What can be rightly called as the ‘heart of supply chain operations’, warehousing operations can make or break a logistics business. We live in a time where speed is everything. As customers expect faster services, warehouses need to be agile enough to cater to the large volume of demand.
It is not only about serving customers in a speedy and efficient manner but also about streamlining warehouse operations to deliver more value to all the stakeholders.
Gone are the days when warehouses were just four-walled structures with racks. As with every aspect of our lives, warehouses have evolved with the rise in advanced technologies. Companies can lose their competitive advantage if they don’t embrace intelligent automation technology for their warehouses. In essence, warehouses are required to turn into ‘Smart Warehouses’.
What are Smart Warehouses?
Once considered a hot topic for speculative discussions around ‘futuristic technology’, Smart Warehouses are becoming a reality. Thanks to warehousing technologies that have evolved to a point where their use cases are successfully demonstrated, companies are rapidly transitioning from traditional warehouses to smart warehouses.
Smart Warehousing is essentially a set of interconnected and/or automated technologies for streamlining warehousing operations in an efficient manner. A task which could require 4 humans and 2 hours before can be now done with just one human and in just one hour, thus saving significant resources in terms of effort, costs, and time.
Apart from efficiency and productivity, smart warehouses also add accuracy to data collection. Large warehouses with millions of square feet size relying on manual operations are highly prone to discrepancies in data collection and consolidation, due to human errors.
The transition from a traditional warehouse to a smart warehouse can be as game-changing as our transition from feature phones to smartphones. In this blog, we discuss smart warehouse systems that warehousing operations can (or should!) incorporate to turn into a truly smart warehouse.
Technologies for a Smart Warehouse
Smart Warehouse Management System (WMS)
Something which can safely be considered as the first step towards smart warehousing, WMS is something that has replaced the traditional pen-and-paper reports for stocktaking. A software which can help collate all the unorganized data into a properly segregated and actionable data, WMS has the advantage of being remotely accessible.
Since switching from one WMS to another is a tedious process, it is important to choose the best possible WMS for the warehousing operations.
Automated Warehouse Picking Systems
This is one of the trickiest technologies to implement, as warehouses have many variables like fast-moving SKUs, rack structures, inventory types, etc. Warehouse Picking Systems are either fully automated or partially automated; the latter is used mostly for inventory picking and packing.
These systems increase productivity and can adapt to the existing warehouse infrastructure. However, they are high in upfront costs and quite complex to implement. Hence, one of these systems should be adopted only to deal with ultra-large volumes of inventory.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
AGVs are programmed vehicles that can navigate across the warehouse without a manual driver or operator. They are used extensively for handling and transporting materials within a warehouse. Some examples of AGVs are Automated Guided Carts (AGCs), Forklifts AGVs, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), etc.
Apart from cost-effectiveness and better productivity, AGVs are also safer than manually operated vehicles.
But, like Automated Warehouse Picking Systems, AGVs also require a high initial investment. They are also unsuitable for non-repetitive tasks, and can result in high maintenance costs.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
As the name suggests, an AS/RS system is used to store and retrieve items from a specific location; such systems have seen many technological advancements in the last few years.
AS/RS systems provide several advantages like improved ergonomics, efficient use of vertical space, worker safety when it comes to heavy goods, etc. They come in several forms like shuttles, carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs), unit loads, etc.
Internet of Things, or IoT, has seen successful use cases across almost every industry. An integral component of ‘smart’ systems, IoT has been adopted in warehouses as well, to keep them safer and provide real-time insights.
The possibilities with IoT applications in the warehouse are tremendous, for example
- Sensors can be placed inside the warehouse to inspect the temperature.
- Warehouse operators can be checked for their health with wearables
- Devices can be inspected for their health and performance for maintenance purposes
- Goods can be tracked by placing sensors on them for security checks
- Other inventory management sensors can be placed, etc.
IoT systems can be implemented by warehouses of almost any size since the cost is quote flexible for these systems, based on the use case.
Drones easily qualify for the tag of being ‘versatile’, due to the sheer number of use cases they can be used for. Ideal for warehouses, drones are compact, fast, safe, and cost-effective – reflected in the efficiency and quick ROI achieved by deploying them.
Imagine a warehouse where the drones are flying in an automated fashion and scanning inventory barcodes without any manual intervention! Yes, it is indeed possible to deploy autonomous drones successfully in warehouses, for inventory scans that are faster, accurate, and more comprehensive.
There is also the added advantage of the scalability since fleets of autonomous drones can be deployed at multiple warehouse locations.
With its proprietary intelligent automation platform, FlytWare has been playing a key role in the way inventory counts and audits are done. If you’d like to know more about our autonomous drone solution for inventory scanning, feel free to reach out to us at https://flytware.com/contact/