Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effectiveness of warehousing has hinged on technology. Warehousing traditionally relied on human labor however e-commerce fulfillment has forced businesses to move to technology-driven operations to deal with these fast-moving, high volume operations. In the transition to modern warehouse digitization, technology has become a sustainable and cost-effective warehousing solution.

One way that warehouses have benefitted from technology is by utilizing the Internet of Things. IoT allows for substantial amounts of Big Data to be collected, analyzed, reported, and utilized for actionable intelligence in warehouse operations. These acts can improve automation and increase visibility in warehousing and supply chain logistics. IoT is also a way for warehouses and distribution centers to alter the way that their inventory storage systems function by reducing the need for human involvement.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a network of interconnected devices that are accessible using the Internet. These devices are utilized in various objects, from cellular phones to cameras. Those used in warehouses are able to gather and exchange data in real time. This provides high-level visibility from when a product is received to when a product is shipped. Devices connected to IoT are equipped with sensors that can monitor item and warehouse conditions such as temperature and location. There are also sensors that can monitor the safety and health of warehouse staff in real-time.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, IoT devices must be able to monitor their environment and report their status, receive directions, and act on information they receive.

The basic components that make an item or device part of the IoT are:

  • Sensors: needed to track and measure activity
  • Internet connectivity
  • Processors to provide computing power

What are IoT Sensors?

Sensors are devices that react to various inputs from the physical world. They take the information that they receive and:

  • Display them
  • Transmit them for processing
  • Use them with artificial intelligence to make decisions to adjust warehouse operations and conditions.

Sensors facilitate the Internet of Things by collecting data to inform better warehousing decisions. These decisions can lead to improved warehouse operations. Devices connected to the IoT communicate data and act intuitively based on the information that they receive from one another.

Types of IoT Sensors Used in Warehouses

Condition-monitoring sensors are used to set, control, and maintain the climate inside of warehouses. Their purposes range from employee comfort to preventing injury however as passive sensors they are not vital to warehouse operations.

Motion, detection, and proximity sensors command active triggers that immediately react and send real-time data. They activate to inform management systems of movement within warehouse space.

Optical and infrared sensors are the most intricate types of sensors. They can be utilized to monitor the health of warehouse associates such as body temperature and blood pressure. This increases occupational safety and health of employees inside of warehouses.

Why is IoT Important to the Warehousing Industry?

Warehouse logistics faces many challenges. Lack of space, offloading delays, improper usage of warehouses space, and limited visibility are only a few of them. In the face of these challenges, IoT has become vital to monitoring and simplifying the operational processes in warehousing. As omnichannel retail and consumer demands continue to increase, the use of IoT technology in the modern warehouse has increased. As a warehousing solution, IoT is especially beneficial because it allows companies to bring automation and Big Data together to improve efficiencies, connect applications, and modernize processes.

The implementation of IoT is altering the landscape of warehousing logistics by reducing the need for human workers. This has proved beneficial to businesses in the age of e-commerce fulfillment. By reducing manual labor in specific operational processes, warehouses and distribution centers are better able to meet the needs of consumers. Smart forklifts make sure that pallets are properly stacked and stored. Warehouse wearables such as smart glasses and smart scanners increase warehouse order picking accuracy. Automated conveyors make sure that packages get to their proper destinations at a near 100% success rate. This is important because it frees up warehouse staff to focus on high-level tasks, which decreases the risk of injury from strenuous work.

IoT technologies like barcode scanners and sensors are helping to digitize many operational processes that were once time-consuming and prone to error. Prior to the Internet of Things, warehouse associates manually counted items and recorded SKUs. Although some warehouse processes are still manual, the use of automated processes like data collection has made managing inventory more efficient. RFID tags and wearable barcode scanners can be used to broadcast data that provides real-time visibility into inventory levels. They help by updating warehouse management systems to avoid stock-outs and inform warehouse associates of the proper location of items.

Benefits of IoT in The Warehouse

3PL warehouses and distribution centers have benefitted from the use of IoT devices in a variety of ways. The calibration of IoT technologies with artificial intelligence has magnified business’s ability to collect data. More importantly, it has provided them the capabilities to transform. Warehouse associates and automated systems can use data to perform specific and precise actions that improve the safety and efficiency of operations inside of the warehouse.

Inventory Optimization

Warehouses and distribution centers often utilize IoT for inventory management. IoT can reduce the use of manual labor, which can reduce safety and order processing risks involved with material handling. One example is the minimization of SKU errors. This is beneficial because it helps to better manage the influx and variety of products due to the explosion of e-commerce warehousing.

Another especially useful aspect of IoT systems is its ability to automatically generate alerts if products are out-of-stock or if warehouse conditions, such as malfunctioning temperature monitoring or controls could impact the quality of products. Advance notification helps to avoid stock-outs, diminished quality or damage to inventory as well as delays in getting items picked, packed, and shipped.

Operational Efficiency

IoT helps to mitigate supply chain disruptions, essential to running efficient warehousing and storage systems. One way that IoT improves efficiency is by automating systems to prevent delays in offloading and reduce staging time. By reducing the period of time it takes to pick and pack items, companies diminish order-to-ship cycle time. This helps in getting items to customers faster and helps to expedite in stocking and storing inventory.

