To remain competitive in a fast-paced and continuously growing market, the world of retail fulfillment is automation to a greater extent, minimizing costs, increasing efficiency and productivity, and helping to gather data.
By 2020, the utilization of this technology will be supported extensively, with 75 percent of decision-makers aiming to adopt more technology and having a smart warehouse system.
Combining IoT and smart warehouses, the difficulties associated with eCommerce can be overcome, allowing you to track the whereabouts of the products throughout the supply chain. Smart shelving is one of the latest technologies which is capturing everybody’s attention in the world of fulfillment and retail.
Let’s look further at smart warehouse shelving systems and everything regarding integrating it into warehouse management systems.
What is a Smart Warehouse?
The future is NOW, or at least that is what it is starting to feel like. While we might not yet have flying cars as we saw in The Jetsons cartoon, our technology is undoubtedly evolving swiftly. Automation is now more common than ever, making most of our jobs significantly more manageable.
Smart warehousing via warehouse management software (WMS) represents some of the most brilliant examples of businesses that are slowly and gradually embracing this new technology.
The advancement of the warehouse continues to be significantly impacted by the Internet of Things (IoT), aiding to simplify order fulfillment processes and streamline more complex needs. As the requirement for faster and more varied delivery grows, the number of smart warehouses is also projected to skyrocket.
A smart warehouse is the pinnacle of warehouse automation (in other words, the automation of several components of warehousing operations). Like smart homes, smart warehouses are enabled with several interconnected and automated technologies.
They work together to enhance the warehouse’s production and efficiency, reducing the number of human employees while also mitigating errors. In manual warehouses, you will mostly see workers picking products, moving around with lists, loading them into carts, and delivering them into the shipping docks.
However, orders can be received robotically in smart warehousing once the system confirms if the product is in stock. Pick-up lists are transferred to robot carts that place the ordered goods into containers and deliver them to workers for the next step.
What are Smart Warehouse Systems?
Smart warehouse systems result from the several interconnected warehousing technologies working collaboratively. Together, these systems form a technological ecosystem, where goods are taken, identified, sorted, arranged, and pulled for shipping robotically.
The top smart warehouse solutions automate almost the whole operation, from suppliers to buyers, with minimal errors. Smart warehouses comprise several interconnected technologies, all working towards the same objectives. Each piece of the puzzle is assigned to do a job that can keep the warehouse running at its best.
What Is Smart Shelving?
Smart shelving senses the pressure and weight placed on the shelves’ surface and shares this valuable information with the software and WMS. This can be combined with barcodes or radio-frequency identification (RFID), signifying that the inventory stays up to date, with systems tracking when the goods are received, picked, stored, or shipped.
Smart shelving senses the weight and pressure placed on the surface of shelves. This information is then shared with software and warehouse management systems. It can easily be combined with radio-frequency identification (RFID) or barcodes, signifying inventory is kept up to date, with systems keeping track of when they are received, stored, picked, or shipped.
Integrating Smart Shelving
Just as the IoT technology began to reach critical mass in the consumer market, such devices are becoming a crucial component in the advancement of supply chain and warehousing.
From RFID trackers to wearable devices to smart shelves, these evolutions promise to simplify the order fulfillment process while helping to meet the business clients' and consumers’ growing expectations.
Besides, businesses will ultimately need to implement these new technologies to keep up with the changing logistics landscapes while effectively integrating them into their operations to achieve a strong return on investment (ROI).
The introduction and swift development in eCommerce over the last 20 years have entirely changed the nature and dynamics of warehouse management. Most businesses deal with these challenges by growing their staff to keep up with the rising demand.
Keeping order fulfillment at its peak was left to the employees, aided by enhancing software solutions to keep track of the goods’ flow. Still, to compete in the fast-changing marketplace and improve efficiency, even more, most businesses are making the shift towards increased automation, together with better data collection and analysis.
While automation indeed tends to minimize costs and speed up processes, improved collection of data lets businesses leverage Big Data analytics solutions into actionable improvements in the supply chain. These analytics can expose patterns that help guide ERP (enterprise resource planning).
By creating a clear fulfillment chain, smart shelving can work together with the current business processes. It can be integrated with wearable devices that inform workers of the location of the products to be picked. This information can also be shared with picking robots. Smart shelving can also signal possible errors.
For instance, notifications can be sent to pickers who gathered the wrong item. This can be evaluated using RFID tagging or by emphasizing that the right shelf didn’t record a decreased weight load. This additional level of error checking helps avoid the mistakes and costs associated with them.
