Whatever sector you’re in, your business can’t survive without the application of technological innovation. From smartphones and tablets to mobile apps and cloud-based technology, IT is surging forwards. To remain competitive as wholesaler or manufacturer, it’s not only important to stay up to date with what’s happening, but to make sure you also take advantage of it.
We’re now in the middle of the 4th industrial revolution. The coming years will see new technology change the world even more dramatically than it has already. The way we do business, how we sell, how we communicate and how we innovate. And this certainly also applies to technology in the warehouse. He we look at a number of the most important trends.
Wearables are a new generation of mobile devices that are literally worn on the body. The future will see a significant increase in adoption regarding these devices, both privately and in business. Suppliers like Google, Microsoft, and Samsung are already competing to lead the market. This in turn is speeding innovation in the sector, and in turn the creation of new opportunities for the end users. Wearables will play an increasingly important role in the warehouse, particularly in making stock information more accessible, and in optimizing routes.
Augmented reality - smart glasses
The trend for 2015 in the warehouse? If we’re talking wearables, then we need to zoom in a step further to smart glasses. The first practical experiences are already out there - big businesses who’ve made a start with promising results. The added value is that the employee can be optimally guided, particularly if an augmented view is used. All information is continually in view, while the user has both hands free to pick, increasing the efficiency. And the opportunities for further use are certainly exciting – always knowing exactly where you are in the warehouse, which pallets you’re closest to, getting continual heads-up information on who else is moving in your area (‘Attention, vehicle approaching from isle 14…’).
Many wholesale and manufacturing businesses in the MKB still work with paper systems and scan batch-wise with hand held scanners. The scanning information can then be uploaded to the ERP system via a docking station. This approach is fast becoming old school. Most warehouses now have a wireless network available. Real-time traceability is increasingly becoming the standard. If a light breaks in the warehouse, are you running a risk that there’s glass in the stock? Getting concrete, precise answers on the current inventory position needs to be easier and faster. Batch-wise scanning no longer fits with these requirements. Real-time insight will soon be considered the bare minimum.
3D-displays for smartphones and tablets
We’re going to increasingly see 3D-displays. Not just for TV and gaming, but as a standard functionality for smartphones and tablets. We’re now at the beginning of this trend, but it’s one we’re almost definitely going to see in the warehouse, with data visualized via 3D simulations to support pick routes and replenishment.
The interest in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has grown continually over the last few years. The use of radio frequency tags for identifying, tracking and tracing makes it possible to identify unique stock from a distance. RFID is already available in a wide range of forms and applications. RFID-tags in crates can, for example, be read on a conveyor belt to assist with picking. Other applications include using RFID to replace counts, to manage accuracy in loading and unloading trucks, and to avoid the loss of reusable materials (including pallets, rolling containers, plastic crates and so forth).
In truth, this tech is already mature. RFID is more expensive than barcode technology, but is becoming more affordable. Even with the additional cost, applying it certainly offers a wide range of process optimization opportunities.
Voice-picking and Pick-by-Light
The use of voice picking is also on the rise. Just as with the smart glasses, it offers the benefit of hands free working. The trend appeared some 6 years ago and the last few years have also seen this tech reach a level of maturity. Pick-by-Light is also particularly interesting for high-turnover rate articles. Again offering hands-free work, the digital display technique has been proven to increase both productivity and accuracy in order fulfilment.
The barcode is hanging in there
A lot of people believed that the barcode would disappear pretty rapidly, but it’s likely got at least another 10 or 15 years left in it yet. It is still the cheapest solution and rapid to implement. Barcode scanners are used in a wide range of industries. In practice the majority of smaller companies start with a hand scanner. And there have, of course, been important innovations within that technology, including better scan engines, remote 2D-barcodes, new interfaces and improved battery management. The possibilities have also extended to wrist and finger scanners. A concession in terms of display screen, but making hands-free work possible.
The warehouse is a changing environment. New innovative technologies are expanding the range of options available to make a ‘smart start’. The devices can be used against a wider range of business processes, allowing the choice to be determined by what can add the most value to the end consumer. The increasing speed of innovation over the last 2-3 years is giving us an increasingly clear picture of how the warehouse of the future might look. New patterns are emerging, particularly in the range of techniques now enabling real-time, hands-free information. It promises much – not least that the warehouse of tomorrow will surely be an increasingly fun place to work!