New Technology and the Future of Warehousing and Logistics
Picture your smartphone. It can give you directions, take photos, send alerts, even tell you through apps like Find My Phone whether or not your spouse has left the office.
Now picture your warehouse in 2025. Your driver is delayed in a snowstorm and you have staff waiting at the dock. His smartphone sends an alert with a precise arrival time, so workers can keep busy until the moment he arrives. It also sends the driver (in his native language) security procedures, delivers a unique code to central security when he checks in, then directs him to the correct dock.
Cutting edge technologies, many of which exist in some form today, will one day be applied to warehousing and logistics, changing the way we do business.
“Today’s modern warehouse incorporates a deft mix of highly evolved technologies and optimized business processes, while maximizing human interaction to provide increased labor throughput to help ensure supply chain success,” wrote Steve Banker, logistics and supply chain writer for Forbes.com.
Warehouses today may rely on automated control systems (ACS) and warehouse management systems (WMS), streamlining operations and lowering costs. But behemoths like Amazon, with their practically bottomless budgets and customers who expect immediacy, are driving advancement of today’s technology for tomorrow’s warehouse.
The warehouse of the future will need to have the space, flexibility and support to fulfill omni-channel order fulfillment to stay competitive. Speculation on how smart tech will revolutionize the warehouse is vast, from smart-glasses that display SKUs when a picker looks up at a pallet, to 3D printers to that mass-customize products for customers. Three of the key developments we’re keeping an eye on at Citi-Cargo & Storage are drones, robotics, and self-maintaining machines.
Some warehouses use drones today, buzzing around the warehouse, monitoring inventory during times workers aren’t in the aisles. But when vehicles and pallets are packed tightly together, drones can’t always access ID numbers.
The drones of tomorrow will be more agile and smaller – some say the size of an insect – to reach tight spaces quickly and accurately. According to Banker, checking inventory manually “can require 10-15 people … automating this can have good payback as drones find lost pallets and slots that are supposed to be full that are currently empty.”
Robots and “Cobots”
According to Banker, Amazon purchased Kiva System in 2012 thinking they’d develop and sell the company’s robots for warehouses. When they saw how robots could optimize picking and packing, they stopped selling them and kept the technology for themselves.
But in some warehouses, inventory is too fragile or oddly shaped for today’s robots. They need to be handled by a human. That’s where collaborative robots – cobots – may come to play in the future. “They combine human abilities with the power of machines,” according to thefuturewarehouse.com, “An exoskeleton worn by a human allows powerful yet precise moves, and is highly flexible.” Lightweight and simple to operate, these cobots are expected to support the lifting of heavy, fragile, non-standard items while preventing damage and injuries.
Big Data and Self-Maintained Machines
As today’s technologies collect a vast amount of data on warehouse operations, we’ll see more payoff from applying this intelligence to systems. Operations will use big data to identify ways to reduce maintenance cost and decrease machine downtime. It’ll help predict breakdowns and deploy self-maintenance technologies before a system fails.
Evolving demands call for and innovative technologies to support them, and innovative technology is leading the way.
Did you know Citi-Cargo & Storage offers warehousing and logistics solutions in the Twin Cities and Fargo Moorhead areas? Learn more.