We are living in the digital era, when everything and everyone is connected to the internet. However, several warehousing processes still rely on manual operations. This leads to erroneous deliveries, shipping delays, miscommunication, and increased costs.
The best way to overcome these drawbacks is to connect your warehousing and logistics with the internet. Smart warehouses, being connected 24/7, can restructure their inventory to improve the overall productivity. But first, you need to understand how IoT (Internet of Things) can fulfill the demand of warehousing in the future.
The Future of IoT
The IoT landscape is growing rapidly. Not just laptops and smartphones, IoT also connects home appliances and industrial equipment to the internet. According to Statista, there will be more than 75 billion connected devices globally by 2025.
IoT will also grow in the industrial and enterprise segments. According to Bain & Company, the IoT market including hardware, software, systems integration, and data and telecom services, will reach $520 billion by 2021, with the majority of it captured by enterprise and industrial segments.
How IoT Helps in Warehousing
IoT brings several advantages to the warehousing industry. That’s why 72% of companies are planning to automate their warehouse systems using IoT in the next five years.
a) IoT Improves Delivery
Sensors and RFID tags allow warehouse managers to track the real-time location of every product 24/7, improving efficiency. British supermarket Ocado is already using smart warehouses to make online grocery shopping faster and better.
b) IoT Betters Supply Chain
A smart warehouse, when managed accurately, can help improve the entire supply chain, resulting in higher accuracy and profits. For example, with the help of wearables, workers can access the correct shipping information without the need for workstations.
The communication is error-free and on-time, which prevents delays and misplacements. UPS is currently using wearable technology (Google Glass) to improve their warehousing and supply chain process.
c) IoT Helps Plan in Advance
With IoT-enabled warehousing system, you can plan everything well in advance. For example, before the emergence of IoT, warehouse maintenance was mostly passive, resulting in delays and massive repairing costs.
However, by combining IoT, Big Data, and AI (Artificial Intelligence), you can get insights into the lifecycle of goods and components, allowing you to create an end-to-end lifecycle management process.
IoT for Consumers and Companies
IoT-enabled warehouses provide a win-win for both, businesses and consumers. Consumers are increasingly shopping online with higher expectations for personalized products and seamless transactions across multiple channels. They also get same-day delivery to keep up with their ever-reducing tolerance for delays.
That said, businesses need to address increasing warehousing costs, space constraints in metro cities, and shipping errors. Only smart warehouses can help resolve these issues, resulting in a better connection between the consumer and the supplier.
With IoT, businesses can operate warehouses optimized for storing inventories on demand (responsive supply chains), share space in the same storage facility with multiple sellers, reduce delivery errors, and increase productivity. Consumers will enjoy better products and services, shorter delivery time, and fewer replacements resulting from shipping errors.
Leveraging Cloud Technology, Drones and Bots
Cloud technology allows users to access WMS (Warehouse Management Software) from anywhere without depending on local servers. The pay-as-you-go service model is cost-effective, flexible, low-risk, and comes with lower cost of ownership. You can also keep it updated regularly and scale it quickly.
Companies will also start using drones and bots to overcome the error-prone and time-consuming manual tagging and scanning of warehoused items. For example, Geodis, the logistics arm of France’s state-owned railroad company, SNCF Group, plans to start using drones to scan its warehouses for inventory.
Amazon and UPS are taking this a step further by using drones for deliveries as well. Many of Linde’s automated forklifts are being used to move pallets in warehouses, while Ocado is already using robots to lift, move, and sort items.
How IoT Can Be Implemented for Smart Warehousing
IoT can play a variety of roles in setting up a smart warehouse. It isn’t just limited to scanning and tracking packages. The essential areas of application include –
- Using sensors and robotics to create the most efficient warehouse layout.
- Using wearables and barcodes to scan, tag, pick-up and drop-off packages automatically.
- Using automation to keep track of all activities on the floor to ensure higher productivity.
- Collecting and analyzing key metrics to create a safer work environment.
- Using commercial telematics to track logistics.
- Using drones and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for product delivery.
- Using Big Data analytics and AI to create responsive and self-improving inventory management systems.
- Sharing information across multiple channels and systems for better execution.
Increase ROI by Reinventing Inventory Management
IoT-enabled warehouses result in on-time deliveries, lower store variance, and less product on-hand, which in turn, improves supply chain management. As the use of IoT-enabled devices increases in the coming years, businesses will be able to set up a responsive and self-improving supply chain.
The supply chain will speed up or slow down according to consumer demand. IoT, coupled with Big Data analytics and AI, will allow businesses to focus on what is necessary, resulting in massive time and cost savings. In other words, it will lead to the reinvention of inventory management.
Key Challenges in Smart Warehousing
Although IoT is gaining ground rapidly, its warehousing applications are fraught with many challenges. One of the primary hurdles is the lack of IoT standards. With fast-evolving technology, new gadgets enter the market every day. However, the lack of industry standards often raises compatibility issues.
Execution is also a crucial challenge for IoT-enabled warehouses. For example, most smart warehouses will require seamless integration of WCS (Warehouse Control Systems), BAS (Building Automation Systems), and the WMS.
However, integrating these systems isn’t going to be easy, especially if different vendors design them. Still, a number of tech pundits believe that Big Data analytics and web protocols will play a crucial role in addressing such issues.
In this hyper-connected world, warehousing and supply chain industry will also need to tap into technologies such as IoT. These technologies will soon control every aspect of warehouse operation, leaving little room for human interference. Hopefully, the benefits, progress, and opportunities will help you understand what smart warehousing promises and how to achieve it. Do you plan on using IoT to revamp your supply chain management? Tell us how in the comments.