Anyone who has their finger on the pulse of the warehousing, distribution or manufacturing worlds knows that cutting-edge automation is quickly replacing technologies that were regarded as being “innovative” just a few years ago. There’s no doubt that a couple of developments are driving this phenomenon, namely the lightning-fast fulfillment times of the big e-commerce behemoths as well as the price of software being driven down due to vigorous supply and demand.
But, those two points aside, there are actually quite a few other warehouse automation trends sneaking into the industry’s periphery that not everyone is fully aware of. These are the very technologies that will not only change the way you do business but also the way that you shop and receive goods in your day-to-day life as well.
Here’s a quick preview of these secret – and not-so-secret – automation trends for 2018 and beyond:
- Sophisticated automated vehicles
- Centralized systems for data, inventory, and asset tracking
- Autonomous drones for stock counting
- Collaborative robots that work alongside warehouse associates
Sophisticated Automated Vehicles
We all know that walking is a part of every warehouse associate’s job, but as more sophisticated technology comes out, one interesting trend that’s emerging is that of the AGV, otherwise known as the automated guided vehicle.
These vehicles are used in warehouses to maintain accurate counts of inventory, bring inventory to human warehouse associates, sort SKUs, and much more. The best part is that many of these systems are able to successfully integrate with existing WMS’s, which allows for real-time, cloud-based reporting.
Of course, the question of automated vehicles in the future goes practically as far as your imagination will take you. Some have theorized that warehouses will eventually go completely autonomous, with AGV’s running the day-to-day operations and autonomous trucks delivering goods all up and down the supply chain.
Centralized Systems for Data, Inventory, and Asset Tracking
There’s nothing new about data, inventory, and asset tracking with the use of barcode technology – after all, we’ve been doing this for years. That being said, the systems in which the information is being organized into are getting more and more intelligent as time goes by.
For example, one scan of a barcode can sync perfectly into a warehouse’s existing warehouse management system from a facility in Detroit, for example. Let’s say that the CEO, who is on a business trip in Singapore, wants to get the current counts on-demand, just 5 minutes after the initial scan.
In the past, this scenario would require multiple phone calls, emails, and, probably, not the best level of accuracy from the warehouse associates who are working quickly and under pressure. Nowadays, however, the CEO can see how that one scan affected the newest levels – and many times, the boss can confirm this right on their smartphone. Additionally, any member of the supply chain can be given access to the cloud-based WMS so that they are always in-the-know in regards to inventory counts, issues, and possible peaks.
Autonomous Drones for Stock Counting
Believe it or not, autonomous drones aren’t just a supposed technology that might be seen decades into the future – they are actually being used in a good amount of warehouses today to perform even the trickiest of inventory counts.
According to a report published by MIT, this technology has been realized by merging RFID technology. In this case, the drone relays RFID signals which go directly into a management system that tracks the data. The specific drone stock counting system developed by the university can read tags that are a maximum of 10 meters away, with only a 19 cm average window of error.
Collaborative Robots that Work Alongside Warehouse Associates
More and more warehouses are getting hip to implementing collaborative robots, better known as cobots, into their day-to-day operations. It’s a technology that has been around for some time, but it’s also one that is evolving as more operations support it.
Like traditional robotics elements working in warehouses, cobots work to automate a variety of processes, from counting to sorting to reporting, and beyond, but they’re also able to work seamlessly within even the most established warehouse operations. Most cobot firms offer technologies that truly do work alongside warehouse associates; this is made possible due to their lightweight designs, customizable GPS and mapping capabilities, and their seamless integration when it comes to connecting to the aforementioned, and very helpful, WMS’s, WES’s, and ERPs.
We’ll be sure to keep you informed on all of the latest and greatest warehouse technologies as they continue to emerge.