Technology is incredibly beneficial for warehouse management; from the humble conveyor belt to robotics and predictive analytics, it helps make a warehouse run more smoothly, quickly and efficiently. This article looks at a variety of hardware and software that help boost the productivity of modern warehouses.
Automated picking tools
These technologies help automate the process of picking stock and can be either fully automated (working independently) or partially automated (working alongside your team). Both kinds of automated picking tools help speed up the picking process while enhancing accuracy.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) are computer-controlled systems that automatically store, retrieve and deliver products in the warehouse. They consist of a series of racks or shelves, with robotic arms or shuttles that move horizontally and vertically to access and retrieve items.
Pick-to-Light Systems use lights and displays to guide warehouse workers to the location of items to be picked. The system illuminates the location of the item, and the worker picks the product and confirms the pick using a button or scanner.
Voice Picking Systems use voice commands and feedback to guide workers through the picking process. The system gives the worker verbal instructions on what to pick, where to find it, and how much to pick, and the worker confirms the pick verbally.
Automated guided vehicles
AGVs, also known as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), are self-driving robots that can move around a warehouse, picking up and delivering products as needed. They use sensors and cameras to navigate and avoid obstacles and can be programmed to follow specific routes or instructions.
Automated inventory control platforms
These tools, including sensors, RFID tags and barcode scanners, track inventory data in real-time to provide accurate and up-to-date information on inventory levels, location and movements throughout the warehouse. As well as eliminating human error and infinitely speeding up data collection, they can be set up to automatically reorder stock when it hits a predetermined trigger amount (a low stock threshold).
Cobots, or collaborative robots, are designed to work alongside human workers rather than instead of them. The AS/RS, Pick-to-Light and Voice Picking Systems above are all examples of cobots in warehouses, but they can do more than picking.
Cobots can be used in the packing process, either by putting items into boxes or other containers, applying labels or seals, and moving finished packages onto a conveyor system. They can also be used to sort items – programmed to recognise and move products based on their colour, size, weight or other criteria. Cobots can also be used to track inventory, as discussed above, and to help clean the warehouse.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected devices that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that enable them to collect and exchange data over the internet. These devices can range from simple objects such as sensors and smart appliances to more complex systems such as industrial machinery. This network of information can be used to automate processes and improve efficiency.
In warehouses, IoT technologies can be used to track inventory levels and locations; they can also monitor environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, essential for some inventory such as food and medicine.
IoT tech isn’t just for monitoring inventory though, it can also monitor the performance of equipment and alert warehouse managers when maintenance is required, before systems fail and cause disruption to business operations. It can also monitor energy usage in the warehouse so management can optimise energy consumption and reduce costs.
Mobile and wearable tech
Mobile and wearable technologies are increasingly being used in warehouses to improve productivity, efficiency, and safety. Warehouse workers can use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to access real-time data and instructions on the go. This allows them to quickly locate products, scan barcodes or RFID tags, update inventory records and communicate with other workers or managers.
Wearable devices such as smart glasses, wristbands, and scanners can provide hands-free access to information and instructions, allowing workers to focus on their tasks without being distracted by technology. For example, a worker wearing smart glasses can view instructions or schematics while working on a machine, or a worker wearing a wristband can receive alerts or instructions based on their location or task.
Business Intelligence (BI) refers to the use of data analytics tools and technologies to analyse and gain insights from data. In warehouses, BI can be used to analyse data on supply chain performance, customer trends and other operational metrics.
BI tools can be used to track and analyse performance metrics such as order fulfilment rates, cycle times, and labour productivity. This allows warehouse managers to identify areas for improvement and optimise operations.
They can also be used to identify the root causes of operational issues, such as late shipments or order errors. This allows warehouse managers to take corrective action and prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.
Also, BI tools can be used to analyse customer data, such as order history and feedback, to gain insights into customer preferences and behaviours. This allows warehouse managers to optimise their operations and improve customer service.
Predictive analytics is a type of data analytics that uses statistical models and machine learning algorithms to analyse data and make predictions about future events or trends. In the context of warehouse management, predictive analytics can be used to forecast inventory levels, demand patterns, order volumes and other key metrics.
Predictive analytics can be used to forecast demand for products and materials, allowing warehouse managers to optimise inventory levels and prevent stockouts or overstocks, as well as forecasting labour and equipment needs, allowing warehouse managers to plan and allocate resources more effectively.
Predictive analytics can be used to identify patterns in product quality and performance, allowing warehouse managers to take corrective action before quality issues become widespread, and to optimise order fulfilment so that management can prioritise orders based on their likelihood of being delayed or cancelled.
Warehouse Management Systems
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a software application designed to manage and optimize warehouse operations. It typically includes a range of features and functions, such as inventory management, order processing, labour management, and shipping and receiving management.
In the warehouse, a WMS provides real-time visibility into inventory levels, locations, and movements. It can track inventory levels by location, product, and SKU, and can also manage inventory across multiple warehouses. It can also track employee productivity and performance, manage schedules and assignments, and optimize labour resources.
A WMS can manage inbound and outbound shipments, track carrier performance, and manage shipping documentation and compliance, and it can also generate reports and analytics on key operational metrics, such as inventory levels, order fulfilment rates, labour productivity and shipping performance.
As well as all this, warehouse management systems can manage the entire order fulfilment process, from receiving orders to picking, packing, and shipping, including managing returns and exchanges.
Our Optimiser Warehouse Management System (WMS) is designed to increase the efficiency in warehouses, making them more equipped to handle the demands of today’s supply chains. This is done through such features as automatically-generated optimum pick paths, barcode tracking and automated and up-to-the-minute client reporting.
Using Optimiser WMS helps drive down operational costs – labour costs alone can be reduced by up to 30% as employees spend less time per order than when using traditional paper-based stock control.
Get in touch today to see how Optima can help your business.