction. Over the past decade alone, the use of handheld devices in the warehouse has soared. One 2018 study revealed that 66% of respondents planned to use handheld mobile devices in their warehouse with real-time access to warehouse management systems.
The types of handheld devices you’re likely to encounter in the warehouse include:
- Smartphones and tablets
- Radio Frequency (RF) devices
- Barcode Scanning & Printing
- Total Mobile Solutions
Drones are flying devices that people often picture as either toys or advanced weapons delivery vehicles. But they’re much more than that. Today’s drones are being used in a variety of applications, including in warehouse operations.
Drones can be used for product picking, but they are more frequently used in warehouses for inventory management. Drones can get to hard-to-reach stock to read barcodes or RFID tags, and their ability to navigate into tight spaces is constantly improving.
8. Voice Technology
One of the most widely-used technology solutions in warehouses today is voice technology and voice assistants. Workers wear a headset and can control multiple devices and processes using their voice. Some also get direction for various tasks on the warehouse floor through voice technology.
One example is voice picking, where a worker will get instructions for order picking through a voice assistant. The worker acknowledges the instructions through their headset and confirms completion of the order. This technology improves efficiency and reduces errors by allowing the worker to work hands-free and focus on the task at hand.
9. 3D Printing
After the arrival of COVID-19, the global supply chain experienced a significant squeeze. And conditions are still pretty intense. For example, many parts used in the United States are manufactured in Asia. How manufacturers handle these issues going forward is a complex issue. But a warehouse can have its operations grounded by broken machinery waiting for parts from overseas. 3D printing can reduce or eliminate the costs associated with this sort of downtime, allowing warehouses to create the parts and systems they need to continue operations.
10. Autonomous Vehicles
Self-driving vehicles may not be commonplace on the roads yet. But there are already some being used in warehouses, and their adoption is likely to be widespread over the next decade. Options for autonomous vehicles in your warehouse or distribution center include outdoor logistics, last-mile delivery, shipping and receiving, and automated picking solutions. Any of these solutions can integrate with your warehouse management system, eliminate some high-risk jobs, and increase overall efficiency.
Technology is rapidly changing how warehouses and distribution centers operate. Implementing the right technology solutions helps businesses boost accuracy, improve efficiency, and lower costs. By choosing the right partner, warehouses can learn how to use innovative warehouse technologies to achieve the best possible results. Learn more about how technology solutions like voice tasking, mobile workstations, and RFID can give your operation the results it needs.