The maturity of various technologies is steadily and significantly driving change in the logistics industry. The adoption of IoT-based automation and robotics continues to streamline routine warehousing operations, reduce operational costs and enhance customer satisfaction by fostering data-driven warehouse management, says Alex Selwitz, director of SEO at Red Stag Fulfillment.
IoT-enabled automation relies on various sensors, software, and interconnected devices to perform routine tasks. These automation systems handle inventory management, warehouse equipment performance monitoring, restocking, wireless fleet management, and personnel management, among other tasks. Robots are pivotal for material handling – catering to packaging, transportation, and sorting. Advanced robots can supplement asset maintenance in warehouses by performing complex maintenance tasks.
IoT-enabled automation and robotics continue disrupting warehousing operations, helping companies overcome a myriad of logistics and supply chain challenges. How will these technologies influence the future of warehousing?
IoT-enabled solutions for process optimisation
IoT-enabled devices will be more prominent in warehouses to collect relevant and adequate data for continuous warehousing optimisation. These devices include:
- Environmental condition monitoring devices
- Asset tracking devices
- Energy management devices
- Safety, security, and surveillance systems
Environmental condition monitoring devices containing humidity, temperature or air quality sensors monitor warehouse conditions in real time. They analyse various environmental variables and generate automated alerts if these conditions deviate from the predetermined levels. Data from these devices is beneficial for determining optimal storage conditions to prevent damage to sensitive items. The devices also help companies to satisfy warehousing conditions for compliance with regulatory requirements for storing and handling different categories of goods.
Asset tracking sensors provide adequate information for optimising the productivity of different movable assets within warehouses. Warehouse managers can track all material handling equipment and their levels of utilisation. Managers use this data to create more efficient asset utilisation schedules and maintain substantial inventory visibility.
The future warehouse will feature more smart energy management devices and workflow automation tools. The energy management devices monitor energy consumption data across the warehouse. The data is essential for identifying viable opportunities for reducing energy consumption and lowering related costs. These systems can ration lighting brightness at different times of the day or based on real-time space occupancy. Warehouse automation systems can enhance inventory tracking and order picking, generating timely alerts when available stocks drop below predefined levels. These solutions can eliminate common warehouse inefficiencies and process bottlenecks, paving the way for faster and better customer fulfillment, improved warehouse safety, and predictable operations costs.
Industrial robots as a service
The number of robots across industries is around 3.5 million operational units. These robots reduce error rates in warehousing operations and optimise e-commerce fulfillment services. Purchasing and maintaining robots is expensive and may not be tenable for small and medium-scale warehouses. As robot technology advances, warehouses can leverage Robots as a Service. Robot manufacturers have developed leasing and subscription-based models to avail robots for various market segments.
The future warehouse benefits immensely from RaaS, enabling smaller warehouses to access advanced robot technologies at affordable rates and streamline routine warehouse operations. The prospects of RaaS in the future warehouse are:
- Improved scalability and flexibility – warehouses can increase or decrease the number of robots in their facilities based on the predominant workflows. These warehouses can scale operations without heavy financial investment.
- Faster and cheaper technological implementation – warehouses can deploy robots quickly using the RaaS model. Service providers deploy and integrate robotic systems with existing processes, leveraging insights from past experiences for seamless and cheaper robot integration.
- Predictable robot performance – in the RaaS model, service providers are responsible for maintaining, repairing, and upgrading robot systems. They provide lifetime support, relieving warehouses from the burden of regular robot maintenance. This allows the warehousing company to focus on its core business while enjoying uninterrupted robot performances.
Robots as a Service (RaaS) offers warehouses better accessibility to advanced robot technologies. It is a cost-effective warehouse automation model aiming to optimise material handling and enhance operational efficiency. RaaS ensures a warehouse of any size can effectively adapt to evolving consumer demands.
Advanced warehousing drones
Operations in the future warehouse will revolve around data. Warehouses will continue optimising inventory tracking, surveillance, and order picking. Warehousing drones, sometimes called aerial robots, will be crucial in future warehousing. These drones operate autonomously that is, they can traverse expansive warehouses within a short time and complete complex activities.
The roles of drones in warehouses and their impact on process optimisation include:
- Inventory tracking and management – warehouse drones utilise different object identification technologies. They may contain barcode readers or radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners. As these drones fly across the warehouse, they capture and relay real-time data on the status of available inventory. They can identify wrongly placed stocks and the exact locations of particular goods. These drones reduce inventory counting errors and can complete stock-taking faster.
- Layout optimisation – warehouse drones can collect and analyse vast amounts of data. They contain high-resolution cameras that capture aerial views of the warehouse. Such images provide data about warehouse traffic, storage space utilisation, positions of material handling equipment, and physical obstacles on the warehouse floor. Warehouse managers can leverage this information to redesign warehouse layouts to maximise efficiency.
- Order fulfillment – warehouse drones are beneficial for retrieving orders. They can identify the locations of specified items, move autonomously to the storage position, pick the item, and deliver it to the packaging or delivery station. These drones improve the picking efficiency, ensuring warehouses complete deliveries within designated timelines.
- Safety and security surveillance – drones supplement security efforts within warehouses. They monitor warehouses and provide video feeds to alert security teams of unauthorised access or theft. These drones are vital for safety surveillance to inspect hazardous locations in the warehouse. They can identify potential safety risks and alert safety teams in real-time.
Automated material handling systems
Another solution defining the future warehouse is the increased utilisation of automated material handling systems. Utilising Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) is significantly improving warehouse operations. The designs of these systems minimise manual intervention when picking, loading, and unloading goods in warehouses. These machines move goods faster and more precisely, ensuring shorter turnaround times.
AGVs and AMRs are works in progress, integrating multiple technologies to enhance their functionality. They combine vision technology, object identification technologies, and artificial intelligence to analyse working conditions and identify goods. These material-handling devices also contain multiple sensors for data collection. The data is essential for making intelligent decisions and monitoring real-time equipment performances.
The capabilities and functionality of automated material handling systems will improve as the world makes advances in artificial intelligence. AI combined with analytics and machine learning can enhance:
- Automated route planning and optimisation across warehouses
- Collision detection and avoidance capabilities of AMRs and AGVs
- Predictive maintenance of automated material handling systems
- The adaptability of AGVs and AMRs in different warehousing environments
AGVs and AMRs will dominate future warehouses since they streamline order picking and inventory management and can enhance order processing speeds.
Advanced technology will define the future of warehousing. Companies in the warehousing space should identify existing gaps in warehousing services and explore how emerging technologies can address such gaps. Warehousing companies should invest in upskilling staff to ensure integration of advanced solutions. Warehouses should effectively amalgamate human knowledge and advanced technologies to create a dynamic and profitable logistics landscape.
The author is Alex Selwitz, director of SEO at Red Stag Fulfillment.
About the author
Alex Selwitz is the director of SEO for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and digital marketing. In his free time, Alex enjoys playing guitar and learning about new trends in the digital world.