Smart shelving can also track stock levels, notifying teams when they’re running low, or even robotically re-ordering stuff if programmed to do so. Besides this, they can weigh stuff on shelving, calculate shipping costs and send this detail to retailers and customers.
By keeping track of the removal of products and links to WMS, smart shelving can gather data and highlight trends and consumer purchasing patterns and behaviors. This can then be taken back to retail decision-makers who work to make information-led choices that benefit both the suppliers and retailers.
As the capability for automation grows, integration plays a significant role in recording information and acting on it. Smart shelving proves to be one of the leading technologies in smart warehouses, minimizing the likelihood of human error, working to keep track of inventory, streamlining processes, and saving time.
The Necessity of Smart Warehouses
Most warehouse industry professionals have understood it is high time to make a move towards advanced technological infrastructure. When consumers and clients ask for more visibility into how their goods are dealt with and faster turnout, technological innovation becomes crucial.
The challenges associated with eCommerce raise the bar for supply chain logistics. By integrating IoT devices in a warehouse setting, businesses can help to change their order fulfillment operations.
These devices give you enhanced automation that can help alleviate or eliminate the workers’ pain points. With IoT, supply chains can be tied together, and goods can be tracked all the way from the supplier to warehousing to customer deliveries.
Smart Shelving and the Internet of Things
The best place to begin is smart shelving, which can also be integrated with tracking systems like barcode and RFID scanning. They measure the pressure and weight on shelf surfaces and wirelessly transfer this information directly or via intermediary software to a WMS system.
This produces a real-time outlook into inventory levels. When joined with bar code scanning or RFID sensors, it allows for generation tracking. When inventories are received, picked, placed on shelves, or made a way out of the warehouse, all these behaviors are instantly documented, and the inventory list is updated. This technology allows the fulfillment chain to be clearer.
From smart warehouse shelving systems and beyond, IoT devices connect with equipment software, which is linked to warehouse management systems and warehouse control systems such as conveyors, robots, drones, sorters, and workers with handheld devices. This lets you closely monitor and regulate all of a warehouse’s operations.
Better Data Collection
Smart shelving also offers a lot of secondary benefits. Like the majority of the IoT devices, they allow for more significant data collection that establishes the groundwork for beneficial Big Data analytics.
The difficulties with picking, trends in inventory management, and general inefficiencies might all be concealed in the shelf-level data. A thorough analysis in aggregate or in real-time can lead to instant or long-term modifications that help streamline operations and boost coordination.
Streamlined Warehouse Operations
Many benefits directly result from smart warehouse shelving. Apart from real-time inventory visibility, they also make it easier for workers to find goods. Wearable or handheld devices can be combined with smart shelf-linked management software to swiftly direct pickers to the right place.
Smart shelving also acts like a redundancy, ensuring that the right goods are picked. Whenever an order is given to a specific employee for picking, a smart shelf can verify that the right item was selected by recording a change in weight or signaling an RFID-tagged item's movement.
If no change is documented, the system can send signals to the worker signifying that they might have picked up the wrong thing.
Besides acting as a check for man-made error, smart shelving can help allow a transition to drone-based or robot picking. The distinctive shelf information can help direct an automated device to the right place and verify that it has picked the right item.
Integration Is Key
These devices should be seamlessly integrated with WMS to best understand the benefits of IoT technologies and smart shelving. Moreover, integration with general SCM, either via third-party logistic services that operate with the current WMS or customizing one’s operations for enhanced connectivity, lets businesses benefit from IoT technology.
This kind of network enables smart shelves to automatically inform the distributors when they’re running low and re-order. An entirely integrated system permits live order information to be sent out to customers and partners. The weight sensors can help warrant more accurate shipping costs. Better time savings and coordination are key benefits.
IoT devices are on the tip of drastically modifying warehouse management. While smart shelving helps boost inventory management and leads to enhanced automation, other IoT devices such as robot pickers, RFID, and even drones simplify operations.
All of the information gathered by these devices help fulfill customer demands for more transparency while directing enhancements in fulfillment efficiency and speed. Businesses must leverage these new technologies to stay competitive and create warehouses of the future.
7 Smart Warehouse Technologies You Need to Implement Today
Apparently, the world of smart warehousing can be incredibly challenging to navigate, especially after you take the time to consider the rate at which new stuff is being launched into the market.
As a result, we bring seven smart warehouse technologies that you must absolutely have. Indeed you might have heard of some of these technologies, while others might be new to you. Read on to understand the value each of these new smart warehouse technologies can bring to your business and implement them right away.
