Warehousing and logistics are greatly impacted by the growth of modern technologies – Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and big data in particular. These smart technologies allow tracking transportation and storage, save the time of teams, re-direct investments, and improve the end experience.
8 emerging technologies to adopt in warehousing
To understand which technologies will be the prevalent ones in the next 2-5 years, let’s take a look at the ones that impact the industry right now. According to Statista, the most common innovations, used by warehouse teams, are barcode scanners, labels, readers, connected smartphones, RFID tags, sensors, and others.
Most innovations, prioritized on the market right now, target smart tracking and management. Having enough information on all the processes in real-time allows preventing accidents and predicting risks as well as driving the move to the smart warehouse.
However, these priorities will not remain constant. Once the monitoring aspect of warehouse management has been automated and innovated by the majority of the companies, they will move on to other innovations. Now, let’s take a look at the technologies which will be relevant to warehouse companies now and in the next 3-5 years.
The goal of warehouse companies is and will be reducing operational costs. The most long-term and efficient way of doing so is cutting down on existing human resources costs. Robotics is the most likely candidate for warehouse automation – companies already increasingly adopt automated vehicles.
Automated Guided Vehicles
Vehicles with automated guidance (together with carts) are the primary candidates for goods transportation inside the warehouse and in the nearby territory. AGV vehicles need geospatial data and safety scanners to safely transport goods around the warehouse.
This technology was already in use by 2XL, a Belgian warehouse company that developed custom robotic vehicles to execute in warehouse logistics. They were able to cut the costs and time spendings, along with reducing the number of human errors.
Autonomous robots can be used to navigate in warehouses, too, but their mechanism is different. They use sensors and maps rather than rep-rest routes to navigate the territory. Such a system makes them more universal but also, less predictable. It‘s a better option for bigger warehouses with a higher number of potentially unpredictable variables. Such solutions already exist – like TagSurvey which can scan the warehouse territory in real-time and detect obstacles on its way.
During the last 4-5 years, drones migrated from the realm of science fiction to be an actionable tool for warehousing and logistics. Amazon introduced its concept of deliverable drones, Octocopters, back in 2013, and since then, the concept has been widely embraced by other providers, like DHL.
The technology of a deep optical view makes real-time analysis of the landscape and efficient drone delivery possible. That’s why drones have the potential to quickly deliver products even to hardly accessible areas while using little fuel and requiring minimal human oversight. However, it’s likely that over the next 2-3 years we will see a fully autonomous aerial model.
Voice Tasking Technology
Drivers aren’t the only ones who can be substituted by technology. Companies can use voice tasking technology to substitute traditional operators. Smart systems can generate voice commands automatically, taking into account data-based insights, reducing the chances of human errors, and avoiding misunderstandings.
Voice tasking technologies were around as early as in the early 2000s, but now, with natural language processing and conversation AI, it reached a new level. A voice tasking technology now is relevant not only for product picking but for other activities as well, including:
- distribution center management: replenishment, transport, transfer, distribution, receiving, documentation of products;
- in-store management: voice assistants can generate commands for picking, stock management, and monitoring;
- repairs and maintenance: voice talking software can guide teams through the technological crisis.
Order Fulfillment Optimization Technology
Order fulfillment requires the cooperation of multiple logistics specialists. Drivers, on-site workers, operators, customer managers – everyone needs to be up to date with the latest updates. Doing this in a manual mode becomes impossible – especially as customer expectations grow.
That is why businesses adopt innovative platforms that automate and oversee payments, order management, fulfillment, and customer interactions. The management systems are connected to shipping solutions – which is where the operations are executed. Usually, this is done in two ways. Let’s take a closer look below:
- Order Management System tracks customer requests and assigns orders. OMSs keep team members updated on new tasks and provide tangible analytics.
- Warehouse Management Systems handle the process of order distribution. They are concerned with technical aspects of order fulfillment: transportation, route and time planning, risk assessment, and real-time reporting.
Cloud computing technologies on warehousing
With smart analytical systems and real-time tracking, the amount of data is constantly growing. Most companies can’t afford to scale their in-house servers continuously – it requires expenses on hardware, space, and expert team. This is why many logistics providers prefer to outsource computing to third-party vendors. By using the infrastructure of big tech companies, they can share the resources and cut costs.
Benefits of Cloud computing for warehousing
- Scalability: unlike with in-house resources, warehouse companies can always edit the amount of available storage and number of CPUs. The companies can adapt according to their workloads, seasons, and available budget.
- Less responsibility: companies can focus on the delivery and management quality rather than overseeing security, compatibility, and hardware maintenance;
- Innovation: most Cloud infrastructure also includes tools for Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and big data.
Even big retailers today don’t often have resources to accommodate big warehousing. The expenses for digital marketing and technology are instantly growing, the physical investments suddenly become less relevant. It’s likely that the warehousing industry will experience “uberization” soon. Big providers will rent their warehousing space for long-term subscriptions, so companies won’t have to manage warehouses in-house.
It’s a great possibility for warehousing companies because they can think about building expendable infrastructures and engage B2B clients’ interest. For businesses that wouldn’t want to continue to support their won warehouse, it’s an opportunity to outsource this work.
The biggest barriers to adopting emerging technologies
The adoption of innovation in warehousing carries some difficulties along with opportunities. After all, there has to be the reason why logistics and warehousing industries are still relatively behind in the digital transformation to other major fields.
1 Technologies Driving Warehousing: Security
Collecting a lot of data on movements, customer personal data, creating smart analytics with strategic information about partners, and connecting stakeholders can potentially create a golden mine of private data for hackers. If a company doesn’t have a dedicated security department, they risk facing a security breach. Such a threat will create a dent in the provider’s reputation and significantly decrease the revenue.
2 Lack of human resources
To adopt innovation in logistics and warehousing, providers need to partner with reliable technical teams. Not only they have to understand the specific technologies, but they also, have experience of working in this field. After all, logistics and warehouse deal with specific standards and regulations.
Many innovations in logistics fields revolve around robotics and automation. This means getting rid of workplaces, and this endeavor is not as a positive endeavor by the public. So, it’s possible that governments might impact the decision to move to automation or that a company might sustain PR damage.
4 Lack of knowledge
The management of the company needs to understand the key stages of digital transportation. So, be ready to embrace long-term investment. Technology adoption pays off in the long run but might not necessarily see efficient right away. Knowing when to place a bet on technology and when to redirect investments elsewhere is an important competency for digital transformation.
Technologies Driving Warehousing: Bottom line
Technological transformation has already become inevitable for the logistics field. Having that in mind, organizations should start adopting technologies as quickly as possible to drive the move to the smart warehouse. Only by embracing them can companies outsmart competitors and offer a better customer experience. However, they should take into account that digital transformation is a long-term. That is why it is important to start planning ahead in order to build sustainable systems and meet with success.