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ITE Transport and Logistics

10 warehousing tech innovations from around the world

It is predicted that over 85% of all businesses will be digital within the next five years. As such, warehouse operators and logistics firms need to react quickly by implementing the latest technical innovations. Not only will this ensure that these companies will be thoroughly futureproofed, but supply chains will be operating at peak efficiency – great for customers and businesses alike.
 
Some 66% of warehouses plan to expand their technology investments by 2018. With this in mind, here are 10 of the most exciting technological innovations in the warehousing sector that logistics and warehouse operators should keep an eye on.
 
EDI communication continues to grow
 
Big data will be finding its way into warehousing in many ways in the near future. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) looks to continue this trend. In short, EDI technology allows for sharing of documents, with a shared format, between two computer systems. This has already been taken on board by the warehousing industry, but looks set to expand in scope. 
Popular uses for EDI in this sector include:
 
• Purchase orders
• Warehouse shipping orders
• Warehouse stock transfer receipts
• Warehouse shipping advice
• Warehouse inventory advice
 
The benefits of EDI are many when integrated into a successful warehouse management system (WMS) – most notably, the seamless and highly visible flow of information between two different computer systems. No two business partners’ systems are the same. The standard format, and compatibility, of EDI documents allows for greater efficiency, visibility and collaboration between all parties for smoother operations.
 
Drones swoop in
 
Drones are pieces of tech that have seemingly been pulled from the pages of science fiction and made reality. Handy for a wide variety of applications, drones are set to make appearances in warehouses globally as firms seek to further increase levels of automation.
 
So why drones? They can aid with tasks that could require a large number of man-hours. One such use is for barcode scanning, according to drone specialists DroneScan. Warehouses are often stacked to the roof with inventory. This makes certain barcodes tricky to reach and could require the use of a forklift, cage and staff to scan them.
 
DroneScan is confident their 800g drones, carrying scanners, can count as much stock in two days than an 80-strong team, complete with lift trucks and handheld scanners, could in three days. Navigating inside warehouses safely is the final challenge to complete before drones are further adopted – but with major companies such as Amazon and Walmart looking to expand their warehousing operations with drone tech, the future is bright for these airborne aids. 
 
RFID
 
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is already a major force in warehousing, but it will become more sophisticated in the coming years. For the uninitiated, RFID technology uses radio waves to feed information between tags attached to stock and readers that pick up the signal. 
 
The benefits of RFID include greater stock visibility and transparency, which offers ease of inventory as well as a reduction in theft. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, in Dortmund, Germany, seeks to combine drone tech with RFID to further automate the inventory process. By attaching a reader to a drone, inventory can be catalogued at a much faster pace. Floor space can also be saved as the RFID tech, plus the manoeuvrability of the drone, allows stock to be stacked as a high as possible. 
 
On-Demand Warehousing 
 
With warehouse vacancy rates dwindling, down to 10% of space needed in Russia and even lower in the UK and US, on-demand is the next step in collaborative logistics. FLEXE, which calls itself the “marketplace for warehouse space”, is a new system that seeks to offer the maximum warehouse space available for all customers.
 
The idea is simple. Register on the FLEXE website and you will be able to see available warehouse space posted by operators with room to spare. Likewise, operators can advertise their spare space to those who need it fast. Some spectators have called this the “Airbnb of warehousing” after the popular peer-to-peer accommodation service.
 
The idea is to offer businesses the ability to be more adaptive in their warehousing. Seasonal stock can be held separate from main warehouses, in order to save space, or returns can be handled and processed faster. All this is according to FLEXE whose revenue model is based off transaction fees. While only a presence in North America, FLEXE could easily change how the logistics industry provides adaptive warehousing in the future. 
 
Head in the cloud
 
Cloud storage has revolutionised many industries and logistics is no different. By implementing self-updating and hosted computer systems, cloud storage offers many benefits to warehousing include cutting down on maintenance, infrastructure and labour costs that come from the installation and upgrading of warehouse management systems.
 
Many warehouses that are operating on “legacy systems”, i.e. those that are out-of-date or obsolete, will be making the switch to cloud technology for the reasons above. Another benefit is that cloud storage systems are often self-updating. This means that, instead of replacing talented tech-savvy members of the team once they leave, a system can be implemented that is cost effective and easy to use by all members of staff.
 
