Emerging trends and issues in warehousing operations and stock control

EMERGING TRENDS AND ISSUES IN WAREHOUSING OPERATIONS AND STOCK CONTROL

Ergonomic handling. The handling of totes will dramatically change. Previously, totes and crates were packed based on strict weight or height capacity requirements so that workers could manually lift and move them. By implementing automation into the facility, manufacturers can increase the overall tote capacity and tolerance. Totes will be packed heavier and stacked higher because the automated systems and robots have the ability to handle taller stacks and heavier loads. Increasing the tote capacity will enable manufacturers to move more products effectively and more efficiently, resulting in higher throughput.

New tote configurations. Boxes and totes will take new forms and will be designed with customized automated solutions in mind to better fit the system’s needs. For example, a semi- manual and automated facility will start to see reusable, plastic corrugated boxes with sealed edges so the flutes will not be exposed, for easier worker handling. The box flap will go back to its original place each time prior to entering the automated system. Collapsible, dividable compartments and hopper fronts are three more configurations that will emerge as tote and crate designs continue to evolve.

Standardized totes. The standardized tote sizes that can be purchased and ready for automation is the future and will bring significant value to end-users and integrators. Currently, the cost to build a mold for a custom tote can be challenging to financially justify and can add time to project plans. By removing the need to create a custom tote each time and creating a small group of standardized totes that can be handled by automation,  manufacturers will be able to save design and engineering costs. Eventually, the industry may see a refined prepackaged, out-of-the box solution with a proven track history being offered. In the end, this can reduce the overall amount of capital investment needed to build a new system.

Reduction in racking. Automation will allow for warehouses and distribution centers to move away from racking. By removing racking, manufacturers will have a cleaner work environment and better access to product, all within a smaller work area allowing for better space utilization.

More traceability. Customers are demanding to know where their product is once they’ve clicked “Submit Order” and many industries need to be able to trace where product has been along the entire supply chain. This will result in more totes and crates with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags being moved through automated systems with sophisticated warehouse management system (WMS) systems that can easily track and trace products. This will allow for greater visibility of each specific tote and crate as it flows within distribution centers and warehouses and is transported to the customer.

Automation – These functions, by using the latest software to intelligently route different data sets and data streams improve accuracy and leave the managers free to focus on other things where their core competencies and interventions would be more productive. Such warehouse automation solutions improve the efficiency, accuracy, and velocity of warehouse operations manifold.

Major logistics players are already adopting warehouse automation in a big way to move things. Amazon’s KVA robots grab items from shelves in a highly efficient manner, and its automated drones deliver items to addresses within 30 minutes of an Amazon center. Uber and other companies are already undertaking test-runs of self-driving vehicles, indicating the shape of things to come.

Logistics Providers Make Better Decisions with Big Data – Big data analytics unlock a wealth of possibilities for enterprises. For logistics companies, insights from big data are invaluable in optimizing routing, identifying perennial bottlenecks in the supply chain, and streamlining the flow of goods and resources at the warehouse.Real time traffic, climate, and other data could identify the best route to a destination, factoring in route congestion, diversions, fuel prices, and much more. Predictive analytics help identifies whether the addressee is likely to be at home to sign for the shipment, avoiding repeat visits, and more.

Omni Channel Logistics Facilitates Smarter Deliveries – Today’s consumer journey typically moves across channels, based on their preferences. The various channels operate independently, and even as businesses try to optimize the experience across the various channels, variation in service levels, pricing, and customer experience, are inevitable. The omni channel approach entails convergence of the hitherto separate channels into a single seamless channel, using a central hub to route all movements, and using different channels for delivery, as appropriate. The orchestrated product flow delivers highly personalized shopping experience. However, delivering a consistent customer experience across different channels is challenging, and makes the omni channel approach more complex than the multi-channel approach.Effective knowledge sharing on a real-time basis is critical to the success of the omnichannel approach. A critical requirement towards this end is transparency, to make explicit the status of the inventory and shipment in real time. Significant effort and investments to create cross-channel visibility and establish sound business rules are essential prerequisites, as is a warehouse management system (WMS). Different stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as logistics provider’s, warehouse, and shipping service usually have their own WMS, accessible by the logistics provider through a portal.

Making Collaboration Work – The role of robust collaboration can never be understated, especially in today’s super-surcharged business environment where tasks are complex, speed is of the essence, and any delays can have huge implications, if not lost business. Moreover, the supply chain is now increasingly becoming global, and no single stakeholders can realistically hope to cover all ground. In such a scenario, successful supply chain relationships deliver not just economic conveniences and cost efficiencies, but also the ability to meet customer demands in double-quick time, and realize agility in business operations. In fact, successful collaboration can make the difference between long-term sustainability of the business and short-run dissolution.

