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Lockdown Logistics: Don’t wait, automate!

Written by Michael Badwi
Created: 25 March 2020

Dont Wait, Automate! WMS for under-pressure supply chains

Supply chains are under pressure ordinarily, and in current times with a sweeping pandemic affecting countries from the GCC, the value of automation in supply chains and warehouse management logistics is more apparent than ever.

The ability to find solutions that do not require direct human engagement is what will separate your business from others as processes can be tracked in the cloud, while warehousing can run with minimal labour and maximum fluidity.

More than ever, consumers want it all, and they want it now. Current economic and climate pressures in the Middle East and world-wide add to these expectations, which are driving investments in new technologies that directly impact warehouses – critical hubs in every logistic process.

 

By optimising the way you receive, store, pick, pack and ship goods, you will find that your warehouse processes see a variety of benefits: 

 

Warehouse Optimisation Outcomes: Reduce logistics costs, boost productivity, avoid human errors, improve customer satisfaction, and supersede you competitors 

Simplified warehouse automation enables warehousing operations to achieve greater outcomes with significantly less effort through the use of one or more technologies.

 

The best warehouse automation solutions are 

  • scalable,
  • ergonomic, 
  • provide a return on investment.

Two Part Warehouse Automation:
Process Automation vs Physical Automation

Process automation

Also known as system automation, digitizes manual processes such as inventory data collection, and integrates that data into your software system, such as databases or Enterprise Resource Planning systems. This type of automation fosters an ecosystem of barcoding and wireless barcode scanners to input, track, and interpret data, which is then communicated to a centralised repository where the information is stored in the cloud for accessibility anywhere.

Physical automation

This includes many forms of mechanised automation, such as the use of robots and robotic systems within the warehouse. As it is more costly to implement, physical automation provides streamlining and ROI for larger high-volume warehouse and distribution centre operations. Examples of physical automation include goods-to-person technology, driverless automated guided vehicles, and autonomous mobile robots.

 

Both types of automation enable improvements in warehouse procedures and progress not possible by human labour alone. They automate by absorbing repetitive and time-consuming tasks, as well as physically intensive ones, streamlining your warehouse staff to concentrate on more meaningful activities where select human intervention is essential.

 

What Makes Up a Smart Warehouse

At its most basic, a smart warehouse is made up of a variety of interconnected technologies all working toward the same goals. The development and availability of these technologies is burgeoning in the Middle East, especially in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Here are just some of the many components in a smart warehouse:

Radio-Frequency Identification

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) helps organise and control inventory, replacing old analogue paper tracking methods in favour of tracking packages with digital tags. Radio waves are then used to transfer data to or between the digital tag and an automated scanning system, recording the product’s information.

RFID replaces barcode scanners, where the handheld barcode needed to be precisely aligned with the scanner to identify it. RFID scanners can simply be pointed in the general direction of the package in order to identify it. Since scanners don’t have to be precisely aligned, automated machines can be used to scan packages as they come in, identifying and counting how many of each type of good is received.

Additionally RFID can detect goods as they leave the warehouse during order fulfilment, ensuring that inventory count is always accurate.

Robotics

Humanoids are still a long way off, but there are other types of robots that are almost as cool! Warehousing robots today mainly handle the picking and packing of goods. Commonly used warehousing robots automate the picking process by physically bringing product shelves to the human workers packing orders.

Essentially they are automated, more manoeuvrable, pallet jacks. They move faster than people can, move more goods simultaneously, and they can identify the optimal route for picking up the necessary products.

Artificial Intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is exploding in every industry, not just in warehousing. The main reason is that AI helps boost productivity and reduce errors. For example:

  • AI helps warehousing robots find the most efficient route for picking products. 
  • It can also be used to determine the best box type for a shipment based on the type, number, size and weight of the products. 
  • Some warehouses have even been able to implement machines that can pack products, using AI to pack them in the most space-efficient manner.

Capabilities such as these help warehouse operations drastically reduce operating costs, mainly the number of human workers. Kai-Fu Lee, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, predicts that artificial intelligence will automate and potentially eliminate 40 percent of jobs within 15 years.

Warehouse Management Systems

The use of a WMS is the cherry on top of all of your smart technology. A WMS solution has many uses, from gathering valuable data to helping users manage warehousing processes and improving your business logistics. This allows you to keep track of how efficient your warehouse’s day-to-day operations are and if you can improve on anything specific.

WMS Optimisation

A WMS opens up a whole new level of warehouse optimisation. Since most WMS solutions can collect real-time data and create visual reports, they help to reveal any deficiencies in your inbound and outbound logistics processes - after viewing a WMS report, you can take appropriate action to fix issues and streamline operations.

 

The long-term additional gains in labour management

 

LONG TERM ADDITIONAL GAINS IN LABOUR MANAGEMENT : Improved work environments, Greater business flexibility, Simplified regulatory compliance

 

The warehouse occupies a critical role in the supply chain. As a core component of logistics management, your warehouse is not just a back-end operation that stores goods, materials or assets - it is a critical link fundamental to the success of the greater supply chain it is connected to.

 

Problems or delays in the warehouse operation can flow downstream to impact invoicing, cash flow and customer satisfaction.

 

Conversely, if we have learned anything from the current pressures on the supply chain, we can only conclude that streamlining processes can help to overtake competitors, keep our supply chain flowing, and maintain business in a trying time where we cannot rely on labour.

 

In our next blog, we will be looking at the competitive advantage that you give your business with a picking strategy that improves your pick face, picking pace, and picking accuracy.

Until then, investigate the changes that will take place within your warehouse, logistics processes, and supply chain, and how to manage them while you implement a WMS

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