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3 Tech Solutions Shaping the Future of Supply Chain

David Stanhope, CEO for Voice, Vision and Mobility (VVM)/Supply Chain Modelling and Scheduling (SCMS) at Körber Supply Chain Software, lays out the future of innovation in supply chain, and how voice, vision, and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are set to make a big impact in the warehouse.

The supply chain is evolving at a rapid rate and shows no signs of slowing down. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to transform the industry, increased speed and efficiency are key. In order to meet rising demand and satisfy safety requirements, businesses are relying more on warehouse technology to enhance their labor forces.

According to David Stanhope, CEO for VVM/SCMS at Körber Supply Chain Software, “The move to Android-based voice solutions will gather pace in the next few years, due to the flexibility they offer and increased competition in the marketplace.” Stanhope explains that this shift will empower supply chain managers to further enhance operational efficiencies, building on existing technology to optimize picking processes, receiving, task interleaving, and more.

On the heels of Android-based voice technology are vision-based systems designed to increase picking productivity, minimize errors in the picking process, and accelerate the loading and unloading of inventory. These dynamic systems have become a warehousing must-have alongside AMRs. For many supply chain managers, AMRs are stepping in to fill growing labor gaps that stand in the way of success. 

Combined, these three technologies — voice solutions, vision-based systems, and AMRs — are setting businesses up for a productive future over the next few years.  

Leveraging Android-Based Voice Solutions

Since the technology was first launched in the late 1990s, voice-directed warehousing has evolved drastically, mostly due to leaps and bounds made across the digital landscape.  Voice-activated picking — what some refer to as “hands-free, eyes-free picking” — has become particularly prevalent. According to a 2019 Grand View Research report, the global voice picking market size was valued at USD $1.9 billion in 2018 and is expected to hit a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.7 percent between 2019 and 2025.  

So where do Android-based voice-technology solutions — those that facilitate order picking through a dedicated Android OS app — come into play? “At present, warehouse employees rely on dedicated voice devices provided by their employers to drive greater efficiency in their day-to-day operations,” says Stanhope. “Whilst there is still strong demand for dedicated voice solutions, in the years to come, we expect to see more Android-based handheld and wearable devices that have a familiar user interface and are more accessible.” According to Stanhope, other features include enterprise-level encryption, multi-user capabilities, and comprehensive service offerings. 

A report from leading market research firm Technavio confirms the continued growth of these devices. In fact, the global rugged handheld devices market is expected to post a CAGR of almost 8 percent from 2019 to 2023, with Android-based devices at the helm. 

Putting Vision-Based Systems into Play

Vision-based systems, like voice-based ones, are designed to streamline the picking process and minimize opportunities for error. They also accelerate onboarding, helping new hires quickly navigate the warehouse and hit the ground running with new processes and procedures in operations where assisted reality is of benefit. 

In recent years, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have emerged along with the concept of a “smart warehouse.” “Many voice- and vision-based solutions have come to rely on AI and, in some cases, even work in tandem to further assist warehouse employees,” says Stanhope. 

For example, smart glasses, including those that incorporate heads-up displays and embedded microphones, leverage AI to provide employees with detailed visuals of a product they must locate, while audio tools detail step-by-step instructions.

In 2018, the MHI Annual Industry Report found that only 6 percent of respondents were currently using AI technology. That number jumped to 13 percent in 2019 and is expected to reach 62 percent within the next five years as the technology continues to optimize warehouse operations.  

Relying on Autonomous Mobile Robots to Get the Job Done

Warehouse robotics can help resolve workforce shortages, improve inventory management, increase safety, and more. Of all the robot-driven warehouse solutions out there, AMRs in particular have gained popularity in recent years. These self-driving devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are designed to help move inventory throughout the warehouse. But what makes them unique is how they accomplish this. 

AMRs rely on innovative sensors and maps that allow them to navigate their surroundings and move throughout a facility with utmost precision. “We’re also seeing a movement towards AMR voice control and AMR vision to improve functionality,” says Stanhope. “This opens up a whole new set of opportunities for supply chain managers.”

According to Stanhope, as supply chain employment rates drop to record lows, employers will likely turn to AMRs to assist — not replace — existing employees, helping them become as efficient and productive as possible. Recent studies support this theory, claiming that sales of warehouse automation technology (such as AMR and robotics) are expected to hit $22.4 billion by the end of 2021 — a significant jump from the $1.9 billion reached in 2016.  

Reaping the Benefits of Warehouse Technology

As warehouse technology continues to evolve, voice solutions are poised to remain a pivotal part of warehouse operations. Plus, voice-enabled devices are now joining forces with vision-based tools and robotics to drive AMR voice and AMR vision technology. Together, these platforms aim to revolutionize day-to-day warehouse operations over the next several years.

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