Warehouse technology is constantly changing to keep pace with the demands of today’s evolving supply chain. Warehouse managers are faced with a variety of warehouse management systems (WMS) created to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve productivity.
Many years ago a warehouse was simply a place to store a surplus of goods to be sent to brick-and-mortar retailers. Now, warehouses must fulfill the influx of e-commerce orders. Clunky, archaic systems are constantly being swapped for nimble, intuitive technology solutions.
Order-fulfillment warehouse technology
Although manual labor is still a necessity in a warehouse, many companies have implemented technology to fulfill orders in a more condensed time frame. Most customers are now accustomed to receiving their orders within 48 hours – or two hours if you are an Amazon Prime member. In order to remain competitive, and retain customers, businesses have invested in automation for e-commerce fulfillment solutions. The main purpose of introducing an automated order picking system is to lower costs by removing the need for employees to hunt down items. Here are a few order-fulfillment technologies that warehouses are using successfully to streamline order picking.
Pick-by-voice uses voice commands sent over a wireless network. This enables the picker to operate hands-free and increase picking speed. This option is great for a warehouse with a high number of SKUs spread across a massive facility. Most pick-by-voice systems can even be programmed in multiple languages, lowering the amount of training required for employees who consider themselves as non-English speakers.
These scalable, easy-to-use systems combine intuitive colored displays that guide the pick with sophisticated algorithms that reduce movement times and accommodate hot picks.
Minimal training is required, and built-in diagnostics enable easy troubleshooting – making pick-to-light the industry’s most efficient, accurate and high-speed order fulfillment solution.
Put-to-light solutions guide manual pickers to the right bin to put the good. This technology works best for batch items. Compared to manual sorting, put-to-light increases accuracy and efficiency.
Robots to the rescue
Robots offer a unique approach to scalability. Unlike certain warehouse management systems that require heavy financial and infrastructure investments, robots can be bought in smaller quantities, tested and then scaled to fit specific warehouse needs. Robots aren’t a fixed asset, meaning they can even be transported to other locations if needed. Imagine a robot that uses an optical system, computer vision and deep learning technologies to inspect labels and capture photos of inventory.
Robots increase efficiency and save time. Amazon has successfully integrated shelf-moving robots into its processes. According to Deutsche Bank, the time it takes to pick a product from the stacks, pack it, and ship it was around 60 to 75 minutes when done manually, but with robots, the same job could be completed in 15 minutes. Imagine tasks that once took eight hours to complete manually could now take one hour to complete with automated robots. There’s even talks about self-driving forklifts in the near future.
Drones at work in the warehouse
Many companies have experimented with the use of drones to deliver everything from pizza to life-saving medicine in remote villages, but could drones be used in warehouses for cycle counting and locating assets?
Geodis, the logistics arm of France’s state-owned railroad company SNCF Group, developed a system that uses ground-based robots to direct drones to pick up inventory and bring it to be shipped out of the warehouse, according to Business Insider. Other tests are being done to use drones to find lost pallets or slots that are actually empty even though it’s registered as full.
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The sheer amount of options can be overwhelming. As warehouse technologies undergo rapid transformation, warehouse managers need to stay ahead of the curve by identifying what systems will work best for their specific business needs and current operations.
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