As competition increases, supply chain partners are toying with several innovative ways to make collaboration work for mutual benefit. Such innovations may take the form of new products or processes, but needn’t always be big breakthroughs. It could also be innovative combinations of existing tactics, relevant for the specific market.

Moving to Service Chains – A supply chain is an ecosystem of people, enterprises, activities, information, and resources, working in a coordinated way to move the product from one stage to the other, from supplier to customer. However, a well-oiled supply chain, though indispensable, is no longer enough in today’s highly competitive business environment. Businesses are forced to focus on strategic quality management, aimed at re-engineering inefficient work processes and continuous quality improvement of existing processes. The complexity of the supply chain is in direct proportion to the complexity of the business. The overriding aim of moving to service chains is to reduce such complexities and ensure faster and efficient delivery of services, which would contribute to seamless supply chain operations. Ways to achieve such a state include setting up of a network of strategic centers facilitating same day deliveries, deploying intelligent warehouse automation solutions for forecasting and planning, instituting a comprehensive supply chain technology encompassing all bases, and more.

Increased Protocols for Product Recalls and Warehouse Employee Safety-The number of product recalls over the past few years has been staggering. Warehouses are deemed responsible for product quality complaints and are held accountable for tracking tainted distributed products. Increased protocols regarding product recall procedures and compliancy for auditing agencies require accurate databases to handle queries. Warehouses must also institute an instant product notification process to inform customers of the recalled products.

More Acceptance of Third – Party Logistic Solution-Third-party outsourcing logistic solutions erupted into the market over a decade ago, as a warehouse manager couldn’t turn around without finding a host of third-party logistics provider (3PL) companies offering their business cards.

While this industry has dwindled in recent years as smaller 3PL companies are being devoured by larger competitors, their services are growing and becoming more sophisticated. Intermodal services are starting to be the norm, as these companies are offering a more full-service alternative. Warehouse managers are taking full advantage of this growing trend, shipping products to customers and stores at faster speeds and lower prices.

Mobility Devices for More Accurate Order and Shipping Fulfillment-We live in the age of mobility, and warehouse management has taken notice of this budding technology trend.

Operators are using barcode scanners, RFID readers and other types of handheld devices to better streamline the shipping and inventory process. Several warehouse areas where mobility can benefit operations and processes include:

  • Inbound Products Processing: Mobile devices can provide real-time schedule updates, product shipment scanning, and cross-docking solutions.
  • Product Inventory Management: Warehouse operators are recognizing the benefits of mobile devices that can provide accurate inventory management information, cycle count orders and materials allocation handling.
  • Outbound Products Processing: Mobile devices can be used to view directed pick lists, dispatch plan tasks, and shipment tracking data.

Unique Warehouse Management Systems for Multichannel Solutions-Companies are no longer relying on just their own brick-and-mortar stores to entice customers with their products. E-commerce retailers are using multiple online buying channels to reach customers and fulfill orders. These companies require more scalable warehouse management solutions to ship products in the fastest time possible along the shortest shipping routes. An efficient warehouse management system (WMS) application has become vital for warehouses to stay on track with their inventory. This WMS can provide the right functionality to organize the fulfillment processes for multiple warehouses, oversee the distribution processes for drop ship partners, and help stores improve their overall product delivery times.

Machine-to-Machine Technology – Over the last few years, machine-to-machine technology, or M2M, has greatly evolved into more sophisticated systems that help monitor and streamline all automation aspects of warehouse operations. When combined with warehouse management systems (WMS), the latest M2M systems are making it easier to control all equipment within the warehouse that is vital to the order fulfillment process. This technology helps collect and trade information that provides warehouse managers with actionable information that can verify operational procedures and expedite decisions.

Order Fulfillment Optimization Technology – Every warehouse should consider introducing the latest order fulfillment technology in the market. Different warehouse technology solutions are available to help maximize order picking productivity and boost accuracy. There are two main solutions: Pick-by-Light and Put-by-Light. These technologies help automate warehouse processes and offer a more efficient and lower cost solution over manual picking methods.

Pick-to-Light Systems – These systems use specific light displays to direct warehouse operators to product locations. They make it easier for operators to know which to products to pick and how many. These systems are highly flexible and the technology comes with the ability to plan, control and analyze volumes of orders picked.

