Latest Warehouse Management Trends by Abhilasha Satpathy, DCMME Center Graduate Student Assistant

Warehousing is being completely transformed by advances in technology and new workplace trends.The capabilities of warehouses to store, organize, track, pick and pack, and ship out inventory determine how efficient and effective the world’s biggest businesses can be. As e-commerce continues to grow and add to the billion-dollar retail business’ bottom line, those changes are happening quickly.

Big Data

The power of businesses to analyze massive amounts of data is matched only by their ability to collect it. “Big Data” is a term that refers to massively large data sets that businesses can analyze computationally to reveal larger patterns and trends that might not be obvious to the human eye. This power to collect data comes from advances in tools like barcode scanners and RFID scanners. Some of the biggest companies, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, use the humble but flexible and expanding-in-capability barcode scanner to collect information from every item that passes through their warehouses.

Barcodes hold more data than ever before thanks to maturation in the 2D barcode label space, and now warehouse workers can glean valuable information like origin, destination, photographs, price, stock levels, and more with just the scan of the code. As a result, businesses are better able to see what items are flying off the shelves at different times of year, how best to balance their inventory turnover ratio, and examine what operations could be streamlined to their fullest capacity.

Wearable technology

From wearable barcode scanners (on fingers, wrists, and perhaps eventually glasses) to devices that track movement over the course of a shift, companies are increasingly investing in technology that delivers them as much information as possible. Big data isn’t just about tracking inventory trends. If employees wear Fitbits and other devices, they can see how efficiently their employees move around the warehouse, when they may need to take breaks, what routes they could take to arrive at a shelf faster, and how their automated vehicles and equipment (more on that below) can join the stream of movement without disruption.

The rise of autonomous machines

Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are the next step in turning warehouses into ever-more efficient inventory management hubs. Everything from stackers, forklifts, pallet trucks, and even inventory-carrying robots like Kiva and Fetch robots are revolutionizing how work gets done in warehouses.

Advances are being made to move inventory from trucks to shelves, or around warehouses, around-the-clock. This boost to efficiency will result in untold multiplications of work output.And though these advances in technology may worry humans, it’s clear that at least in the near future, people will still be needed to handle more delicate tasks, as well as perform upkeep and oversight of the AGVs. Humans won’t lose their jobs, necessarily; the jobs will change.

Millennial management

The changing of hands from the Boomer generation and Generation X to Millennials will mark a change in how warehouses are managed and led going forward.

But as a generation that grew up with a lot of the technology and tools in use in warehouses today—smartphones and tablets, particularly those powered by Android; cloud computing; augmented and virtual reality—Millennials are uniquely poised to launch warehouses into the next generation of technology advances and efficiency.Additionally, Millennials will bring a sense of environmental and social consciousness to warehousing (the use of greener materials and more transparent supply chain management).

 Blockchain

Blockchain can potentially affect warehousing in a number of ways. In terms of how it’s currently being used, smaller companies are using smart contracts and processing payments in a clear and public way to avoid disputes. Larger companies with efficient warehouses will be able to more efficiently integrate blockchain practices and technologies that promote transparency, scalability, better real-time access, and lower costs per transaction.

Cloud computing

Now with the rise of a global supply chain and the need to track packages from origin to the doorstep, warehouses need to stay connected to every other link to the chain. Thus, IoT and cloud computing mean a lot. The best way to keep everyone on the same page is to use cloud computing, which updates seamlessly with every barcode scan, database change, reorder, and more.

 Rethinking the warehouse itself

Warehouses are going up en masse around the country and world. As humanity’s insatiable need for new and exciting stuff only increases, and ease of purchasing through e-commerce and via mobile devices adds to the deluge, companies are realizing they need more space than ever.

They also need it closer to major urban centers than before. The most troublesome and costly part of delivering a package to a consumer is “the last mile,” and warehouses are looking to close that gap by building closer to the people they’re delivering to. As new warehouses are being built and older ones retrofitted for new challenges, design changes include column spacing, ceiling height, and materials that promote sustainability. Finally, it’s possible that warehouses themselves won’t even be “in buildings.” Amazon has filed patents for some wild new warehouse designs, including in blimps, underwater, and underground. New trends in warehousing are emerging as quickly as new trends in technology and workplace efficiency are.

Reference: Myers, E. (2018, August 14). 7 New Trends In The World Of Warehousing. Retrieved from http://www.systemid.com/learn/7-new-trends-in-the-world-of-warehousing/.

Questions:

  1. How does cloud computing help in warehouse management?
  2. How is the rise of autonomous vehicles helping inventory management?
  3. How is wearable technology and big data enhancing operational efficiencies in warehouses?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How drones will benefit supply chains by Abhilasha Satpathy, DCMME Center Graduate Student Assistant

Drones speed up operations and decrease delivery times for the end user while cutting down on supply chain costs.