Automated Picking Tools
The days of error-prone picking are long gone as now warehouses can significantly benefit from picking rates that are near perfect when the elements of picking automation are integrated into the flow.
There are a wide array of different tools that you can use to enhance the picking processes, like pick-to-light, robotic order picking, and voice-automated order picking.
All these technologies make use of innovative barcoding options that integrate effortlessly with the management software you’ve chosen for the most accurate and fastest automated reporting experiences.
Automated Inventory Control Platforms
If you still use paper and pen for performing basic processes such as cycle counting, inventory logging, and stock take, you’re probably not the only one. In 2018, Motorola reported that 41% of warehouse facilities depended on this manual cycle-counting process.
Even though this method is tried and tested, it is prone to consistency, data, and transcription errors. Moreover, it can cause a lot of disruption in your operations.
When used together with several other technological mainstays, such as inventory and asset tags, automated inventory control platforms are adopted to take all the guesswork, manual labor, and unnecessary time out of the conventional inventory control.
Most of these platforms are created to robotically count the inventory and produce data for real-time, speedy, and accurate reporting that can be accessed from far off.
Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
There isn’t a better way to boost your storage and retrieval processes than integrating automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) into your warehouse. They are an efficient mechanism to ramp up the storage and retrieval process in loading, putaway, and stocktake.
AGVs are self-guided and can include pallet carts and forklifts, which follow digital paths through the warehouse to load/unload boxes, pallets, and other containers. These vehicles can be adopted in your warehouse without revisiting your systems and layout entirely. You can also add and broaden your AGV complement as needed, in line with your business’s growth.
AGVs have a structural integrity that is evolving as technology advances. Besides rack, pallet, and other container storage, AGVs also automate and control the whole receiving process. Still, even the existing models in the market now have proven to produce a faster return on investment (ROI) than manual labor and be considerably safer.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
WMS should thoroughly consolidate all of your essential warehouse data into one easily accessible platform to give selective supply chain members a complete view of your workings, real-time statistics, lightning-fast reporting, and accurate planning capabilities.
This data compartmentalization process makes way for super-fast reporting, which can signify ultra-efficient planning when used tactfully, even for situations they did not see coming.
Warehouse management or execution systems perfectly balance the other automated elements. The use of WMS should complement your other autonomous procedures and offer you the following benefits:
- Optimized warehouse layout
- Accurate demand forecasting
- Real-time access to good-quality data gives your better visibility throughout your supply chain.
- Minimized labor costs due to efficient labor allocation
- Improved inventory accuracy
- Streamlined warehouse processes
- Improved supplier relationships
- Improved warehouse responsiveness and flexibility
- Decreased time between picks
- Improved warehouse security and safety
- Improved customer service levels
- Improved supplier relationships
- The ability to implement a continuous optimization strategy.
Internet of Things (IoT) Implementation
The Internet of Things (IoT) is more like an overarching idea than a specific technology. However, it’s regularly put into place in the most effective smart warehouses in the world. When it is utilized to regulate several moving parts, both manual and automated, it can optimize your processes so that their data dwells in a single and easily accessible network.
This helps to optimize the inventory control procedure, overall customer experience, and labor planning of a warehouse, through more swift order fulfillment rates.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)
ASRS systems have been present for many years now, and despite doing their job of enhancing accuracy and throughput, they’ve mostly been regarded as being clunky, costly, and generally inflexible.
Modern-day ASRS are only getting sleeker and still have all of their original advantages, such as modular possibilities, minimized labor restraints and costs, and better accuracy.
Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
Despite the benefits of fully autonomous and robotic technologies, it isn't always feasible for every warehouse to embrace such technology instantly, especially considering that this implementation calls for sizable funds and infrastructure changes. This is why many warehouses are assuming collaborative robots (cobots).
Cobots are fully robotic and autonomous technologies which call for a substantial investment but are an excellent addition to a busy warehouse. They are designed to work with your current associates and not without them.
Moreover, they allow warehouses to keep many of their processes and infrastructure design choices intact while benefiting from the optimized workflow that fully autonomous elements provide.
So you can see that you do not require a thorough overhaul of your warehouse to make it more efficient and smart. Instead, you can just introduce one or more of these technologies that make sense for your current business and all of its processes initially. After that, you’ll see that just about any warehouse can be a smart warehouse.
Smart warehousing definitely brings in a great deal of optimization to basically any warehouse operation. Automation is now on the rise. It will continue to be implemented by a more significant number of warehousing companies. As a result, you really do not want to fall behind this excellent growth opportunity.