Modern customers demand a seamless shopping experience with faster order delivery and shorter lead times.
This mounting pressure to fill orders faster has urged warehouse managers to reinvent their warehouse management practices in order to optimize the picking, packing and shipping processes.
It seems like technology is proving to be the most cost-effective and swift way to increase the efficiency of warehouse functions. As we progress into 2019, warehouse management technologies will grow leaps and bounds. Let’s take a look at some of the trends that will define warehouse management and logistics in 2019.
Trend #1: WMS will be Upgraded
The warehouse management system will get an update with new software capabilities added to it. Machine learning, for example, helps the system to sense and adapt to shipper behavior and react quickly to changing demands in the warehouse with minimum human intervention. For instance, if a picking process is ongoing and suddenly the demand shifts to a batch of difficult-to-pick items, then the WMS can shift allocation accordingly.
Clint Reiser, research analyst at ARC Advisory Group, says the ‘use of waveless fulfillment or intelligent batch-picking has penetrated the ecommerce industry.’ Sellers are using warehouse control systems and automation for batch-picking tasks. Such systems allow sellers to add in rush orders quickly during a wave of other orders.
Trend #2: Last Mile Deliveries in the Warehouse
Image courtesy: rumtoast.comLast mile delivery refers to moving items from the transportation hub to the customer’s doorstep. Usually, 3PL companies are accorded this task. But the new trend is gradually replacing 3PL companies. Companies now want to complete last mile deliveries themselves to speed up the delivery process for higher customer satisfaction.
Usually, companies have 2 options to complete their last-mile deliveries-
- Insourcing: this means using your own staff and vehicles to deliver orders to nearby customers. Employees may receive an additional payment to complete deliveries.
- Outsourcing: this refers to hiring third-party delivery services to deliver products to customers.
Amazon has taken the challenge of completing last mile deliveries themselves with the launch of its new last mile delivery program. Under this program, drivers will now be able to access Amazon’s delivery technology. They will receive hands-on training and discounts to certain assets and services of the company. This also includes privileges for vehicle leasing and insurance. In short, Amazon has empowered drivers to start their own delivery business.
Trend #3: Warehouses to Adopt Voice Technology
Voice technology can be an effective way to make warehouse management more affordable and efficient. By integrating voice technology with the WMS, warehouse operators will able to interact with the WMS with the help of an internet connection and headset. They can give voice commands to the system and even get updates on each task such as picking orders, receiving products or updating stock.
Voice technology will also be a more accurate technique since it will eliminate the need for pen-paper instructions, successfully reducing the probability of manual errors.
According to 2018 Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) and DC Velocity survey, the use of voice technology has grown almost 5.7% from 2008. Although the adoption is low, voice technology is slowly gaining momentum in the ecommerce space. As order volumes are increasing two-fold, and delivery windows are getting shorter, warehouses are finding new uses of current voice-technology like Alexa.
In fact, ecommerce shipping company ShippingEasy has decided to lead the baton.
It will be integrating its shipping software with Amazon’s Alexa devices, making it easy for warehouse managers to manage orders, print shipping labels, and handle order fulfillment tasks.
Katie May, CEO of ShippingEasy, says, “it is a huge innovation for those sitting with a keyboard and barcode scanner. Instead of interrupting the packing process by turning to a computer and selecting a shipping service, you can give voice commands to Alexa to do it.”
Trend #4: Use of Drones and Warehouse Robots to Supplement Manual Labour
Amazon, the ecommerce giant, is using drones for inventory management and for speeding up the picking and packing processes.
Drones could be an excellent solution for reaching inventory kept at the back of the warehouse, that would eventually save time which a warehouse worker would need to find those items manually. Also, inventory is stored in huge aisles, and high up in the storage. This makes it difficult rather dangerous for warehouse operators to get a hold of those items.
Drones is becoming an increasingly popular technology to be accepted inside the warehouse and distribution centers.
There are other kinds of automated robots too that warehouses across the United States are adopting to improve warehouse efficiency, save time and effort and reduce manual errors by automating simple tasks.
- Inventory Robots– these kinds of robots simplify daily inventory counting. Some advanced robots like TagSurveyor can scan inventory up to 30 feet away with the help of RFID scanners. Now warehouse managers do not have to worry about conducting inventory counts; they can always be updated with data on their inventory status.
- Driverless Forklifts- Forklifts are necessary equipment that allow warehouse workers to access and move heavy equipment with minimal effort. Forklifts can pick up and place entire pallets, drive them to the next spot without manual work. They can even sense obstacles in their path, as a result safely depositing inventory to the next location.
- Goods to person robots- these robots can carry carts and bins, taking inventory to waiting warehouse staff at the last stages of shipping. There are also climbing robots that can traverse heights or work in narrow aisles to get ahold of inventory.
Trend #5: Machine-to-Machine Technology takes over Warehouse Functions
Machine-to-Machine Technology(M2M) is when different machines or devices exchange information and perform functions on their own. A warehouse management system with M2M technology can connect and receive data from various instruments such as assembly lines, packing equipment, conveyors, etc.
These systems control the series of events and monitor the stages of production.
Machine- to- machine technology maintains greater quality control as it constantly checks the proper functioning of the machines in the warehouse.
M2M systems can be of various types depending on the industry or vertical where it is being used. For example, if a distribution company uses them, they will focus on connecting equipment responsible for order fulfillment.
In the warehouse, M2M can positively impact the bottom line. These systems collect and exchange information ranging from product sourcing to fulfillment and provide actionable insights to help make better decisions and oversee operations. The accuracy in information facilitates demand forecasting, helping managers to predict appropriate delivery times for customers.
Trend #6: Blockchain becomes Part of Supply Chain
Investopedia explains Blockchain as, “ a distributed database of digital information which cannot be tampered. Though the information is accessible to the public, it cannot be changed. The original information remains untouched, leaving a permanent and public information trail, or chain of transactions.”
Since blockchain is a distributed information model, data security is increased as information about every transaction is stored in all the computers on the network.
Blockchain can come in handy in the supply chain in the following ways-
- Recording the movement of inventory and equipment
- Information sharing with suppliers and vendors
- Tracking shipments and purchase orders
- Ensuring goods are connected to barcodes and serial numbers.
Walmart and IBM have partnered together to create a transparent food supply chain with the help of IBM’s blockchain network. Since 2016, the two companies have joined hands in creating a system that enhances food traceability, meaning they will be able to identify affected foods during a food scare within munites, and not days.
Trend #7: Mobile Technology Ensures Accuracy in Warehouse
Mobile technology has become an inseparable part of our lives, but the technology and its various forms have diverse uses inside the warehouse.
- Smartphones and Tablets: they make entering and receiving information very easy. If your warehouse management system is connected to these devices, you can simply push information like picklists, or shipping labels to warehouse operators quickly, anytime and from anywhere.
- Barcode Scanners and Other Handheld Devices: the most common mobile device in the warehouse is probably the barcode scanner that is an essential tool for scanning inventory and maintaining an accurate inventory count.
There are plenty of other handheld portable devices fortified with RFID scanning, cameras, touchscreen that make the work of warehouse staff easy and efficient.
The Warehouse is taking a front seat with new technological innovations disrupting traditional warehouse tasks. The WMS has become an all-around enterprise system that integrates with different pieces of equipment, gives data insights and provides flexibility to managers to streamline processes and optimize warehouse management functions.