Asset Management

Manually monitoring inventory can require workers to spend extraordinary amounts of time and resources to count products on shelves. Keeping track and monitoring inventory levels can be an exhaustive process when done periodically, especially during high order demand periods such as the holidays. The use of drones to scan and check inventory anywhere in the warehouse using OCR, RFID, and barcode readers can offer better inventory management, especially when the drone can move from warehouse to warehouse on the property in moments and deliver this information instantaneously to integrated warehouse management software.

Speeding up Deliveries Between Commercial Buildings

Raw materials can be moved from warehouse to manufacturing floor with the use of drones. Drones can also move finished products from warehouse shelves to store shelves, or place products on pallets for shipping to end users and retailers.

Monitoring Supply Chain Delivery Routes

Additional capabilities involve monitoring supply chain routes for disruptions that could impact truck deliveries. These drones can monitor road conditions, construction slow-downs and other hazards while reporting the information to logistics managers who can quickly select alternative shipping routes.

Reference:

Drones and Supply Chain: How they May Impact the Process. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ecsourcinggroup.com/drones-and-supply-chain-how-they-may-impact-the-process/.

Questions:

  1. How do drones impact supply chain?
  2. How will drones help cut supply chain costs?
  3. How will drones help in asset management?

 

 

How Augmented Reality is disrupting supply chains. – Abhilasha Satpathy

With over one billion AR enabled smartphones and tablets already in use, companies don’t have to wait for low-cost augmented reality glasses to start reaping the benefits of augmented reality. Here are five ways that AR is transforming the supply chain into a nimble tool for global distribution:

1) Pick-and-Pack Services

Augmented reality is being used in warehouses to more efficiently locate products and pack them in outgoing boxes. One of the costliest parts of running a “pick and pack” service is training new workers to navigate a large warehouse and find the one product they are searching for. AR glasses can paint an imaginary line on the warehouse floor to simplify the searching and training. During the peak holiday season, temporary workers need to be on-boarded quickly. AR shortens the learning curve by providing new hires with constant feedback on their glasses about how they are doing and what can be improved. Field tests of AR pick-and-pack systems have reduced errors by as much as 40%.

2) Collaborative Robotics

Robots are the ultimate human augmentation. Workers sitting comfortably at their desks can wear AR glasses that let them see what a robot in the warehouse sees. AR glasses can now chart the paths of robots through warehouses and use their strength to lift and move heavy cargo. Dangerous or repetitive tasks, such as loading a truck, can be delegated to robots that operate with human guidance when it comes to how to best load the items to achieve the maximum load. Additionally, logistics robots are able to scan each product for damage, check its weight, and abide by any package shipping instructions. By connecting robots with managers, customers can be automatically alerted if any products that aren’t available before the truck even leaves the warehouse.

3) Maintenance

Fixing a problem before it happens is the most cost-effective form of maintenance. With many aircraft engines now transmitting usage data via Wi-Fi when they are on the ground, augmented reality is assisting maintenance crews in reducing engine downtime by comparing engine data with the past history of other similar aircraft with avionics systems. These algorithms then suggest maintenance before a problem is likely to occur. For planes that spend most of their ground time at distant locations, AR can also enable more experienced maintenance teams at the airline’s hub to see what local technicians are dealing with and provide timely live support.

4) Last Mile Delivery

In logistics, the last-mile of delivery to customers is the most expensive. AR can save money by cutting the time spent on last-mile delivery nearly in half. According to a DHL report, drivers spend 40% to 60% of their day searching inside their own truck for the correct boxes to deliver next. Instead of having to remember how their truck was loaded that morning, augmented reality is used to identify, tag, sequence, and locate every parcel. Combined with artificial intelligence, AR glasses can also navigate the driver to the proper door or building gate for delivery. These systems will record each and every delivery so that new drivers will benefit from past driver experiences. In the near future, every driver will be given a graphic overlay of each building they encounter.

5) Procurement

The distributed ledger capability of blockchain is being combined with augmented reality to bring transparency and traceability to procurement. The entire supply chain falls apart when customers can’t be assured of a product’s origin or authenticity. Each year, billions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit pharmaceuticals are distributed to patients, and tens of thousands are dying. Using AR to identify and track each shipment from manufacturer to end user is a way to help solve this deadly problem. Recording each transfer of ownership on a blockchain can also assist in tracing the origin of fish or the source of harvested crops.

Big data drives the decision making behind the world’s distribution of products throughout the supply chain. Augmented reality is now poised to exponentially increase the speed at which data can be analyzed and acted on. The insights augmented reality bring to the supply chain can be used to power the next generation of the supply chain, which will feature autonomous vehicles and delivery drones.

References:

“5 Ways Augmented Reality Is Disrupting the Supply Chain.” Fortune, fortune.com/2018/03/01/5-ways-augmented-reality-is-disrupting-the-supply-chain/.

