High technology (hi-tech) is a growing global business, embedded in nearly every aspect of life. But how is it affecting the warehousing industry? Warehousing is an age-old industry that has traditionally relied on the three P’s—pen, paper, and people. However, over the years there has been a steady infiltration of new age technology, offering the potential for smart warehouses.
Work Smarter, not Harder
Your warehouse operations probably already work hard. In fact, you might have pushed them to their limits with process improvements. Hi-tech gives your warehouse operations the power to work smarter as well. The right hi-tech implementation will enable you to streamline all functions of your warehouse and supply chain operations. From GPS in delivery trucks to automated picking, warehouse managers are discovering more and more ways to improve age-old warehousing processes, with new age technology.
There are two types of technology, hi-tech and lo-tech (low technology). Lo-tech is simple technologies that are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, such as multi-order picking trolleys and advanced picking methods. Hi-tech is where advancing technologies really start to shine. This technology is generally expensive and intensive to implement, but it can provide real time data and visibility through data. It allows each employee the ability to collect and use information, as well as communicate with each other—in real time.
This technology can make or break the efficiency of your warehouse operations, so we’ve taken a brief snapshot of some of the emerging hi-tech to help you get your head around the fundamentals:
• Warehouse Management System (WMS)
o A computer program that helps run the daily warehouse operations, from receiving, to storage, picking, and dispatch.
• Cloud computing
o Information and WMS are stored off-site in a cloud-based system, to avoid the need for a large server on site.
• Smart phones and tablets
o Download applications, such as iSmart and Ship Hero, to connect your staff to the WMS.
• Radio Frequency (RF) Scanning
o Wireless reading of bar codes during picking by devices that transmit data to the WMS for validation. If a wrong item or quantity is picked, the device alerts the picker.
• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
o Wireless reading of data stored in a memory chip embedded in or attached to a box or piece of equipment. Chips can store all sorts of information about the stock it’s attached to.
• Real-time location systems (RTLS)
o Technology that detects the current geo-location of a target and typically embedded in a product, in the form of a wireless node, tag or badge. They emit signals through Wi-Fi, RFID, and GPS.
• Voice-directed picking (VDP)
o Users wear a small, portable computer and headset incorporating a microphone. They talk to the WMS via the microphone; the WMS in turn transmits synthesized speech instructions back to the user.
• Pick-to-light (PTL)
o An LCD display device is placed next to the pick bin items. The PTL server illuminates a light on the LCD device for each item to be picked in that picker’s zone, with the quantity to be picked. When done, pickers push a button to confirm picks and to confirm if the quantity picked is different from the quantity displayed.
• Augmented reality picking
o Users wear head-mounted displays and smart glasses. Using a built-in microphone, they talk to the WMS to find pick locations. When they arrive at the locations, the smart glasses scan location barcodes to confirm they are in the right place. The built-in vision system then verifies the correct item is picked via visual recognition.
• Multi-shuttle based pick modules
o Multi-shuttle is an automated storage and retrieval solution that consists of multiple levels of racking, carrier vehicles, and buffer conveyors.
• Robotics technology
o Robots have been in use for years by manufacturers, for repetitive tasks in product assembly. With advances in technology, robots are now collaborating with humans and working autonomously.
Whether you simply need to install a WMS or cloud server, or you need to equip your workforce with smartphones or augmented glasses, invest in a system that can be utilised consistently and across your operations. For more information on how to choose, incorporate, and use these technologies to your advantage, call our friendly staff at Dynamic Warehouse or keep an eye out for future articles.