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Technology Developments and Transformations in the Logistics Industry

By John Sandford, Head Of Quality & Responsible Person, PRL Group

Technology is part of our daily lives, so it was only a matter of time before it started changing the way we look at distribution and logistics in warehouses. Here are some of the technologies that are transforming warehouses, and the reasons why companies should consider implementing these new advances in their facilities.

1. Cloud-Based Warehouse Management Systems

Warehouse management systems (WMS) are a must in today’s fast-paced logistics industry, but most of them use local hardware that limits their capability and means the team must have an IT professional on staff to maintain it. A cloud-based WMS uses software as a service (SaaS), creating a system that workers can seamlessly integrate and sustain without downtime. It is also more cost-effective than purchasing dedicated hardware, which can save warehouses money in the long run.

2. Reduce Energy Consumption

Technology can help companies reduce energy consumption, cut down on product waste and lessen emissions while aligning with regulatory guidelines. Replacing traditional fluorescent lighting with LED alternatives can reduce power usage while saving the facility money. Technology is helping warehouses become more sustainable, both in house and in their dealings with other facilities.

3. Handheld Devices

Recent advances have made handheld devices, such as barcode scanners, become more efficient and useful than ever before. Warehouses that still rely on manual counts and physical paperwork should consider transitioning to digital inventories and handheld devices equipped with RFID scanners and GPS to increase efficiency and reduce theft and inventory loss. A Smart Warehouse is expected to be fully integrated, fully transparent – and fully capable of providing their customers and stakeholders information about their inventory – as soon as it is handled. Visibility and real- time are the basic standards of any Smart Warehouse. And, for the 3PL operator, if your 3PL warehouse cannot demonstrate that capability, you can be sure that your competitors can and will.

4. Internet of Things

IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a broad term that encompasses all smart or networked devices. An IoT-enabled warehouse can make picking and packaging more efficient by reducing the workload on human employees. Instead of sending a human worker with a list of items to pull, smart shelves can talk to robotic pickers, letting them know precisely where each item is. IoT can also play a role in packing, labelling, and almost every step in the logistics process.

5. Improved Warehouse Design

It is easy to sacrifice efficiency in favor of squeezing as much inventory as possible into your limited square footage. Using new technology can help you find your optimal warehouse layout, maximizing the efficiency of product storage, inbound and outbound operations, and any value-added processes you use.

6. Smart Warehouse Scalability

The smart warehouse is always asking the question, “Can we scale?” A smart warehouse should be built to handle rapid changes in demand. And a smart warehouse is always positioning itself to scale by having all the tools in place to attract and retain customers and support new product releases. When all the basic operational requirements are in place, scalability is often dependent on the warehouse management software chosen. When properly designed, a smart warehouse can be ready to handle new surges in growth or responsibility without any issue or being overly expensive.

"New technologies can help improve efficiency and make the job easier for your teams while reducing waste and cutting costs"

7. Big Data

Big data refers to all the information a company generates and collects. In warehouse management, this could be anything from inventory counts to sales and productivity numbers, and everything in between. A big data system collects this information and sorts through it. Algorithms can navigate through the data, identifying patterns, and even technology developments and transformations in the logistics industry, predicting future changes with a surprising degree of accuracy. While this technology does represent a significant investment, the benefits are nearly limitless.

8. Removing Human Error Where Possible

Using human employees for the packaging and labelling process has been standard practice for a long time, but it can also lead to packing and shipping errors. Print-and-apply labelling systems remove the possibility for human error by closing and labelling packages automatically, according to their contents. When integrated with IoT systems, these systems can run autonomously, preventing costly shipping errors.

9. Use of Robots

Amazon has purchased Kiva Systems, a small robotics start-up company. This has allowed Amazon to introduce more than 30,000 picking robots to its distribution centers around the world. These robots will eventually be capable of picking, packing, and shipping orders on their own, but as of now, they still require human oversight. Robots and drones will be a major part of logistics and distribution in the future.

10. Voice Picking

Pick by voice is a technique that is growing in popularity. Instead of tying up a picker’s hands with mobile devices, he or she can speak the item they’re picking into a microphone. From there, the warehouse management system can process the pick and remove the item from inventory. This tech frees the picker’s hands and makes their job easier and more efficient.

Technology Makes the Future Look Bright

These new technologies can help improve efficiency and make the job easier for your teams while reducing waste and cutting costs.

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