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Building an Automated Warehouse System: What Technologies Do You Need?

According to a survey conducted in 2016, around 85% of businesses will have gone fully digital by the year 2021. For warehouse operators and logistics companies, this means distribution, manufacturing, and supply chain processes are about to change very quickly. In order to keep up, they’ll have to invest in the most sophisticated software and technologies.

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If your distribution or manufacturing company has been using the same tired, old systems for years, it could be time to branch out and innovate. Investing in newer software is a great way to futureproof your business and ensure that supply chains are operating at peak efficiency. It’s not just good for your customers; it’s a fast track to bigger cost savings as well.

Over the next two years, 66% of warehouses in Europe and the US plan to increase their investment in technology, with a focus on automation and scheduling tools. Automation is huge for this industry right now. It has the potential to save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars as errors decrease and turnaround times are halved. With this in mind, we’re going to look at ten of the most exciting warehouse management systems and how to integrate them.

EDI Communications

The term “big data” should be very familiar to you at this point, no matter what type of products or services you handle. It has revolutionized the business world over the last five years because responsive, actionable business intelligence is the key to peak efficiency. Now, it’s starting to make its mark on the distribution and warehousing sectors.

EDI (electronic data interchange) refers to a method of sharing data and documents between two linked computer systems. It’s a tool that many warehouses already use, but its applications are getting broader all the time. Common uses involve the sharing of shipping and purchase orders, stock transfer receipts, inventory, and shipping advice.

The benefits of EDI communications can be seen when they’re skilfully integrated with a robust WMS. DEI facilitates the smooth movement of data between multiple computer networks. However, the computer systems do not have to be the same for this to work. The optimized format of EDI data means that access is highly flexible.

Drones

Drones are still so new and high tech that it’s hard to believe they’ve already made it out of science fiction stories and into our warehouses. Yet, they are already being used by distribution centers all around the world. They have a wide variety of applications in storage solutions, but the most promising relate to manual processes like picking, packing, and sorting.

It’s thought that warehouses of the future will use automated drones to reduce the number of errors during scanning and selection tasks. If drones are used to replace manual workers, for example, there are likely to be fewer mistakes and more options for stock managers. At the moment, products with scannable barcodes are a fine system for manual workers, but drones are far more robust.

According to DroneScan, one 800g machine has the ability to count the same amount of stock as eighty manual workers, over a two-day period. Ultimately, there are still obstacles to overcome before drones can be used in large numbers. However, with major retailers like Amazon and Walmart now funding research, this drone-filled future is right around the corner.

Warehousing On Demand

Currently, warehouse vacancy rates around the world are falling at a rapid rate. This is driving the development of what is known as “on-demand warehousing.” According to market experts, it’s the next logical step in collaborative logistics and supply chain management.

It’s a very simple process. First, you register with a warehouse matching service such as FLEXE. Think of this as being like the Airbnb of the warehousing world. Storage centers give the service updates when they have vacant spots. Then, the operators match them up with manufacturers that are looking for storage space or support for distribution. The goal is to streamline the process and help businesses in need find each other quickly, so as to minimize lost profits.

On-demand warehousing can help companies become more responsive to fluctuations in market demand, particularly when changes are seasonal and predictable. Seasonal stock may be stored separately from primary warehouse space as a way to conserve room and allow orders to be processed quicker and more efficiently.

Cloud Computing and Storage

Cloud technologies are continuing to transform the warehousing, distribution, and logistics industries. With the support of autonomously hosted and updated computer systems, businesses can reduce maintenance responsibilities, labor expenses, and infrastructure costs. These savings are felt all the way through the supply chain, even from the point of installation.

The quality and value of cloud computing has reached a point where we’re talking about it as an essential, rather than an optional upgrade. Every business is being advised to invest in cloud technologies, but the need is especially urgent for those still utilizing much older legacy systems.

Since cloud ASRS systems are usually self-managing, you have the opportunity to create centralized IT assets. This reduces the impact of losing any one member of your team, because you can implement a solution that’s cost-effective and easy to use by all employees in the department. However, in order to achieve this, integrations must be handled with care.

RFID

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is another technology that’s already being used in warehouses throughout the United States. It’s expected to grow in prominence, however, as systems and software become more advanced. If you’re not yet aware of it, RFID uses radio waves to transfer data to or between digital tags or labels.

In simple terms, instead of designing and creating a paper label that has to be torn off and reapplied with every edit, you can attach a digital tag to objects and packages. This data is then processed and read with special scanners that just have to be pointed close to it in order to capture it. The benefits of RFID integration include substantial increases to stock visibility.

Since these tags can be changed and updated instantly, it’s much easier to keep track of inventory. Labels won’t fall off, get lost, or be tampered with, so the risk of missing goods is much lower. Plus, the expectation is that drone technology will soon be paired with RFID tags to create self-directed automated sorting systems.

Robots

Automation is the key to development within the supply chain and logistics sectors. We know this because robots are undoubtedly faster and more accurate than people. As studies have shown, the more automation is assimilated within a business, the more productive that business becomes. Hence, the reason why robotics is set to play a big part in WMS innovation.

If you can load, sort, and pack stock faster, you can hit more targets and substantially increase your percentage of on-time deliveries. This has a direct impact on customer satisfaction, and on the ability to generate revenue. While some form of human management is still required, there are a lot of savings to be made if these roles can be limited to advisory tasks.

Amazon is a global leader when it comes to the integration of robotics. In some of its warehouses, it now operates fully automated machines. They’re assigned to specific parts of the building, where they pick up products and deliver them to the next operator in the supply chain. The system is fast, accurate, and highly efficient. It saves time and a huge amount of cash because it’s applied skillfully.

The Final Word on Warehousing Tech

The good news is that for those committed to building automated warehouse systems, there are plenty of options. The downside is that much of the technology is still fairly expensive to install and integrate. While it’s certainly true that things like drones and robotics can save a company sizeable amounts of cash, you’ve got to be willing to invest heavily first.

Smaller companies and those on a budget are advised to start with cloud systems if they haven’t already. Software like HP Cloud Service Automation, Dell Cloud Manager, Kaseya, and LabTech are great systems to use to harness the power of automation and take advantage of benefits like stronger network security, greater software scalability, and multiple domain capabilities.

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