IoT and the Smart Warehouse

Smart warehouses make the grade, relying on IoT and RFID

IoT is Revolutionizing Warehouse & Supply Chain Operations

You may have seen commercials and online advertising for everything from predictive maintenance to home automation using IoT.  It is a simple, largely intuitive concept that is helping to digitally transform the supply chain and the way consumers live.  From home automation in smart homes to smart cities and DDOS attacks, IoT is in the news frequently these days.

IoT:  What is it?

You have probably heard of it, but do you know what IoT is?  Cyberphysical systems incorporate Internet connectivity with the ability to sense and react to the world in innovative and highly useful ways.

Physical devices are now being embedded with electronics, sensors, software and actuators and can be connected to the Internet so that data can be exchanged. 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 of some type
  • Processors to provide computing power
Computers are embedded within the physical devices and each device is uniquely identifiable.  This network, the Internet of Things makes it possible for physical devices and objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across the existing network infrastructure.  This provides an increased number of opportunities for direct integration of devices in the physical world into computer-based systems.  Beyond consumer applications, IoT is highly useful in industrial Internet applications as well.  As with all things Internet, security challenges abound but have not diminished the adoption rate of the billion devices in the IoT and mobile world.

With wireless Internet and sensor networks, real time data is abundant for use on Internet of Things platforms to empower greater efficiency in items including home appliances, smart city projects, consumer electronics, smart buildings and much more

Here is some IoT news:  IoT is BIG in the supply chain industry and growing fast!

Why has IoT become more popular and widespread in use across the supply chain?
  • As broadband Internet has become more widely available and affordable, the cost of connecting to the Internet has decreased.
  • Technology costs have gone down over the past few years and IoT devices have become more accepted and affordable
  • Having access to real time data from IoT can help to identify potential risks in the supply chain, provide real time traceability and enable notification when shipments will be late due to weather and other delays. These improvements help reduce costs and enhance labor productivity, efficiency and accuracy.
Here are some other reasons for the use of IoT in supply chain operations:
  • Enables real time visibility
  • Helps companies ensure compliance with chain-of-custody regulations, especially for sensitive cargo
  • Facilitates integration between systems to enable a more seamless supply chain
  • Enables performance measurement and monitoring so that malfunctions can be detected
  • Improves forecasting accuracy
  • Helps to reduce equipment damage
  • Can capture load discrepancies and notify all involved parties in real time
  • Enables better track and trace of inventory
  • Enables continual feedback in real time for warehouses that “live-unload” trailers
  • Can provide directions and feedback to truck drivers regarding conditions and trailer delivery times
  • Helps to prevent loss and damage of goods
  • Streamlines coordination between warehouse operations and logistics providers
  • Increases efficiency
  • Provides real time data to provide insight to support strategic and tactical decisions
  • Able to integrate forecast weather changes with route schedules to enable better delivery decisions
  • Monitors health of goods during transport to help prevent spoilage
  • Aids in creation of error-free processes
  • Can provide an item’s precise location, reducing the time it takes to find inventory
  • Can monitor days to expiration of goods, useful for preventing spoilage and waste
  • Ideal for asset management such as for fleets of trucks and field service vehicles

The IoT World Includes the Warehouse

IoT devices are considered one of the most likely type of technology investments in the warehouse according to “Building the Smarter Warehouse:  Warehousing 2020”, a report by industry leader Zebra Technologies.  As omnichannel retail and the consumer demand for fast delivery continues to boom, warehouse professionals report more interest in expanding their use of technology in the warehouse.

According to the Zebra Technologies survey of IT and operations professionals in North America, in companies with a minimum of $15 million in annual revenues, 90% of respondents anticipate using mobile computers or tablets and 85% project using RFID by 2020.

Emerging Technologies Including IoT Revolutionize Warehouse Operations

Why are emerging technologies such as IoT becoming so popular?  For one thing, they provide the free flow of real time data.  Information technology experts can then analyze data and use the information from smart devices to help refine processes, streamline operations and improve forecast accuracy, for example.  IoT generates huge amounts of new data, more than is currently used.

Other uses for IoT include the essential nature of warehouse management, accurate inventory management.  While always critical, inventory management accuracy has taken on an entirely new level of importance.  This is largely due to consumers’ penchant for online shopping.  In order to facilitate e-commerce omnichannel retail, it is essential that consumers have real time accurate information regarding the status and availability of items for purchase.  This is of strategic importance as it helps to reduce out-of-stock conditions, improve customer service and aid with regulatory compliance.

