Just as Internet of Things (IoT) technology has begun to reach critical mass in the consumer market, such devices are becoming a crucial component in the evolution of warehousing and supply chain in general. From wearable devices to RFID trackers to smart shelves, these developments promise to streamline the fulfillment process while helping to meet the growing expectations of consumer and business clients. In order to keep up with the changing logistics landscape, businesses will need to adopt these technologies, while integrating them into their operations effectively in order achieve strong ROI.
The introduction and rapid growth in ecommerce over the last two decades has changed the nature of warehouse management. Many businesses tackled these challenges by growing their staff to keep up with demand. Keeping fulfillment at peak speed was left up to human workers, aided by improving software solutions to keep track of the flow of the goods.
Yet, in order to improve efficiency further and competing in the rapidly changing marketplace, many businesses are shifting toward increased automation, combined with more effective data collection and analysis. While automation can speed up processes and reduce costs, increased data collection allows businesses to leverage Dig Data analytics solutions into actionable supply chain improvements. These analytics can uncover patterns that help guide enterprise resource planning.
The Necessity of Smart Warehouses
Many warehouse industry professionals have realized that it’s time to start the move toward advanced technological infrastructure. Seventy-five percent of decision-makers in a recent survey indicated that they plan to accelerate technology and move toward a smart warehouse system by 2020. IoT implementation was specifically cited by 62%.
Changing consumer expectations was the main reason given for this push. When clients and consumers demand greater visibility into how their goods are handled and faster turnaround, technological innovation becomes essential. eCommerce challenges raise the bar for supply chain logistics.
By effectively integrating IoT devices in a warehouse environment, businesses can help to transform their fulfillment operations. These devices provide increased automation that can help eliminate or reduce worker pain points. With IoT, supply chains can be precisely tied together and merchandise can be tracked, from supplier to warehousing to customer delivery.
Smart Shelving and the Internet of Things
A good place to start is with smart shelving, which can also be integrated with tracking systems such as RFID and bar code scanning. Smart shelves work by measuring weight and pressure on shelf surfaces and wirelessly transmitting this data directly or through intermediary software to a warehouse management solution system. This yields real-time visibility into inventory levels. When combined with an RFID sensor or bar code scanning, it allows for next-generation tracking. When goods are received, placed on a shelf, picked, or leave the warehouse, all of these behaviors are instantaneously recorded and the inventory database is updated. This technology can help make the fulfillment chain more transparent.
From smart shelving and beyond, IoT devices link with equipment software, which is connected to WMS and Warehouse control system (WCS) like robots, sorters, conveyors, drones, and employees with handheld devices. This allows for closer monitoring and control of all operations at a warehouse.
Streamlined Warehouse Operations
Many direct benefits result from smart shelving. In addition to real-time inventory visibility, they also make it easier for employees to find goods. Handheld or wearable devices can be integrated with the smart shelf-linked management software to quickly guide pickers to the correct location. Smart shelving also acts as a redundancy, making sure that the correct goods are picked. When an order is assigned to a particular worker for picking, a smart shelf can confirm that the correct item was chosen by recording a change in weight or in reflecting the movement of a RFID-tagged item. If no change is recorded, the system could send an alert to the employee indicating that they make have picked the wrong item.
In addition to acting as a check for human error, smart shelving can help enable a transition to robot- or drone-based picking. The unique shelf data can help guide an automated device to the correct location and also confirm that it picked the correct item.
Better Data Collection
Smart shelving yields secondary benefits. Like most IoT devices, they enable increased data collection that lays the groundwork for beneficial Big Data analytics. Trends in inventory management, problems with picking, and general inefficiencies may all be hidden in your shelf-level data. A careful analysis, whether in real-time or in aggregate, can lead to immediate or long-term adjustments that help improve coordination and streamline operations.
Integration Is Key
In order to realize the benefits from smart shelving and other IoT technologies, these devices must be integrated seamlessly with warehouse management solutions. On top of this, integration with general supply chain management, either through third party logistics services that work with existing WMS, or by customizing one’s operations for improved connectivity, helps businesses benefit from IoT technology. Such a network allows smart shelves to automatically notify distributors when they are running low and place re-orders. A fully integrated system allows live order data to be transmitted to partners and customer and weight sensors can help ensure more precise shipping costs. Improved coordination and time savings are key benefits.
Internet of Things devices are on the cusp of significantly altering the warehouse management. While smart shelving helps to improve inventory management and leads the way to increased automation, other IoT devices like RFID, robot pickers, and even drones will serve to streamline operations further. All of the data collected by these devices help satisfy customer demands for greater transparency while driving improvements in fulfillment speed and efficiency. To stay competitive, businesses need to leverage these technologies to create the warehouses of the future.
If you need a partner to help you strategically manage and successfully move your products out of the port and onto their final destination, be sure to download our ebook – Speeding Time-to-Shelf and Cutting Costs– a must read for today’s logistics managers.