Questions:

  1. How does augmented reality help in reducing costs in supply chain?
  2. How is blockchain is being combined with augmented reality to bring transparency and traceability to procurement?
  3. How does augmented reality help in last-mile delivery?

How robots are changing Supply Chains by Abhilasha Satpathy, DCMME Center Graduate Student Assistant

One business area ripe for business process disruption enabled by robotics is supply chain execution, especially in order fulfillment processes in the warehouse. These processes typically involve a high degree of human involvement as well as a tremendous amount of movement throughout a facility. Now, it’s not as if robotics have been absent from these areas in the past; there are use case examples, but none at a large scale across supply execution. Those organizations that have introduced robots into their warehousing and fulfillment operations have delivered added value including productivity improvements, efficiency gains, the capability to better scale up/down with demand spikes and the ability to improve customer service levels.

The most familiar example of robotics in the fulfillment process is at Amazon. Thee-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems (now known as Amazon Robotics) in 2012 for $775 million. Since then, Amazon has continuously expanded their use to upwards of 80,000 robots across 25 distribution centers. Through their deployment, Amazon has been able to accelerate delivery times and reduce fulfillment related costs. According to a note published by Deutsche Bank, the deployment of the robots equates to a roughly $22 million per year savings in facilities where they are in use, or an estimated 20% reduction to operating costs. If Deutsche Bank’s estimates are close, Amazon has proven that there is tremendous value to be gained through the use of robotics within the fulfillment center.

For some, a Kiva-type model will work quite well. These utilize fast-moving robots that shuttle entire racks of inventory from a segregated section of the fulfillment center to a picking station, where a picker selects the inventory needed to fill an order. After a pick, a robot returns the rack to back to the floor and moves on to the next pick. A rack-to-person model is best suited to high throughput facilities where speed is the most important element. The benefits include the ability to rapidly move product to picking locations and accelerate fulfillment cycles. However, the rack-to-person model also has its drawbacks. For example, it requires some facility modification to create a segregated area where the robots can safely operate and it requires a guidance mechanism to ensure that the robots operate within the appropriate spaces. These systems are not necessarily collaborative because humans aren’t allowed to work in the same aisles where the robots are operating.  One final drawback is that with these models, half of the movement is spent returning racks after a pick, essentially retaining 50% of the wasted movement in the process.

References:

Santagate, J., & Santagate, J. (2018, January 25). NextGen Supply Chain: The Robots are Here. Retrieved from https://www.scmr.com/article/nextgen_supply_chain_the_robots_are_here

Questions:

  1. How are robots disrupting supply chains?
  2. How are robots increasing operating efficiencies?
  3. How are robots helping in warehousing and fulfillment operations?

 

 

DRONES IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS by Abhilasha Satpathy, DCMME Center Graduate Student Assistant

Two years ago, in an article in SCMR author Nick Vyas outlined real-life applications for drones in the healthcare industry, and predicted other use cases such as pipeline inspections or deliveries of parts and supplies in hard to access areas.

He also noted that “PINC, a provider of yard management systems, has deployed a solution that utilizes drones to identify the location of trailers, shipping containers, and other assets in hard to reach areas. Equipped to carry GPS, RFID, OCR, and barcode readers, the drones can fly overhead to quickly locate and identify assets that have been tagged in a yard or port.”

So, what is the state of drones in the supply chain today?

Companies are focused on improving inventory accuracy to achieve higher supply chain velocity. Tasks like taking inventory and cycle counting are still carried out by humans which can be done more than 300 times faster by drones.

What is the state of the technology? Today, the drone, or robot, flies autonomously in a gps-denied environment using advanced sensors. The company’s warehouse management system (WMS) feeds existing inventory information to the PINC application via integration. When the robot receives a task to count inventory – say the number of cartons on pallets in a storage bay – the software first creates the optimal path for the drone to travel based on mapping done previously.

The drone doesn’t need markers or lasers for guidance to navigate through warehouses. The robot is equipped with an optical system combined with computer vision and deep learning technologies. When it passes through an assigned location, which it knows by the X, Y and Z coordinates, it visually inspects inventory labels and takes photos of the inventory to be counted.

The digital images are processed in real time to generate a count, which is compared against the known count in the WMS system. Since the system manages by exception, after taking inventory, the application provides an exception report to the operator who can click on the exceptions, look at a photo to confirm a count and then, if needed, update the WMS.

Down the road, Yearling expects conversations about using drones in transportation to continue, if for no other reason than the amount of spend on transportation.

References:

https://www.logisticsmgmt.com/article/the_emerging_role_for_drones

 

Questions:

  1. How are drones being used in supply chain today?
  2. How do drones aid Warehouse Management Systems?
  3. How do drones improve inventory accuracy?