Keep technology front of mind when designing your new warehouse
Across all industries, businesses are benefiting from evolving technologies. In complex operations like warehouses, technology can reduce labour costs, boost profitability, improve safety and increase efficiency.
It’s no wonder then, that experts are calling this technology transition the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Whether you want to use technology to better integrate existing systems, introduce new functions or rethink the whole management network, you’ll get the best results by building your requirements into your warehouse design from the start.
Connectivity is key
Warehouses are increasingly interconnected – full of smart devices that rely on the internet to collect data and communicate.
Collectively referred to as The Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices allow businesses to synchronise actions and data across multiple technologies and touchpoints.
The best-equipped warehouses now employ sensors, sorters, cameras, conveyors and smart mobile devices. All of which create systems that communicate in real-time to provide the data needed to improve.
Poorly connected warehouses can be held back by siloed operations that lead to profit-sapping issues like errors in inventory and reporting processes.
To take advantage of technological advances and achieve secure connectivity across your whole supply chain, you need high-functioning, rugged and industrial WiFi that is designed around your operational needs. In other words, you need to design your warehouse around connectivity and, specifically, around the smart devices your operation will be using.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the technologies you might want to use and uncover how to accommodate them in the design stage of your warehouse.
Smart Devices and your WMS
The digitisation of warehouse management systems (WMS) allowed operations to grow exponentially over recent decades. Just moving from paper to data has had a huge impact on efficiency in the sector.
Adding smart devicesinto the mix allows businesses to collect, analyse and action intricate data on an industrial scale. Smart devices include sensors, cameras and Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) that collect valuable information from previously dumb equipment.
For example, Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs), besides proving real-time information regarding stock location and levels, can also collect data on warehouse conditions like temperature and humidity, that can reduce stock damage and storage costs over time.
Over the long term, this kind of Big Data can be used to inform future warehouse designs and upgrades, as well as decision-making and predictive-analysis.
To make the best use of smart devices in your warehouse, you’ll need a tailored connectivity solution with a high level of cyber security and processing power to match.
But, aside from broadband speed and hardware, you’ll want to consider whether your operational data will be stored on-site or in the cloud and what kind of physical security to work into the building design to keep everything safe.
Automated guided vehicles and collaborative robots (cobots)
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and collaborative robots (cobots) reduce the labour workload of warehouses by replacing or supporting the needs of human staff to carry out repetative tasks.
AGVs are portable machines that transport goods and raw materials around the warehouse using floor stickers, radio waves, cameras, lasers, magnets or wires. Most AGVs use GPS and transmit their location to a central system that allows management to semi-automate or fullyl-automate tasks while mainintaing oversight and the option of manual control.
Because AGVs require consistent signal to operate effectively, they need to be designed into a build. Otherwise, issues such as the placement of stock stacks can interrupt signal and cause dead zones where AGVs fail to operate.
One way around this is to use cobots rather than AGVs. Since cobots are cheaper and only partially automated, they can work alongside staff in a semi-autonimous way,. without the need for uninterrupted signal. However, both options require planning and some structural considerations at the build stage.
When we think about wearable tech, smart watches are first come to mind. And while these are used in some warehouse operations, wearables can extend to any smart device worn on the body like the head, face, torso and even legs.
Examples include connected jackets and vests that transmit data about worker posture and inform warehouse health and safety proceedures. Other smart PPE like helmets with cameras can scan surroundings for safety hazards and feed information back to the wearer and management.
Early signs suggests that wearables greatly increase profitability by enabling staff to work faster and more accurately. A recent trial of Augmented Reality (AR) glasses by DHL resulted in a 25% efficiency increase across their picking operation.
The glasses read barcodes on inventory selected by picking staff and either rejected or confirmed the selection in real-time, which allowed workers to move on to subsequent picks without checking or second guessing their work. The glasses also informed workers of the shortest route to reach items on the warehouse floor and provided optimal placement information for packing items into trolleys.
Most wearable tech requires consistent broadband signal at sufficient strength to quickly read and transmit data. A key challenge facing established warehouses is how to run wearable tech in challenging environments where access point placement is often dictated by rarely optimal signal and where battery life can be lower due to cold conditions.
By considering the use of wearable tech at design stage, you can build a warehouse that is entirely tech-ready and save many of the headaches faced by existing warehouses as they try to modernise.
To discuss your requirements, reach out to our connectivity team today.