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Warehouse Innovations: Increasing demand for faster shipments is changing the way warehouses work

Monday, May 21, 2018 - 07:00
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Reverse Logistics:Returns are increasingly difficult issue, particularly given the omni-channel nature of most supply chains. Many companies are outsourcing this function, so that returns can be centrally managed no matter how they arrive (via mail or through a return made at a physical store). 

“At Pyle, we utilize unique Handling Unit IDs (HUIDs), which provide our shippers visibility to returns from the start of the process and at each milestone within the return cycle,” says Granieri. “Having returns visibility allows distribution or pooled returns processing centers to create density, which is a key challenge that exacerbates an already encumbered reverse logistics process.”

Wearable Solutions:There are a number of wearable solutions that can also increase warehouse productivity, including voice-based picking solutions that use speech commands to guide picking, as well as wrist- or finger-mounted barcode scanners that allow employees to pick, pack and scan using a more natural motion. UPS, for example, was an early adopter of these types of scanners from Zebra (the scanners were part of the Symbol Technologies acquisition). 

There are also headworn “smart glasses” solutions with built-in computer displays that could be used to enable hands-free operation as well.

The Internet of Things (IoT):The IoT uses a combination of sensors, RFID tags, and big Data analysis to monitor items in real-time and make operational decisions. In a warehouse, IoT could be used to monitor the performance and health of warehouse vehicles and material handling equipment, evaluate equipment utilization, detect maintenance issues, and continuously monitor warehouse capacity. A few vendors like SensorThink are developing warehouse-specific IoT solutions, but adoption is still in the earliest stages. Cisco Systems and DB Schenker are already testing the technology in an “innovation lab” warehouse facility near Houston.

The good news for the aftermarket is that distributors and retailers in the consumer goods space are now facing the same types of challenges the aftermarket has been dealing with for decades – demand for fast, local delivery; smaller shipments; high levels of returns; and high SKU diversity. That has pushed more technology providers to address those problems.

“You have all these solution providers that are investing in making these new capabilities happen efficiently,” Wheeler says. “That’s something the aftermarket companies will benefit from.”

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