According to Gartner, the next three to five years will usher in an increase in the adoption of digital supply chain technology. Already, retailers are feeling the need to up their game and satisfy customers’ demands for efficiencies like transparency regarding their orders, next-day shipping and sometimes, even same-day shipping.
Processes like these are a main reason for you to consider turning your warehouse into a smart one that’s driven by digitization – particularly since we’re in the midst of a severe labor shortage.
Digitized supply chains are characterized by a high degree of system integration, process automation and smarter decision-making. And companies implementing solutions to enable a smart warehouse are more likely to successfully compete and thrive in an increasingly complex retail world.
The following explores some challenges companies face and how technology enables not only a more competitive supply chain but a smarter warehouse.
Supply chain modernization is becoming a must-have
Since the start of the pandemic, the supply chain has become near and dear to everybody’s heart and is increasingly driving executive decisions. Supply chain modernization has become a necessity rather than an option – even for more traditional industries.
Take grocery stores, for example, who are now investing in dark stores and micro-fulfillment centers. They know they must reinvent themselves and offer processes like click-and-collect and direct-to-consumer delivery since traditional methods of navigating problems and peaks don’t work anymore.
Regardless of the vertical you are in, the heart of digitization lies in your warehouse management system (WMS) as it optimizes the flow of goods, the use of resources and can be the hub for integrating other technology, including:
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), which reduce time-consuming tasks like walking through the warehouse as they provide a goods-to-person solution, increase picking accuracy and even do mundane jobs like emptying the trash. Relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, AMRs provide efficiency, growth, scalability and speed – enabling your warehouse to get goods out the door faster to meet customer demand.
- Voice- and vision-directed work solutions that increase productivity, accuracy, speed and safety by enabling workers to keep their hands and eyes free. Intuitive and easy to use, these auto-ID solutions replace manual systems and make your warehouse workers more mobile and efficient.
- Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and advanced analytics, all of which empower your warehouse to shift from reactive to proactive decision-making, enabling optimization in areas like wave planning, slot optimization and labor planning.
- IoT sensors used warehouse-wide to do things like track assets, send low-stock alerts and locate displaced products.
- Automationandmaterial handling equipment (MHE) to help reduce human intervention for manual, repetitive tasks, using layer pickers, stacker cranes and conveyors, for example.
- Warehouse design and simulation technology empowers you to easily test and evaluate new warehouse layout configurations and operational process changes to make better decisions.
A modern, robust WMS integrates with these solutions and more to build and maintain a smart warehouse.
Technology helps solve your real-life warehouse challenges
Although the benefits a smart warehouse delivers are plenty, the most prevalent reasons are that you can increase revenue and decrease costs (and dependance on labor) through improved efficiency, accuracy, scalability and predictability. For instance, digital solutions could drive twice as many orders out the door with just 10% more labor, while making you more efficient and accurate.
Take voice technology as an example. It successfully removes distractions, improving accuracy and efficiency. And when an AMR shows the picker a photo of the right item or brings the goods to the picker, this, too, increases accuracy and efficiency.
Likewise, when you have a surge in orders, smart warehouses can help you determine whether or not you can scale to accommodate the need. Let’s say you’re an e-commerce company that’s efficient at picking 10,000 orders to go out for next-day delivery but undergoes a surge and needs to pick 50,000 orders in the same timeframe.
Smart warehouses enable you to scale but also know your limits – making you better at predicting whether you’ll meet that tight timeframe or if you need to say no. They can also accurately predict when orders will arrive to their end destination, which is a huge benefit to e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers alike.
As complexity rises, so, too, does the need for digitization
The name of the supply chain game will always be changing. Retailers will continue facing supply chain complexity. And, in a day, and age when labor resources are scarce and workers simply don’t show up for their shifts, the need for smart warehouses has never been so great.
Rather than being linear, smart warehouses are multifaceted. They allow companies to say, “I can pick 10,000 orders with 100 people but can also pick 30,000 orders with 110 workers.”
A myriad of innovative technologies can help you build and maintain a smart warehouse. Through digitization, you can improve efficiency, accuracy, scalability and predictability – and ultimately, your smart warehouse can increase customer satisfaction along the way.