No matter how big or small your operation and your company is you likely have the same disruptive pressures on your Warehouses and Distribution Centres.
Everyone, including those who are best in class, has the need to reduce costs, improve the speed and accuracy of order fulfillment and warehouse activities, optimize inventory, and provide sufficient capacity to support growth at your busiest times of the year.
The ability to leverage technology to help address those pressures is no longer just possible for large companies. The nature of the technology landscape brings those improvements within the reach of most everyone.
The Pressure Points
First and foremost everyone is always looking for ways to reduce cost. It doesn’t matter how large or small or how manual or automated your Warehouse operation is. For instance the Fulfillment Cost as a percentage of Net Sales at Amazon has continued to increase year over year over year.
Whether you are in the B2B or B2C/E-Commerce business you are likely also continually looking for ways to reduce your cycle times. You may want to receive faster, store goods faster, pick goods more quickly, fulfill customer orders faster, or count inventory faster. Whatever your specific pressure point is you have the need for speed.
If you are in the E-Commerce business, and maybe if you are not, you have phenomenal pressures with labour, training, attrition, and labour shortages during the Holiday season. This has the impact of both increasing your costs and negatively impacting the time and quality involved in filling customer orders.
Inventory accuracy can be a perennial problem for many companies. Poor process adherence and controls combined with manual activity can result in damaging inventory losses and quality problems.
And if your business is expanding, even if only for a short period of the year, you have demands for space which can far exceed your existing capacity.
Overall your objective is to address these pressure points both tactically and strategically.
The Enabling Technology Platform
We’ve all heard of the technology landscape that is shaping the world today and in the future. The Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, Big Data and Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and Advanced Robotics are the enabling technologies that make improvements possible anywhere and for anyone!
In the Supply Chain we are always looking for End-to-End Connectivity. This is facilitated by the IoT and Cloud Computing for instance. Every device, every pallet, every box, every machine, and every piece of equipment can be equipped with bar codes, RFID tags, sensors, or tracking technology which enables this End-to-End Connectivity.
And once you have established this digital connectivity throughout your operation or network you have created the Digital Supply Chain! This capability allows for the deployment of disruptive technologies in your warehouse.
Disruptive Technologies in the Warehouse!
Given these pressure points and this common technology platform we can seek to implement these Disruptive Technologies in the Warehouse.
Within your Warehouse or Distribution Centre there are many different applications that are available.
Drone technology is being used for Security and for Inventory Control. Your warehouse has goods stored high up in racking over a very large space. Imagine having a drone scanning the bar codes of your goods throughout the warehouse. The potential for rapid and accurate inventory control improvement at low-cost is a reality.
Picking technologies are available across a wide spectrum. Technologies range from handheld barcode scanners to voice activated technology to wearable devices all the way to advanced fully automated robotic pick and pull systems like Swisslog and Kiva.
Any transactional activity involving scanning or data entry can be handled by sensors, mobile devices, or wearable devices. All of this can dramatically improve the accuracy and speed of data management and enable Digital Supply Chain Control Towers.
Automated and autonomous vehicle technology is making continued advances, both within and outside your warehouse. Automation of material movement and scheduling can lead to significant productivity improvements. Instead of having your people move to the materials to perform activities it is always better to move the material to your employees with technology instead.
Robotics technology for picking, processing, and packing combined with automated conveyance can make a tremendous impact. As shown in our blog post From Click to Ship in 4 Minutes! … Principles for World Class E-Commerce Fulfillment the application of technology and advanced design principles can lead to amazing results very economically. And Machine-to-Machine (M2M) digital interconnectivity can further enable automated and efficient material movement.
3D Printing can allow for the creation of goods on-demand. That in itself holds the potential to create inventory only on a pull basis thereby streamlining the entire requirement to stock and store goods.
The overarching capability of an End-to-End Connected Digital Supply Chain allows you to centrally control the movement and flow of goods, information and transactions.
Knowing digitally where your inventory is throughout your network can enable AI technology to manage the dissemination of orders to those points in your network which can deliver to your customers more rapidly and inexpensively. Warehouse activities can be intelligently prioritized. Vehicles can be re-routed. And Robotics, conveyance and other warehouse activities can be optimized and controlled algorithmically.
Technology also enables deployment of AI in the Digital Supply Chain Control Tower to manage your entire warehouse. Every transaction, every movement of materials, and every activity can be controlled and optimized digitally.
Disruptive Warehouse Technologies in Conclusion
The deployment of technology in your warehouse is a reality for most everyone. You do not have to be a large company spending millions of dollars to make this happen.
This is possible because the underlying, enabling technology platform is universal. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud Computing, for instance, can enable technological advancement in any operation regardless of size.
Further this is possible because the application of technologies can span a wide spectrum. In some cases the introduction of bar code technology and hand-held scanners may be an advancement. At the other extreme lights-out end-to-end automated warehouse technology is available. The wide range of application technologies is available for consideration throughout your Warehouse or Distribution Centre.
Depending on your current situation, the resources you have to invest, and the importance of a warehousing competency to your company you can implement technology at a pace which suits your own circumstances.
Most importantly you must have a Technology Strategy for your Distribution network. It is okay to have a Strategy which shows an increasing level of technology deployment over time as long as the underlying planning allows for an interconnected technology platform that is standardized, modular, scalable, and supportive of the IoT.
Your end goal should be to create an End-to-End Digital Supply Chain both within your company and with your partners and suppliers. This will enable you to address those pressure points and reduce cost and improve your capabilities and services.