Open Sky Group recently hosted a webinar on major advances in technology that are currently impacting warehouse management and productivity. The panel, composed of thought leaders Ian Drummond and Jeremy Hudson from Open Sky Group, Jhordan Gil from Blue Yonder and Saj Kumar from Microsoft, highlighted 10 emerging trends that are shaping the way warehouses will be run in the foreseeable future. Here’s the list:
- Technology now conforms to business: For years, it used to be the other way around. Not anymore. The field of supply chain warehouse automation now offers so many options, you can choose those that best serve your business – from simplistic, automated, bolt-to-the-ground conveyance technology, to automated guided vehicles (AGV), autonomous mobile robots (AMR), full-blown automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and more.
- It takes a coordinated autonomy platform: Supply chain software has evolved to accommodate the fast-moving ecommerce model, serving to the benefit of all supply chain businesses. Warehouse automation can come from a wide variety of vendors, meaning warehouse, labor and transportation management systems (WMS, LMS and TMS) must now interact to coordinate all tasks, robotic or otherwise, inside and outside of an organization.
- SaaS as the long-term support model: With so many moving parts in play, long-term support is best managed on the cloud, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has become the preferred means of operating. Few enterprises have the wherewithal to employ the IT staff it takes to sustain operations otherwise. Once a system goes live, the best way to maintain it is as-a-service.
- Automation drives software development: As warehouse automation continues to prove itself in practice, innovators are introducing new autonomous concepts that software developers must accommodate to remain relevant. Integrations must be thought out beforehand, as new capabilities come online. The ability to orchestrate both humans and machines over the long-haul hinges on open software design and flexible operating infrastructure.
- Get ready for RaaS: Just as SaaS created new efficiencies in the warehouse, Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) is bringing economy-of-scale to modern, hybrid warehouse environments. Consumption-based robotics contracting of software and hardware on an as-needed basis will save the industry millions in CapEx and OpEx over the coming years, while also making operations infinitely more flexible.
- WMS as orchestrator: Harmonizing all this technology is the key to success moving forward. A well-designed, tier one WMS that has been designed to accommodate complex integrations and manage cross-functional operations can place all activities on a single screen, greatly simplifying warehouse management. For best results, test your vision beforehand using a simulator. Will that HoloLens augmented reality tool at every station really earn its keep? Or is it better relegated as a one-off training tool? Look before you leap. Simulate before you go live.
- The new “co-botic” environment: Robots and humans really can work together. The new “co-botic” warehouse will combine automated technology with human intelligence in a collaborative effort orchestrated on a master screen that integrates all moving parts. The end game? Huge ROI.
- LMS solves the labor challenge: With labor shortages still lingering from the first wave of COVID, operators must not only supplement their warehouse staff with automation, but also find ways to get the most out of the talent at hand. Modern labor management systems (LMS) have been shown to improve employee retention and satisfaction by shedding light on what matters, how it gets measured and gamifying priorities to incentivize productivity and performance.
- The consumable WMS: As the industry moves away from the monolithic, stand-alone warehouse management systems (WMS) of the past, consumable services are filling in. Bits and pieces of functionality, such as e-plus robotics, AGVs and AMRs are now being deployed individually as part of a larger tailored solution by providers who sell these services through subscription, with full integrations available right out of the box.
- Everything’s about transparency: The most important factor in meeting customer needs is transparency. Give a customer real-time visibility into where their package is in the pick-pack-ship cycle, when it will be delivered and, if the shipment is disrupted, clear options to solve the issue, and you will earn that customer’s trust. Transparency, alongside prompt, accurate fulfillment, is the new world order. And it takes intelligent automation to make that happen.
Whether you are operating a captive warehouse for a name brand of limited SKUs, or a broad-based 3PL managing shipments and inventory for multiple customers across a broad geography, it is possible to improve throughput, accuracy and efficiency with the right warehouse automation tuned specifically to your enterprise.