07 January 2021

It feels as though the rate of technological progress has never been faster than it is right now. Since Intel co-founder Gordon Moore coined ‘Moore’s Law’ in 1965 – the theory that the number of transistors that can fit on a computer chip will double every year – he’s been proven right. Computing power is continuing to grow at an astonishing pace, enabling ever-more advanced applications all the time.

But does this mean every business has to implement every new technological trend as soon as it’s launched? Just because a technology is available, will it automatically improve a warehousing business’s operations?

Here’s why we believe it makes better business sense to focus on data to give a warehousing operation an edge, rather than the latest cutting-edge innovation.

Robots in the warehouse?

As the undisputed leaders in warehouse tech, Amazon famously uses robots and other automation technologies to keep its monumental operation running smoothly and efficiently. Robots move pallets and stock around its enormous warehouses, while its Prime Air drone delivery trial is said to be close to launch. It’s an impressive use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation at the forefront of logistics technology, but should other warehousing businesses try and keep up?

For most businesses in the warehousing industry, investment in technology is a careful consideration, and any new innovation has to come with a robust business case before it’s seriously discussed. Physical automation for the warehouse includes autonomous carousels, storage and retrieval systems and load-carrying vehicles, but the capital necessary to invest in this kind of tech is significant. This makes it not only out of reach for the majority of operations, but an incredibly costly error when it’s implemented in the wrong way.

In the US, a mid-sized industrial distributor spent $3 million on an automated carousel system, only to abandon its use due to poor performance and reliability. Not only did the business take a financial hit on the investment, the system saved just $300,000 a year in staff wages, making the ROI after five years -19 percent. It’s a stark example of the risk and implications involved in investing in the latest technology when it may not be suitable or indeed, necessary.

Data holds the key to futureproofing operations

Rather than stretching budgets to implement hi-tech solutions that won’t create meaningful benefit, the means to achieving a futureproof operation for most warehousing businesses, lies in data and its analysis within a warehouse management system (WMS).

When the entire stock journey from goods in to dispatch is recorded in a warehouse via a team’s rugged mobile devices, this data can be fed back into a connected WMS. With all operational warehouse data digitally recorded in one place as goods move through the supply chain – such as inventory levels, batch numbers, processing dates etc – a WMS becomes a source of detailed performance analysis.

Yet, even when warehouse operations already have a WMS in place, most are underutilising the data it collects. Within many businesses, there’s scope for unlocking new data insight from within existing systems before the consideration of investing in any new technology. 

To demonstrate this further, consider the Elastic Warehouse. This concept enables organisations the flexibility to bend, grow or shrink in accordance with fluctuations to demands of the supply chain at short notice. The Elastic Warehouse allows for warehouse operations to become more agile, efficient and stable.

The Elastic Warehouse is a four-model concept. By suggesting a best fit model, it takes account of each operation together with its existing infrastructure and recommends approaches that can be implemented to optimise existing operations.

Each model is designed for a distinct type of operation and relies on supporting technology, including a WMS and its data. The four models are: 

  • Elastic Overheads: optimisation of existing resources such as tech, workforce and warehouse space.
  • Elastic Outsource: optimisation of warehousing outsourcing and distribution of key seasonal lines.
  • Elastic Tech: increasing efficiencies by implementing technology across the whole supply chain to bridge any gaps. 
  • Elastic Blend: utilising elements of the first three approaches to optimise existing operations.

The Elastic Overheads model consists of optimising existing resources at a business’s disposal, such as people, warehouse space and tech. As part of this type of approach, a business would review its existing hardware, applications and work management tools to assess whether they can respond quickly to peaks and troughs in demand.

Management teams looking to implement the Elastic Overheads model may examine the speed of warehouse workflows, analyse stock levels against demand and assess how long goods spend in inventory, revealing invaluable business insight when combined with integrated data from other systems. Through WMS data and its analysis, a warehousing management team can spot operational areas ripe for improvement, such as goods that routinely take up precious warehouse space for too long, or particular processes or shifts that could be made more efficient.

The Elastic Outsource model enables operations the ability to remain focused on the core lines, by using a third-party to take on the seasonal demand during peak periods, such as Christmas. This model is useful to management teams when day-to-day demand for core lines is at full capacity and extra assistance is needed.

The technology is integrated with the third-party provider to ensure management teams have access to key information, regardless of who is managing that stock.

Elastic Tech works to utilise the existing footprint of the operation more efficiently by implementing the necessary technology across the supply chain to bridge any gaps. From handheld data capture to utilising WMS and integrating all enterprise systems used by both retailer and supplier, Elastic Tech is ideal for larger operations managing large volumes of goods or those operating across several different warehouses and distribution centres. 

The Elastic Blend model combines elements of the other three models (optimising existing resources, outsourcing and new tech investment) according to the unique needs of the business in question. This approach best suits larger warehousing operations, those with capacity for 24 hour inbound deliveries and numerous stringent SLAs in place. With a new WMS or via better use of an existing one, such a business could begin to make use of predictive data analytics and demand forecasting for example – applying artificial intelligence (AI) to historical operational data to predict trends in consumer demand and streamline ways of working accordingly. Subsequent actions might include rotating or regrouping stock within the warehouse to maximise picking efficiency, or preparing replenishment workflows just before current stock is due to be shipped.   

Capturing warehouse data on devices tough enough for the job

As we mentioned above, the way to gather the operational warehouse data needed for such actionable business intelligence, is the right hardware. In theory, any mobile computer, handheld device or scanner could record the data necessary, but only rugged devices can maintain performance in the challenging warehouse environment.

Built to withstand drops, shocks and the heavy vibrations that come from being mounted on forklifts and other warehouse vehicles, rugged mobile devices enable a warehouse team to digitise their workflows and capture data easily and instantly, sending everything through to a connected WMS. This ultra-tough tech won’t succumb to extremes of temperature, dust, ingress or moisture, and boast extra-long battery life to see them through even the most demanding shift. 

Equip your warehouse team with the rugged devices they need to optimise their tasks and capture vital operational data. To find out more about our rugged mobile solutions, please get in touch.   

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - PETER MARSH

Peter joined TouchStar (formally Belgravium) in a sales manager role in 2001.  Prior to joining the company, Peter held Partner and National Sales Manager roles within the parcel and logistics industries. 

In 2011 Peter was promoted to Sales Director and is now actively involved in promoting the value of TouchStar’s Rugged Mobile Computing solutions to the warehouse, logistics, manufacturing and field service industries. When not involved in the business, Peter is a keen and enthusiastic football and cricket fan.


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