Here abas Software GmbH looks at how smart warehousing can position a business to optimise the supply chain and give the tools needed to employ efficiency focused strategies such as ‘just in time’ inventory management.
Warehouse operations are the bedrock of manufacturing processes. Managing the supply chain and delivering inventory to production teams on time are critical to keeping teams on schedule and getting goods out to customers in a timely fashion. However, the warehouse isn’t simply a cost centre that is necessary for doing business. Instead, it is a place where companies can create value by implementing modern digital technologies, and smart warehouse strategies can empower organisations to unleash the full potential of their warehousing and fulfilment operations.
Three positive changes smart warehousing systems allow users to accomplish are: Improving data accuracy and efficiency with smart warehousing; getting creative about storage; and taking advantage of robotics.
Improve data accuracy and efficiency
Data quality is critical in creating value from the warehouse. The faster and more accurately users can log inventory data and communicate updates to stakeholders, the more opportunity there is to use that information across various parts of the business. For example, streamlining cycle counts reduces the amount of time workers spend manually tabulating inventory levels, freeing those employees to spend more time communicating those updates to purchasing officers and similar stakeholders who use those counts to make business decisions.
The problem is that doing work faster often leads to more human errors. Smart warehousing technologies overcome this in a few key ways. These include barcoding solutions that make it easier to electronically log assets in the warehouse without manual data entry; RFID enabled solutions that provide hands-free data logging, such as with network connected goggles or headsets, enhancing efficiency while promoting safety; and sensors and monitoring devices that track items on shelves and can also provide automatic updates. For example, smart scales can track the weight of goods on a shelf and alert a worker when it falls below a threshold based on the expected weight of items stored there.
These types of solutions provide faster warehouse operations while improving data quality and accuracy by reducing the potential for human error. They are heavily dependent on smart warehouse solutions – they blend always connected data collection tools with warehouse management systems that log, organise and communicate data to relevant users.
Get creative about storage
Traditionally, warehouses have been highly segregated from the rest of the business, with specialised processes and storage methods designed to keep assets organised. While this is still mostly the case, many businesses are starting to experiment with creative strategies that involve storing more inventory in alternate locations and reducing the number of excess assets being stored in the warehouse. These tactics come together to form the idea of ‘just in time’ inventory management, a practice that depends on the smart warehouse and delivers significant value for the business.
In practice, a smart warehouse is defined by deep levels of connectivity that spread from supply chain management systems to asset intake, inventory management, purchasing, asset delivery to production teams and vendor management.
Connectivity across all of these areas of operations creates deep visibility into inventory levels and orders contextualised around production and budget requirements. When everybody has complete visibility into inventory related operations, organisations can, for all intents and purposes, extend the warehouse’s reach beyond its traditional footprint. Businesses can also create multiple small warehouses to better serve remote workers, such as field services employees who need access to key equipment in a time sensitive way, and store key production assets in close proximity to production lines so employees (or robots) can grab the goods they need to complete a work order without having to submit a picking request to the warehouse. This strengthens production, eliminates waste and drives efficiency.
Take advantage of robotics
Today’s robotics solutions can improve the velocity and accuracy of picking while allowing for safe interactions between humans and robots. For example, automatic guided vehicles can be used to move assets through various parts of the warehouse, working side-by-side with humans or other robots to perform the actual picking. This can mean a user leveraging voice automated order picking to identify a pallet that a robot then comes to pick up and transport to its destination. Alternately, drones can fly around the warehouse scanning items on shelves and telling ground-bound autonomous vehicles where they can find goods they are looking for.
All of this can be done while humans complete more value focused tasks, positioning organisations to automate and coordinate operations with greater precision.
From sensors and monitoring solutions to specialised devices that let users interact with digital systems in safe ways, smart warehouse systems promote efficiency and drive value opportunities across the business. The warehouse isn’t just a cost centre, it can contribute value and create cost savings through digital solutions that add a layer of intelligence to everyday operations. Enterprise Resource Planning solutions make this possible by providing a data hub for the entire business, connecting warehouse management systems with production, accounting and other teams to ensure all stakeholders have access to the data they need.
Having joined the magazine in 2012, Claire developed her knowledge of the industry through the numerous company visits, exhibitions and conferences she attended both in the UK and abroad.
Claire prides herself on keeping readers well informed and up to date with the latest industry news.