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Supercharge your warehouse with smart tech

04 September 2023

Jamie Mottershead outlines his top five technologies to supercharge your smart warehouse.

IN 1962 in Germany, Demag built arguably the first automatic high-bay warehouse for a publisher to store millions of books. This pioneering development in distribution technology set the hare running in warehouse automation. It is obvious to see where we have come, now over six decades later.

We have switched from slow, unchanging, reactive supply chains to smarter, faster automated warehouse systems. The smart warehouse has evolved meaning new technologies such as AI, robots, automation, and detailed analytics can actually sense, and make decisions for optimum productivity in the warehouse.  

The fact is, when the best of these technologies are working in harmony the efficiency and productivity benefits for the warehouse are multi-fold and ROI is very quickly and sustainably achieved. 

But with so many options, and budgets still squeezed after Covid it can often seem overwhelming to work out what is best for your warehouse and what comes first.

WiFi Connectivity: The Essential first step

A smart warehouse cannot function without good internet connectivity, as most of its products function via the internet. Therefore, the most important starting point for any warehouse is WiFi Connectivity. A Wi-Fi network that is planned and designed carefully from the ground up, one that connects multiple areas and even multiple warehousing sites together with the installation of wireless bridges.

For any network upgrade or fresh install, a wireless site survey is an essential first step in developing an invaluable wireless network solution. 

With a robust and problem-free network in place by leveraging the insights of wireless site surveys and an effective WiFi strategy your business is future proofed and ready to scale and progress to the top five essential technologies for the smart warehouse. 

Top five smart warehouse technologies:

RFID: the sensors for the smart warehouse

Radio Frequency ID (RFID) technology revs up operations, by automatically locating tagged objects at greater speed, accuracy, and volume than traditional methods.

Unlike barcodes, the workforce can track, trace and inventory assets from anywhere real time, using hands-free devices.

RFID tags and scanners dramatically improve product and materials handling inside and outside the warehouse environment.

Machine vision: the eyes for the smart warehouse

Machine vision represents one of the most exciting Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and industry 4.0 technologies to emerge and revolutionise supply chain operations with experts predicting the machine vision market to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2% over the five-year forecast period (2023–2030).  

Machine vision replaces the human eye with processes used to enable robots and computers to visually perceive and interpret their surroundings. They use advanced imaging techniques like cameras, sensors, and imaging processing algorithms to mimic the capabilities of human vision and allow them to be used to enhance business processes.

This means that machines can perform tasks that require visual inspection or analysis, extract meaningful information from images or video streams and use it to make intelligent decisions.

Voice-directed warehousing: the hands for the smart warehouse

Voice-directed warehousing (VDW), also known as voice picking, is a paperless, hands-free and eyes-free system that utilises industry-leading technology to automate the myriad of warehouse processes.

Voice enabled technology has been around for a while now and has been an essential productivity component for large-scale distribution and order fulfilment operations for decades. But for many small-to-medium-sized warehouse operations — the benefits of voice technology have been largely out of reach. 

But this is changing and evolving both in terms of the innovation in hardware, software, Warehouse Management System (WMS) integration and the tasks it enables warehouse workers to achieve. In fact, It is predicted that 45% of warehouses will adopt this technology over the next two years, and the global voice-directed warehousing solution market is expected to grow around 12% annually throughout the period of 2021 to 2031.

Autonomous mobile robots: the hard labour for the smart warehouse

The world of robotics and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) is a hot topic in the logistics sector right now with the AMR market size predicted to reach $22.15 billion by 2030. It is not surprising considering the reams of efficiency benefits self-driving AMRs bring to the warehouse including reduced labour costs,  increased productivity of the workforce, improved accuracy, and scalability.

There are many variations of AMR solutions on offer. Some of the options to consider include Collaborative AMRs which can dramatically reduce the amount of walking time for an operator by the robot completing the hard miles for your warehouse business, or Goods to Man AMR that can provide extremely high productivity gains for both put away and picking.

The important thing is to make sure you use the flexibility and scalability that AMR solutions can bring to your advantage and where possible start small so you can learn how the solution will impact your operation.

AI-boosted technology: The intelligent analytics for the smart warehouse

AI-boosted technology can transform the warehouse in countless ways and enhances the cognitive abilities of the full technology stack in your smart warehouse. 

For example, while machine vision technology does provide outstanding improvements for the supply chain, it's enhanced by the integration of AI.

Machine vision complements AI by providing the image data accurately and at speed that AI needs to make complex decisions, adapt, learn, and make intelligent decisions. AI algorithms also enable machines to learn continually, meaning that their performance continues to improve over time.

Other areas AI boosts the efficiency of the smart warehouse include AI-powered analytics, predictive maintenance, real-time tracking, and smart climate control. Al is addressing all the supply chain and logistics challenges imposed on businesses from the pandemic and in many ways has become the recovery hero for many supply-chain businesses. Fuelling growth and ROI with its plethora of productivity, safety and sustainability benefits. 

Jamie Mottershead, technical director, Renovotec

For more information, visit www.renovotec.com