Warehouse technology is continually adapting and evolving to meet the demands of consumers and industry. As the nature of production, logistics and transportation change, so do the factors that govern how products move from place to place.
There are some elements that are always in demand such as reducing delivery times, controlling transportation costs and increasing overall efficiency. But how do current trends affect these systems, and what future challenges can be overcome by adopting emerging warehousing technologies?
What is Warehouse Technology?
Warehouse technology is the hardware, software, and mechanisms that drive the logistical process of moving goods from the point of production to the point of sale.
“At a 14.6% CAGR, Warehouse Automation Market is Projected to Reach USD 38.23 Bn by 2027”
Warehouse technology has evolved from simple tools like conveyor belts, forklifts, and pallet jacks to computerized systems that are designed to streamline operations and maximize productivity.
Warehouse technology can be broken down into a few main categories;
- Cloud technology in warehouses
- Warehouse Management Systems
- Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)
- Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
- RFID in Warehouse Automation
- Automated Inventory Control Platforms
1. Cloud technology in Warehouses
Cloud technology provides access to data through the internet without needing to store information on-site. This data can be anything from inventory records to sales figures. Companies are increasingly adopting cloud technology in their warehousing operations.
Cloud-based software can be integrated with existing warehouse management systems and is easier to modify as customer requirements change. Cloud technology can also improve communication between departments through centralized data and analytics and is beneficial for warehousing operations in all industries; it can be scaled to meet the specific needs of each company.
2. Warehouse Management Systems
Warehouse management systems help track the movement of goods along the supply chain and keep an eye on inventory levels.
There are three main types of software: A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is used to plan and execute all warehouse activities.
An Asset Tracking System (ATS) helps track inventory and its location whereas Warehouse Execution Systems (WES) are used to manage the workflow of employees working in the warehouse.
Over time, warehouse technology has evolved from simple tools like conveyor belts, forklifts, and pallet jacks to computerized systems that are designed to streamline operations and maximize productivity.
It’s no surprise that WMS is the fastest-growing segment of the warehouse technology industry – boosting warehouse productivity by 50% and reduce costs by 10%. In fact, 95% of the world’s top corporations use some form of warehousing technology.
3. Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)
Automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are computerized storage systems that manage inventory flow and optimize space. These systems are engineered to eliminate the need for human operators while also improving safety and efficiency.
ASRS systems can be designed to store a range of products, from raw materials to finished goods. They may be used in warehousing, distribution centers, and retail environments to store anything from pharmaceuticals and chemicals to food and beverages.
These automated storage systems use robotics and control systems to manage inventory, and can do everything a manual shelving system can, but they can store more products with less space.
ASRS systems have also been positively impacted by AI technologies, like machine learning, that allow third-party system integrators to tailor systems to meet the specific needs of different clients
4. Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Automatic Guided Vehicles or AGVs are unmanned automated vehicles designed to transport goods in a warehouse. AGVs can be programmed to move autonomously within a warehouse and can integrate with other systems, like WMS and ASRS. AGVs are also used to transport materials in industrial environments, such as mines, steel mills, and oil fields.
Many companies are implementing warehouse technology to automate their operations. One way this can be done is by using AGVs to transport materials between storage locations. AGVs can be designed to travel along any type of path – from straight roads to curvy railroads – and can be programmed to follow specific routes.
AGVs can be used to move both small and large loads, and they can also be used in dangerous environments.
5. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Robotic process automation (RPA) uses computer software to automate business processes. It’s a specific type of software that mimics the actions of a human operator.
RPA is used to execute repetitive tasks, like monitoring inventory levels, calculating taxes, or confirming the accuracy of customer orders. RPA software is programmed to follow a series of instructions so it can be used to execute complex tasks.
Robotic process automation is suited for high-volume, high-variety operations, which makes it an ideal technology for warehousing operations. It can be used to audit supply chains, as well as to automate complex warehouse tasks.
Moreover, warehouses can use RPA technology to create digital warehouses. This helps to streamline operations and increases efficiency.
Furthermore, the software can be used to create digital scanning systems to record the shipping of products, or it can be used to create digital picking systems to select products for shipment.
6. RFID in Warehouse Automation
RFID or Radio Frequency Identification technology uses radio waves to communicate information about the object to an electronic reader.
This technology is used in warehousing to track the movement and location of goods through the supply chain. Companies use RFID tags to track the flow of goods through the supply chain. They can also be used to manage inventory and improve customer service by providing real-time analytics.
RFID technology is beneficial for warehousing and logistics operations in all industries because it can be scaled to meet the specific needs of each company. It can be used to track all types of inventory in all environments. RFID readers are designed to read tags from a distance, making it easy to track inventory.
RFID tags are usually made with a piece of silicon that holds a chip. The chip is linked to information about the object, such as the product’s manufacturer, location, and unique identification number. When the tag passes near the reader (which is mounted in a warehouse or on a transportation vehicle), it’s detected and the information is transmitted to the reader. The reader transmits the information to a computer system, and it’s stored in a database.
7. Automated Inventory Control Platforms
Automated inventory control platforms are centralized computer systems that manage inventory. These systems integrate with other warehouse technologies to control the flow of goods through the supply chain and manage inventory records. In comparison, these software systems are less expensive and have a quicker ROI than automation.
They can also be used to create online marketplaces and provide customer analytics. There are two ways in which inventory can be controlled – manually or automatically:
- Manual control is when an employee manually inputs data into an inventory computer application
- Automatic control is when a computer or machine is used to collect data, often through sensors and scanners.
These systems are beneficial for warehousing operations in all industries because they can be scaled to meet the specific needs of each company.
Customizable to fit the needs of any operation, these platforms can track inventory, manage orders, and provide historical data. They can also be used to manage third-party logistics providers and provide data that’s helpful in strategic decision-making.
Challenges to Efficient Warehousing
At the grass roots level, the warehouse is often the first point of contact between a company and its customers. As such, it is critical that it be well maintained and operated efficiently.
The development of intelligent or “smart warehouse technology” through their logistics partners will help companies with the following challenges:
- The fulfillment of small orders
- Occurrences of human error
- Warehouse operators shortages
- Reducing delivery windows
- Omnichannel and ecommerce and shipments
Other top issues that companies face in optimizing this process are accuracy in inventory management, availability of goods, and the cost of goods.
These issues can be overcome through the implementation of new technologies, such as warehouse automation, sensor-based tracking, and blockchain technology.
Warehouse efficiency goes beyond just the logistics of moving goods from A to B. There must also be an emphasis on safety, accuracy, and customer satisfaction. With the tools available today, companies can achieve greater efficiency in every aspect of their warehousing operations.
Key Benefits of Warehouse Technology
As the competition in the global market increases, manufacturers are bringing these new warehousing systems and technologies into their supply chains to stay ahead in the race.
In the same way, manufacturers of warehouse equipment are upgrading their systems to make them more efficient, less costly, and easy to use. With the help of new technologies, warehouses can become more profitable.
A few key benefits include:
- Increased productivity and efficiency
- Reduced labor costs
- More efficient inventory management
- Faster production flows
- Diminished risk of processing errors
On the downside, more technology means less people, and fewer jobs. On the upside, less people means fewer resources, for example lights, HVAC systems, etc which are required to keep humans safe and comfortable in warehouses.