Read the first part of this series, “Developing the Warehouse of the Future.”
In the future, the warehouse will not be built “just to store a bunch of stuff.” Firms are not going to design systems where many assets sit idle for a period of time. Thinking about the role that the warehouse plays in the bigger supply chain is driving the need for different kinds of facilities.
According to VDC, the warehouse of the future will support the fulfillment needs for multiple channels including brick and mortar, wholesale, home deliveries, and parcel shipments, often simultaneously.
Warehouses are also increasingly becoming strategic assets in the battle to exceed customer expectations and capitalize on competitive differentiators.
Here are four innovations that will soon be coming to a warehouse near you:
- Flying drones—both in and out of the warehouse. Traditional inventory management processes required employees to scan items manually, which is a very time consuming and error-prone process that made it nearly impossible to keep track of all items in the warehouse. Enter the flying drone which, working in pairs, can do the work of 100 humans over the same time period, according to supply chain specialist, Argon Consulting. This means they can do several tours of a warehouse – even at night – compare results, identify discrepancies, and build up a much more accurate picture more quickly. In fact, drone makers like PINC claim scanning accuracy of close to 100 percent.
- Smart wearables for workers. Using hands-free devices that are worn on their bodies and connected to the Internet, warehouse workers will use a combination of real-time updates and instructions to work smarter and faster. Smart glasses combined with 2-way headsets, for example, allow employees to receive and follow specific directions (and get real-time notifications) in a completely “hands free” manner. Other wearables incorporate GPS tracking to prevent employees from entering dangerous areas of a warehouse and fitness tracking to monitor stress and health levels.
- More efficient picking technology. One of the biggest users of labor in the warehouse, a company’s picking operations can literally make or break its overall budget in today’s fast-paced, e-commerce-centric distribution environment. Using methods like FIFO (First in, First out) to keep products with expiration dates from going out of date, and picking and slotting technology that helps decrease time-to-stock and time-to-pick for orders, companies will effectively increase their productivity without increasing their overhead, which will provide greater benefits and investment opportunities in other parts of the supply chain.
- Sophisticated analytics that detect and eliminate process weaknesses. The warehouse of the future will combine that Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and automation to create intuitive, responsive systems. Inventory management software, for instance, will help companies optimize stock levels, while modeling tools will help with construction design and warehouse layout planning. Through increasing, advanced data analyses, for example, companies will process even more information, leverage cloud-based computing power, and even more effectively improve their supply chain standards and best practices.