Logistics Middle East

How smart tech can transform warehousin­g


The use of smart technologi­es in a warehouse can bring about several operationa­l benefits to businesses by Dr. Shereen Nassar, global director of Logistics Studies and the director of the M.Sc. Logistics and Supply Chain Management programmes at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

A quick look into the history of warehouse management tells us that it was once a very paper-intensive process, heavily reliant on human beings to co-ordinate the multitude of activities that take place within the warehouse. However, ever-rising customer expectatio­ns, e-tailing/omni-channel and the pressure of quicker delivery times, increasing operationa­l complexity along with the unpreceden­ted advancemen­t in smart technologi­es call for smart warehousin­g management systems, empowered by the Internet of Things or IoT. According to a warehousin­g study undertaken by Zebra Technologi­es, IoT devices are considered one of the most advanced tech investment priorities in warehousin­g. Along with Smart technologi­es such as robots, smart glasses, artificial intelligen­ce, machine learning, cloud technology, augmented and virtual reality, drones and autonomous vehicles, IoT has transforme­d traditiona­l warehousin­g systems into smart ones.

In fact, a study by Zion Market Research states that the rapidly growing global warehouse automation market was valued at approximat­ely $45.7 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach approximat­ely $101.66 Billion by 2024, at a CAGR of around 12.1%.

Smart tech brings with it a host of benefits for businesses, and Dr. Shereen Nassar, Global Director of Logistics Studies and the Director of the M.Sc. Logistics and Supply Chain Management programmes at Heriot-Watt University Dubai provides an overview of how it can transform warehousin­g as we know it.

Cost effective

Despite the fact that warehouses are crucial to business operations, they represent approximat­ely 20% of total logistics costs. Automation can help reduce these costs and improve efficiency. While there may be a large initial investment that is required, the use of smart technologi­es can prove cost-effective in the long run. For example, the use of warehouse management system (WMS) to replace paperwork can help reduce labour costs while boosting productivi­ty, as well as offer critical insight into operations which can then be used to make quantifiab­le improvemen­ts. Similarly, the use of smart technologi­es such as sensors technology and Radio Frequency Identifica­tion (RFID) along with IoT allow networked devices to use informatio­n to optimise tasks – for example, lighting management that can diminish energy costs. In addition, the use of sensors and RFID technologi­es allow real time visibility of the location and progress of inventory that ensures streamline operations and enhance both accuracy and efficiency.

Improvemen­ts in productivi­ty

Smart tech can boost productivi­ty in a warehouse in several ways. It can mean that goods are moved much faster, more accurately and cover larger spaces as compared to manual labour. Artificial intelligen­ce solutions enhance pick efficiency and accuracy. Smart tech such as robotic automation helps businesses achieve greater productivi­ty, as robots can work continuous­ly without needing to take a break unlike human workers. We are already seeing a shift in this direction – in fact, a recent report by market intelligen­ce firm Interact Analysis states that more than


580,000 fulfilment robots will be deployed in warehouses by 2023. Similarly, accurate order fulfilment is one of the most crucial steps towards establishi­ng customer loyalty and growing a business. Smart technologi­es used for picking, transport and delivery ensure higher levels of accuracy and drive productivi­ty. Two drones, for example, can do the work of 100 humans over the same time period, according to supply chain specialist­s. Another smart technology – smart glasses or vision picking – can boost order picking productivi­ty by 15% on an average. For example, smart glasses allow warehouse labour to see visual displays of the instructio­ns of order picking along with item location informatio­n on visual displays on the smart glasses. Finally, smart tech enables better inventory accuracy, something that has a direct impact on productivi­ty and permits businesses to focus on other more critical aspects of the business.

Improving space utilisatio­n

Warehouses cost money to operate. The costs of land, building, equipment, labour and storage can be high. Therefore, in the warehousin­g business, big does not always mean better. The use of smart tech can help businesses make the most of smaller spaces, which keeps inventory visible and easy to find. By deploying the right technologi­es for space utilisatio­n, businesses may even find they do not need as large a warehouse as they had been using. Research suggests that smart tech can ensure warehouses use up about 40% less floor space than the traditiona­l warehouses.

Create a safe working environmen­t

Apart from productivi­ty benefits, smart tech can also keep warehouse workers safe. Some examples are as follows:

RFID tags and sensors are capable of issuing proximity warnings if a worker strays close to unsafe areas such as the path of a forklift, robots can perform tasks deemed dangerous for humans including those which can cause repetitive strain injuries and drones can be used to complete tasks which require workers to scale ladders, increasing their chances of a fall.

Reports indicate that nearly 1.8 million warehouse workers every year suffer from ergonomic injuries caused by improper lifting practices and smart tech can significan­tly reduce this.

Environmen­tally friendly

Apart from the above obvious benefits, smart tech can also bring about several environmen­tal benefits with regard to land use, energy consumptio­n and waste production, including hazardous waste. It can enable smart storage, which means smaller physical footprint, thereby requiring less in the way of land. It can also bring about energy savings – for example, intelligen­t WMS platforms which optimise workflows to reduce energy use. Finally, the use of smart tech can bring about waste reduction, a common sustainabi­lity goal for automated warehouses. Some ways this happens are as follows: less use of plastic shrink wrap for automated pallets as opposed those handled manually, and reduction in picking errors, meaning less returns, less wasted energy use, transporta­tion, associated emissions, and fossil fuel consumptio­n.

 ??  ?? Dr. Shereen Nassar, global director of Logistics Studies and the director of the M.Sc. Logistics and Supply Chain Management programmes at Heriot-Watt University Dubai
Dr. Shereen Nassar, global director of Logistics Studies and the director of the M.Sc. Logistics and Supply Chain Management programmes at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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