In addition, the data provided by sensors can detect idle workers and alert warehouse management systems to maximize workforce labor. Warehouse associates do not have easy jobs. In an on-demand fulfillment economy, the health and safety of workers is crucial to the success of a business’s warehousing operations.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor released an initiative that details safeguards, rights, and protections for warehouse and logistics workers. Robots are helping to facilitate this initiative by being programmed to do jobs normally done humans. With IoT and automation, companies can fulfill more orders faster, working longer periods of time with fewer mistakes.

Real Time Visibility

Visibility is the cornerstone of warehouse digitization. IoT is useful because it connects warehouses, locations, and people. By providing real-time updates about processes, warehouse operators can make quick decisions that can offset disruptions to the supply chain.

RFID technology lets businesses track goods that enter and leave storage facilities and distribution centers in real time. This enhances inventory control and makes it easier to adjust orders or manage return orders. The enhanced level of visibility also allows businesses to share real-time warehouse and supply chain data with customers.

 

Autonomous Mobile Robots and Warehousing

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are IoT technologies used by warehouse facilities for material handling needs. By connecting with the IoT, AMRs can move independently with the use of navigation sensors and cameras. AMRs do not operate on fixed and specific paths, and instead use artificial intelligence to sense and distinguish their environment before moving.

AMRs have proved beneficial to warehousing operations because they limit the strenuous and tedious labor of warehouse staff. They optimize warehouse operations by making sure products are picked, packed, and shipped. This improves warehouse safety and worker retention by reducing the stress on warehouse staff, allowing them to focus on an impactful warehousing process. Smart forklifts and automated sortation systems are examples of AMR’s.

Types of Autonomous Mobile Robots

  • Transportation
    • The sensors on AMRs allow them to assess and follow the most efficient route through a warehouses space to transport items. AMRs can carefully maneuver around fixed obstacles such as workstations and moving ones such as humans.
  • Picking
    • Due to their artificial intelligence and connection to the IoT, AMRs can formulate strategies that can reduce picking travel time by bringing products directly to warehouse associates. They also can receive items from workers that they can take to be packed and shipped.
  • Sorting
    • AMRs are useful in simplifying sortation processes. They are equipped with cross belt systems, conveyor rollers, and tilting trays that can send items to the correct place for them to be picked, packed, and shipped.
  • Inventory Visibility
    • AMRs can inform where products are across the supply chain. By calibrating AMRs with warehousing systems, inventory management can automate to make managing inventory more cost-effective.
The Internet of Things helps to optimize warehouse operations because it can be used in automated or manual processes. This helps to simplify and improve:

Receiving and storing inventory

Labor planning

Customer experience

 

Conclusion

The warehouses of the future will take full advantage of all that the Internet of Things has to offer. As more 3PLs optimize their systems to fully utilize the capabilities of IoT, every facet of the logistics and supply chain industry will improve. Its use as a warehouse solution is unbounded. It can be used to improve everything from managing inventory to enhancing the occupational safety, health and productivity of the warehouse staff.

In today’s fast-paced world of ecommerce fulfillment, IoT is playing a crucial role. The use of interconnected devices is integral to pushing the adoption of IoT in warehouses forward around the world. Its ability to provide cost-effective and productive warehouse solutions is enabling it to have significant impacts on warehousing logistics and the supply chain.

 

 

 

 

Back to Basics:

IoT Facts

According to Market Research Future, IoT in the Warehouse Market will be Worth 17.93 Billion USD by 2025

Reasons For Using IoT in Warehousing

  • Enables Real-Time Visibility

  • Helps to Prevent Loss and Damage of Goods

  • Increases Operational Efficiency

Other benefits of Implementing IoT in Warehouses

  • Improved Transparency

  • Enhanced Last-Mile Delivery

  • Predictive Maintenance

  • Increased Employee Productivity

Key Players in The IoT Data Warehouse Market

TECSYS Inc.

Omnitracs LLC

Zebra Technologies

Cisco Systems Inc.

Software AG

 

RFID technology in IoT

RFID tags can store larger data volumes than barcodes and provide WMS with data regarding a products size, manufacturer, expiration date, or serial number. An average RFID reader has a higher speed than the one for barcodes and can scan up to 200 tags at once.

Warehousing companies large and small can connect their warehouse management systems, order processing, and logistics to IoT to improve their supply chain.

Looking for a WMS?

Resources 

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Smart Warehouses: How IoT Improves Warehouse Management — Digiteum

4 ways technology is transforming warehouses – 6 River Systems

The top 5 smart warehouse technologies you should be using today (scjunction.com)

How Technology Has Improved Inventory Management | WSI (wsinc.com)

5 Ways IoT can Transform Warehouse Operations (hopstack.io)

Smart Warehouses: Applications Of IoT In Warehouse Management (intuz.com)

Internet Of Things (IoT) is impacting Warehouse Management and here is how (cobuildlab.com)

How IoT (Internet of Things) is Making Warehouses Smarter: A guide (orderhive.com)

IoT and the Smart Warehouse (datexcorp.com)

How IoT Automations Enhance Retail Warehouse Management (netguru.com)

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Warehouse Safety Sensor Systems: Which Fits Your Needs?| Warehousing Insights | Material Handling Systems (cisco-eagle.com)

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Different Types of Internet of Things (IoT) Sensors (thomasnet.com)

What are IoT Sensors? Plus Types and Examples of Sensors (spaceiq.com)

IoT Sensors | Internet of Things Sensors | TE Connectivity

Smart Warehouses: How IoT Improves Warehouse Management — Digiteum

Types of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Their Use in Warehousing! – Supply Chain Game Changer™

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