Of course, there are some considerations that should be kept in mind before making the switch to cloud computing. Who will own your data? Where will the data be physically stored  - i.e., where are the servers located? Will it be truly cost effective? Logistics and warehousing companies are advised to think carefully before committing to cloud technology.
 
Omnichannel operations
 
E-commerce and omnichannel solutions go hand in hand. As the future is most definitely digital, warehousing will have to adapt to meet the needs of this globally redefining commerce sector. The Radius Group, a Russia based warehousing and manufacturing real estate company, has implemented an omnichannel solution in their latest project.
 
A new 100,000 square metre facility is being constructed by the Radius Group, alongside French DIY retail giants Leroy Merlin, to meet Russia’s increased e-commerce demands. This facility will be the largest and, potentially, the most efficient distribution centre in the history of the Russian Federation.
 
The rise of omnichannel distribution goes hand in hand with the advances in RFID and EDI tech, whereas drones could also be hovering on the horizon too for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness. 
 
Rise of the robots
 
Automation is key in the logistics and supply chain sectors. Often, the greater the automation in processes, the more efficient they become. Robots are playing a big part in improving levels of automation in warehousing. 
 
Several worldwide robot manufacturers, including Kiva (bought out in 2012 by Amazon for $775 million to become Amazon Robotics), Swisslog and Grenzebach offer robotic solutions that make inventory, stock take and picking faster. 
 
Take Amazon’s machines for example. Each has its own area to cover, learning where to take its inventory from, which is then picked and taken to a member of the warehouse staff for further distribution or directly onto trucks. Each small orange robot has what resembles a pallet on its back, so each can travel around the warehouse with ease. 
 
By switching the man-to-goods process to goods-to-man, machines like these are just an example of how robotics can be used to revolutionise logistics. 
 
Barrage of batteries
 
You may not think battery technology has anything to do with supply or logistics (beyond the supply of the batteries themselves, of course) but you would be wrong. A few firms have led developments in battery tech that could greatly aid warehouse operations globally. 
 
Tesla have recently unveiled two batteries that can draw energy from either nearby power grids or from renewable energy sources, i.e. solar power. The benefits of these are twofold.
 
Firstly, they allow for greater automation as the energy source will be local and affordable enough to offset the upfront costs of installing automated systems. 
 
Secondly, the fact that they can be linked up to renewable energy sources means these batteries allow for a great flexibility in the location of warehouses. They are, after all, not entirely dependent on local utility grids, so a further spread of warehouse facilities could be seen in the future.
 
 Keeping an eye on lithium-ion batteries
 
The other intriguing development in batteries, for warehousing, can be found in the form of advances in lithium-ion (Li-ion) power cells. European company Linde Material Handling recently updated many of their truck models, including pallet trucks, low-level order pickers and tow tractors, with Li-ion power units. 
 
The results have shown longer-lasting battery life when compared with traditional lead acid units. More than 90% of the battery’s charge can be used to power the vehicle, which means less down time charging and more time in use. Depending on the application, a lithium-ion battery can last up to 10 years before needing replacing.
 
As energy costs mount, warehouse operators will be intrigued to see how they can save. Li-ion powered trucks and warehouse equipment is one way to keep energy costs low without impacting on productivity. 
 
Crafty construction
 
The construction of warehouses will be changed in the coming years. Single-envelope technology is poised to replace traditional methods and materials. By utilising composite panels in the construction, energy efficiency, air-tightness and durability are increased. These are key benefits, especially for cold storage facilities. 
 
The largest example of this design is in Wisbech, UK. ISD Solutions, the UK’s leading specialists in cold storage design and construction, built their facility to improve the UK’s number of frozen food warehouses. Construction time and costs were reduced by 20% while building the 36,000 square metre space. 
 
ISD Solutions are confident that their design practices will change the face of cold storage warehouse construction in the UK. And, with lower costs and build time, plus improved energy efficiency and a lower carbon footprint, composite panel technology will have global applications.
 
The bright future of warehousing technology
 
This is just a snapshot of the upcoming advances in technology for the warehousing and logistics sectors. Technology keeps advancing quickly, as e-commerce and digital distribution grows, so it is up to firms to ensure they keep abreast of all the latest innovations. Implementation will be key to the smooth running of supply chains as the 21st century roles on. Make sure your business will not be caught out and keep up to date.
 

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