Benefits of Pick-to-Light Systems:

  • Increased picking productivity
  • Better accountability
  • Real-time product or order sorting
  • Fewer errors

Put-to-Light Systems – This technology helps direct operators how and where to allocate products in a warehouse for orders. These systems are highly efficient when it comes to picking from bulk stock. The technology is ideal for retail warehouses that deal with apparel, sporting goods, personal care items, convenience foods, groceries and general merchandise.

Benefits of Put-to-Light Systems:

  •  High-speed order sorting capability
  • Lower cost operation
  • Ideal for smaller but consistent daily orders
  • Requires less floor space

Warehouse Robotics Technology – New robotics technology has become one of the most sought after technologies for warehouse management. Leading-edge manufacturers are partnering with providers of warehouse management systems to create customized software and smart robots that help manage the movement, storage and sorting of warehouse inventory.Investing in warehouse robotics technology will highly benefit you. With increasing order volumes, numerous products to navigate, highly personalized order packing and faster shipping requirements, robotics solutions will help you effectively respond to volume growth and perform more tasks with less labor and at a lower cost.

Benefits of Warehouse Robotics:

  • Reduced operational and labor costs
  • Improved productivity
  • Higher order accuracy
  • Faster cycle times
  • Reduced safety incidents

The increasing demand for higher levels of performance and flexibility in warehouse robotics is stimulating some innovative product developments and early adoptions of mobile warehouse robotics. As a warehouse manager, you should choose robotics technology that best suits your needs.

Voice Tasking Technology – This is a hands-free technology that uses spoken commands for picking, putting, receiving, replenishing and warehouse shipping functions. This technology is almost similar to RF technology and is a flexible choice for order fulfillment.

Benefits of Voice Tasking Technology:

  • Improved picking productivity
  • Increased picking accuracy
  • Requires less operator training
  • Improved system control
  • Real-time data analysis and communications
  • Higher ROI

Labor Management Systems – To effectively manage and control warehouse operational expenses, warehouse managers have to invest in labor management technologies. Measuring productivity can seem challenging, but investing in labor management systems helps take out the guesswork in this critical measurement. When combined with warehouse management systems, you can easily drive reductions in labor costs.

Training is also a critical part of warehouse management. Innovative technology to consider is the use of a learning management system to train warehouse operators regularly. These training systems are designed to be easy to use and create training material and structures that suit your needs.

Warehouse Management System (WMS) – This is the most obvious – and commonly used- warehouse management hardware. Warehouse management systems are used to help companies control the movement and storage of materials within a warehouse. These systems are also used to process inventory transactions, such as shipping, receiving, picking and packing. Companies can gain real-time visibility into their stock and monitor the progression of products through their warehouses. Warehouse management systems often utilize a variety of warehouse management hardware (such as barcode scanners and mobile computers) to effectively monitor the placement and flow of their products in the warehouse.

Barcode Scanners (also known as Barcode Readers) – Barcode scanners emerged shortly after the introduction of wireless technology and have become a staple in many warehouses today. A barcode scanner is a hardware device used by many companies to read barcodes in the warehouse, print out product information or labels, and log products into the warehouse management system’s database. Barcode scanners can come in many sizes, shapes and forms depending on the company’s intended use for the hardware.

Barcode Label Printers – Barcode label printers work directly with a company’s warehouse management system to print product labels, bin labels and shipping labels. Generally cost- effective and easy to implement, barcode label printers help companies improve data management, data accessibility, and productivity.

Voice Hardware – Voice technology is new to the warehouse management hardware scene. Many companies are now using voice-directed picking hardware to determine the amount of goods to be picked up. These devices are fastened to a wireless computer, and data is transmitted to the device at the time of picking so the picker knows what to pick and the amount of items to be picked. Due to its time-saving advantages, many companies are considering adopting voice hardware into their warehouse management strategies despite its high cost.

Mobile computers – A mobile computer is basically a barcode scanner with a display screen and its own operating system. The hardware was designed to act like a portable PC with barcode scanning capabilities. As mobility became more desirable, companies began to adopt more mobile warehouse management hardware solutions such as these. Mobile computers are highly beneficial to companies wishing to have more accessibility to real-time data and improved employee productivity rates.

Smartphones – While not the most common piece of warehouse management hardware, smartphones are beginning to emerge onto the hardware scene. Many companies have started using smartphones as data collection devices. Smartphones are able to operate in the physical world via barcode scanning and voice and image capture, as well as connect to other software solutions via the “cloud”. This gives companies the ability to securely create, update, and manage business information at anytime from anywhere. As the business world becomes more mobile, companies should expect smartphones to become a commonality among warehouse management hardware devices.


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