Today, companies across every industry face constant pressure to do more with less – efficiency is becoming the main priority in every industry. This is especially true for the warehousing industry, which is a critical part of the supply chain. All this constant pressure is pushing the development of newer and better technologies to help with the workload.
The future of warehouses might not look like a scene from Star Wars, but let’s have a look at what’s in store for the industry over the next decade. Warehouses will build on current effective process-driven technologies, such as robotic technologies and widespread supply chain automation – meaning that we’ll be seeing plenty of drones and robots in the future, let’s hope that Skynet will be more merciful than in the movies.
Let’s have a look at a few technologies that are re-shaping the warehousing industry as we know it:
Wireless technology and real-time inventory tracking
More and more warehouses are adopting new technologies, such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to build efficiency into inventory tracking. The RFID tags attached to each inventory item can transmit real-time data to and from the warehouse area, this combined with the right inventory management applications allows warehouse workers to use mobile devices to track inventory from the moment it enters the warehouse to the moment it leaves.
Inter-connected mesh technology and IoT
In a warehouse using mesh technologies, operating systems are laid out in a highly advanced matrix to accommodate the growing mix of technologies. Today’s warehouses have the bandwidth for technologies like RFID scanning, GPS, load optimizations and let’s not forget about IoT.
The Internet of Things is already shaking up the world and with it, the world of warehousing. IoT technologies allow better communication and collaboration between supply chain elements, plus it provides greater accountability across the board.
IoT adoption is growing because this technology is becoming more and more accessible, allowing it to be adopted by a growing number of warehouses.
Using the IoT technologies available in warehousing can help with:
- readily identifying risks in the supply chain
- providing data on weather and other conditions that can cause shipment delays
- reducing the number of damaged and lost goods, as well as equipment damage
- improving inventory management and forecasting accuracy
Advanced warehousing automation
When it comes to boosting warehouse productivity, many experts say that the smartest approach is to invest in automation. Although automation has been around for decades, in one form or another, companies are focused on incorporating autonomous elements into their existing infrastructure and systems to transform the fulfillment process.
Technologies like high-density automated storage, shuttle systems, pouch sorters, put walls and automated packaging systems are ideal for handling items. While not in wide use yet, automated lift trucks are on the horizon. Some leading retailers are even taking inventory in their warehouses using drones.
When we talk about the future, the first things we think of are robots. While the adoption of robotics in distribution centers has been slow( mostly used by Amazon in their fulfillment centers), they’re coming! We’re seeing the emergence of mobile collaborative robots that travel to a picking location where a warehouse associate drops an item into a basket and the robot, using RFID technology, knows where to take the item for packing.
Stationary piece-picking robots then pick items from a storage container and place them in a shipping container. We’re even seeing autonomous mobile piece-picking robots that can travel to a location, pick an item and travel to the next location until the order is complete. Right now, the market is limited to some brave early adopters who are piloting robotic technologies or going live with small implementations. But, as those early adopters learn how to get value from robotics.
There are more and more industries that suffer from a labor shortage, meaning that there is a growing focus on the quality of life in the workplace. The warehouse industry is no different, currently, it has one of the harshest working conditions – not all warehouses are equipped for optimal working conditions, in some warehouses air conditioning and other key necessities are still missing. New features such as efficient lighting, air quality sensors and temperature control are a must-have in the warehouse of the future, companies have to focus on making their warehouses more human-centric. Improving the work environment not only benefits employee health but also reduces employee turnover.
It’s not as simple as it may seem to adopt these latest technologies for today’s warehouses – existing facilities typically have legacy designs and layouts, so to be successful new automation must be both flexible and minimally disruptive to existing warehouse structures.
Warehouses have played an important role in the supply chain for decades, the future looks bright for the industry as innovative and forward-thinking companies pave the way for the warehouse of the future by embracing the latest advances in technology.