The Modern Warehouse: How Technology is Reinventing Warehousing
Oracle Logistics & Compliance | 4 min READ
    
Warehouses have been integral to commerce since the middle ages and are as relevant today as they were back then. However, as we know, the warehouse is a remnant of the industrial era. As they grew more specialized and offered a more comprehensive range of services, the need for cataloging also increased. In almost no time, warehouse personnel found that they were spending up to half their time on just paperwork.
Fortunately, the computer revolution has enabled warehouses to move away from manual processes, and advancements in certain technologies have allowed warehouses to evolve further. Warehouse management systems (WMS) oversee all operational aspects of the warehouse, while blockchain technologies keep track of all the items that the warehouse receives and disperses. Specialized robots cater to loading and unloading packages, leaving warehouse personnel to focus on more critical tasks such as scheduling, maintenance, etc.
Nishant Kumar
Nishant Kumar

Solution Architect & SME: Supply Chain Management

Birlasoft

 
This relentless mechanization of warehouses means that the prospect of genuinely autonomous warehouses is closer than we might think. Leading supply chain consultants believe that warehouse managers and technicians will soon no longer have to report to work on-site and can monitor operations using computers from the comfort of their homes.
Understanding Smart Warehousing
Autonomous warehousing is already here, and it is just not evenly distributed. When the technology for automated warehousing becomes democratic, the logistics and supply chain industry will experience an unprecedented increase in their effectiveness. Some of the challenges that they will be able to solve are:
  • Problems arising from labor shortages
  • Coping with narrower delivery windows
  • Human error
  • Managing e-commerce and Omni–channel shipments
  • Fulfillment of small orders
In addition to tackling a slew of challenges, they will further enhance the capabilities of warehouses by providing the following benefits:
  • Reduced labor costs
  • Faster production times
  • Decreased instances of processing errors
  • Increase efficiency
  • Better inventory management techniques
Warehouses at the frontiers of technology are beginning to resemble their industrial overlords, i.e., their operational paradigms are increasingly indistinguishable from industrial command stations. Apart from their primary function of facilitating storage, they are also capable of just–in–time packaging, assembly, customer collection, and even product customization, unheard of in warehousing circles as recently as two decades ago.
As e-commerce begins to dominate consumption patterns, warehouses are also tasked with restocking returned items. It is a well–documented finding that social media has accelerated the instances of impulse buying, And as much as 20% of online purchases result in returns. Traditionally, returns did not feature in warehousing operations, and their addition to the workflows posed a challenge to warehouse operators already spread thin. Technology is now used to facilitate and restore these returns to the inventory. Smart warehousing is the most optimal method to meet customer demands, which are increasing daily.
Demystifying warehousing trends
At the 'smart warehouse' core is the WMS (Warehouse management system). WMS is a software suite tailored to warehouses' highly specialized needs and has two mandates: automate and optimize. Given their mandates, WMS technology has immensely benefitted from the following technologies:
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  • Voice–tech: WMS systems can now read instructions aloud and relay essential information regarding orders, inventories and shipments via a computer-generated voice. This reduces friction in the warehouse by freeing up workers' hands.
  • Advance networking: WMS is no longer a siloed system. It can now communicate with other machines as well. This allows it to form its network within the warehouse and help coordinate information more efficiently.
  • Machine learning (ML): ML capabilities are still nascent, but they will complement the networking capabilities that warehouses have adopted by enabling WMS' to use all the information at their disposal to operate independently within the warehouse.
  • Mobility solutions: Compact machines that perform highly advanced functions in the warehouse: barcode scanners, tablets, and RFID tags provide the backbone of the tracking systems in a WMS. Such technology is key to developing the data infrastructure needed for a genuinely autonomous warehouse.
  • Human-centric UI: Industrial solutions suffer from clunky user interfaces, which makes data interpretation much harder than it needs to be. Advances in design and information packaging are a boon in lightening the cognitive load on warehouse personnel.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): IoT endows any device to connect to a network and be a part of any information highway at a moment's notice. In conjunction with a WMS, it simplifies pallet tacking, data analysis, and forecasting.
  • Blockchain: While not being directly linked to warehouse operations in any way, blockchain technologies can be used by all the parties within a supply chain to have collective access to a permanent record of transactions. This enables a level of accuracy in forecasting and record keeping that unlocks new frontiers in inventory management and replenishment.
  • Robotics: Industrial robots are no longer limited to high-risk activities such as welding, assembly, etc. Warehouses represent a crucial market for the robotic industry and this is evident in the proliferation of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that are being used to manage warehouse operations quickly and efficiently.
These technologies are sufficiently mature and can be embedded in any warehouse in weeks. However, advanced technologies such as blockchain networks and autonomous mobile robots are out of reach for most providers as they require significant investment and a long gestation period before they turn profitable.
For most warehouses, replacing their highly complex spreadsheets and Rolodexes with a WMS will significantly reduce the burden on their employees and yield greater efficiency. Furthermore, it will also help reduce the warehouse's carbon footprint, a concern that many logistics companies are grappling with.
Software is not just a panacea for warehouses, it is a fundamentally transformative technology that can introduce a whole new dimension of operational efficiency and profitability for warehouses. Early movers will find themselves having a head start in the new 'Industry 4.0' paradigm that is upending traditional industries at breakneck speed.
 
 
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