The Internet of Things (IOTs) is changing the way we live and work. With smart aircons, lights and vacuum cleaners, which can be remotely controlled from the mobile, you can come home after a day at work to a cool, clean place. The journey home is made easy with IOT enabled lamp posts, transforming them from static street lights into data collecting machines, to help drivers avoid busy roads.
The same goes for the warehouse. By embedding IOT enabled drivers and sensors or radio frequency identification tags in containers, pallets, packages, forklifts, conveyors and sorters, operators will have real-time visibility of their warehouse to drive incremental benefits to existing processes, from inventory management to asset utilization to warehouse space optimization.
In practice, it will mean that:
Missing inventory will be a thing of the past as operators will be able to locate and track the movement of products as they move through the warehouse;
Customer service will be enhanced as a result, as customers, even those located half way round the world, will have precise information of the location and status of their products;
Out of stock situations will be minimised with improved warehouse inventory management;
Perishable losses will be pared as IOTs will facilitate close monitoring to ensure perishables are stored at constant temperature with proper ventilation;
Deployment of assets will be optimized as operators can track the status of forklifts, trucks, etc., allowing them to put idle equipment to good use. With the information, operators can take corrective action and rightsize their fleet to prevent wastage;
Maintenance of forklifts and trucks will improve as the equipment’s on-board diagnostics can send a signal whenever servicing is needed; and
Wasteful patterns can be uncovered and addressed.
The IOT can also be harnessed to boost efficiency and raise productivity amongst warehouse staff. Earlier in the year DHL undertook a pilot test involving smart glasses and augmented reality in cooperation with its customer Ricoh at a warehouse in the Netherlands. Order pickers were guided through the warehouse by graphics displayed on the smart glass. The glasses could read bar codes, enabling order pickers to select the right item then place it in the right location. Packing became more efficient as warehouse workers were informed through a panel on the glasses the most efficient route through the aisles to reach the items and the optimal spot to place them within their packing trolleys.
Over a period of three weeks 9,000 orders were picked. DHL found that staff efficiency rose by 25% and the orders they fulfilled were error free.
Small wonder then that research firm Gartner expects Internet-connected physical devices will spike 30-fold, from 3.9 billion connected things in 2014 to 25 billion by 2020 and significantly alter how the supply chain operates.