Consumers who order online only to arrive at brick and mortar retailers only to find that their orders are incomplete with backordered items are not happy customers.  This directly affects the likelihood that they will purchase from those retailers in the future.

The IoT World of the “Smart Warehouse”

What is driving the adoption of smart warehousing?  Consumer expectations.  Today’s consumer expects immediate gratification.  They want to point, click and receive their orders in days or sometimes hours.

The traditional supply chain was not designed to handle a high volume of small consumer orders for immediate delivery.  Manufacturers, retailers, warehouses and logistics providers are all struggling to adjust to meet these needs.  To be sure, everything is on the line.  When consumers are dissatisfied with their buying or delivery experience, they are not shy about sharing their impressions of brands via social media.  News can spread like wildfire.  Because of this and the fickleness of consumers, companies are adjusting processes, people needs and technology to meet the needs and expectations of demanding consumers.

Investments in the latest technologies are powering transformative changes across supply chain networks.  Warehouses are being re-imagined as hubs to increase efficiency and speed across the entire supply chain.  Using devices such as wearables, sensors and radio-frequency identification tags (RFID), warehouse managers now have real time visibility of the location and progress of inventory.  Wearable devices free up warehouse workers to move anywhere in the warehouse. This enables warehouse workers to access information and instructions without being constrained by the location of workstations.

IoT devices help to reduce the use of manual labor, incidence of errors and increase the speed of processing goods.  Warehouse errors are costly.  Inaccurate operations and errors require more labor to remedy, adding unnecessary costs.  With the deluge of data available from IoT devices including wearables, retailers and other supply chain partners now have vital insight into inventory and supply chains.  This data can be used to build more effective processes, more efficient warehouses and provide insight that helps to drive costs down.


Here is a look at two technologies being tested or used in smart warehouses:


IoT Innovation of Smart Glasses

Talk about smart devices, an ingenious idea, smart glasses enable warehouse laborers to work hands free, ideal for busy warehouse operations.  Augmented reality provides essential information regarding the process and helps warehouse workers to learn quickly.  No specific infrastructure is typically required.

Popular in order picking, the use of smart glasses, also known as vision picking helps to achieve productivity improvements of 15% on average. How does this work?  Warehouse workers can see visual displays of order picking instructions and information on item location in visual displays on the smart glasses.  The smart glasses also show the warehouse worker where the items need to be placed on the cart.

The smart glasses also show the warehouse worker where the items need to be placed on the cart. 

Order pickers are then freed up from carrying and reading paper instructions or devices so that they can perform their duties more efficiently.  In international trials, warehouse workers found smart glasses to be user friendly, reducing onboarding and training times by half.

Benefits of using smart glasses for picking include:
  • Greater picking accuracy
  • Improved picking performance
  • Better ergonomics

IoT-based Robotic Systems


Introducing IoT Robotic Carts:  Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)

Autonomous mobile robots often referred to as AMR can move independently and utilize sensors and cameras for help with navigation.  Different from Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV), AMR do not operate on a fixed path.  AMR sense and perceive their environment, find their specific position within it, analyze and then execute movement.  AMR are most frequently used to move or handle product within the warehouse.

Robots are designed to handle a variety of functions within the warehouse facility. Some robots are coordinated by software to transport and move shelving to workstations while others carry shelving bays to pickers at workstations.  Some autonomous robots help warehouse workers by minimizing the travel of the order picker.  Some types of robots work alongside human warehouse workers and can detect different human languages. The robot can contain an integrated scanner that can confirm the picked item to ensure nearly perfect pick and put operations. 

Some robots also contain sensors and software to enables them to track data so that feedback can be provided to workers, both positive and negative, thereby encouraging improvement.


It may seem to you as if we live in an Internet of Everything IOE world today.  Between smart grids, your connected car, building automation and all the smart devices on the Internet of Things market, it is hard to get away from all the innovation of the fourth industrial revolution.  New business models are being developed to improve customer experiences.  Keeping Internet of Things secure is a top priority to safeguard personal data. 

In the world of warehousing, IoT has taken hold.  To speed up the handling, storage and shipping of inventory, warehouses are relying more on IoT-enabled devices including wearables, smart glasses, AMR and AGV.  Robotic and artificial intelligence solutions are being utilized in warehouse and logistics operations in concert with warehouse workers to improve performance and reduce errors.  Facility managers now can rely on Chuck to be the workhorse of their operation and reduce their dependence on seasonal or unreliable workers.

It’s a different world out there everyone.  We all need to get SMART


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