Warehouses in an Era of ‘All Things Smart’

Warehousing IOT

Companies in the logistics sector are looking towards a future where technology will play a key role in keeping pace with changing customer expectations, while also boosting the efficiency of operations across the supply chain. Warehouses are an integral component of a logistics ecosystem that not only serve as a vital hub in the flow of goods – but also impact the efficiency, speed and accuracy of shipments. Advances in technology, coupled with the affordability and accessibility of technology-driven innovation, have made today’s warehouse “smarter” than ever before – one that is built to function as efficiently as possible within the operating budget of the business, while staying responsive to ever changing demand.

Warehouses typically need to store large volumes of goods, of different forms and types – and also maintain optimum conditions for storage of these goods. In such a scenario, real-time visibility of inventory is critical for decision-making and contingency planning. This is where technology comes into play. In this post, we outline the technologies that are transforming warehouses from a mere storage facility into a source of competitive advantage for logistics providers.

The use of sensors such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags is becoming increasingly common in warehouses today. As against the traditional usage of bar codes that needed to be scanned manually for information, this wireless technology provides real-time visibility into the exact location, condition and progress of an item or pallet to which it is tagged. It can also generate alerts when sensitive or fragile items are not in their designated locations. This is particularly useful in cold chain logistics where items such as dairy products and other perishable goods must be stored in dedicated zones of the warehouse, where temperature or humidity thresholds cannot be compromised. The data collected from these sensors can feed into a warehouse management system (WMS) for making processing decisions that drive higher efficiencies. More recently, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based Beacons have been deployed in place of RFID tags owing to their affordability and energy-conserving nature.

Logistics providers are slowly turning to autonomous operations in their warehouses to ensure timely and error-free movement of goods around the warehouse, while also boosting the productivity of employees. Though still in its nascent phase, collaborative robots are being designed to work alongside warehouse personnel to guide them to items that need to be picked, or to carry goods around from point to point without human intervention. Robots follow a set of defined pathways and are equipped with sensors to detect obstructions in their path and avoid collisions. Additionally, the automation of picking and packing operations significantly reduces the number of miles walked by warehouse workers, making them less tired and more efficient.

Another emerging trend in the field of wireless communication technology – Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN or LoRa) is set to revolutionize IoT applications in modern warehouses. Owing to its long-range connectivity, ability to penetrate walls, low power consumption and low cost, LoRa networks are ideal for warehousing operations in which sensors need to transmit small amounts of data several times each day – such as location. A cost-effective alternative to WiFi networks in large warehouses, LoRa is used primarily in locating items or pallets within inventory.

The future of warehouse operations looks very promising for logistics providers who adapt to the latest technology innovations, some of which have been detailed in this post. Having provided logistics and supply chain solutions to several companies and industries across 18+ countries, t4u is well positioned to address the challenges facing logistics providers by adopting an ‘ecosystem’ approach that connects all stakeholders through the intelligent use of technology, and gives them immense value by being a part of the ecosystem. Drop us a note to know more about our solutions for this space.

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