Aug 06, 2015

High Tech Warehouse Innovations

By Don Catalano



Warehouses that were once filled with racks, boxes, and forklifts are changing. Today, warehouses fill up with something new -- the latest technology. Today's supply chains start in warehouses filled with both tangible tools like autonomous vehicles and cutting edge fixtures as well as intangibles like advanced data processing supported by a web of sensors. Here are some of the innovations that are currently revolutionizing logistics.



If your child or companion is in another room, finding them is as easy as saying "Where are you" and listening for their answer. You can't do that with a pallet or box, though.


Actually, you can. Modern warehouses use small tags that use radio frequency identification technology to allow them to identify themselves. When you can't find an item, you can scan for the tag. On the other hand, the presence of those tags means that your warehouse always knows where everything is, since it can be constantly scanning for tags. Readers can be placed on racks or even on forklifts or employees, letting them sample the locations of every package as they move through the warehouse to do other tasks.


Robotics and Autonomous Technology

Robotics are entering the warehouse in two different areas. First, the ability to sense their surroundings and what they are handling gives robots the ability to help in more areas of material handling than ever before.  Routine tasks -- like depalletizing -- can be robotized. At the same time, research in ongoing to create robots that can help in more complicated tasks like order picking or fulfillment.


Autonomous vehicles -- like Google's self-driving car -- are also finding a place in logistics. While self-driven forklifts have been around for a while, they have lacked the autonomous technologies that allow them to make decisions and operate safely in a sometimes-hectic environment. As that technology matures, more and more forklifts will move among the racks by themselves, allowing the facility to operate more safely and more efficiently with lower labor costs.

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The Internet of Things

These technologies work because the Internet of Things is allowing everything in the warehouse to talk to itself. For example, when a worker walks by a rack, his scanner picks up the RFID tags of the boxes on those racks. The scanner then reports the presence of those items to the software running the warehouse. At the same time, an order comes in for one of those items. The warehouse management system can send out a robotic forklift to pull down the pallet, pull the item and deliver it to fulfillment for shipping. Along the way, the system realizes that the order pushes the inventory too low and prompts an automatic message to the appropriate parties in the company to order more of that item. All of this happens seamlessly and automatically, with no errors.


Efficiency Technology

Not all of the high-tech in today's warehouses comes from improvements to their basic functionality, though. The buildings themselves can also generate savings thanks to highly efficient technology. Lighting large spaces like warehouses can be extremely expensive, and high tech lighting (or something as low-tech as a skylight) can lead to significant cost savings. Electric forklifts are also poised to take advantage of higher efficiency energy storage systems like fuel cells or lithium ion batteries that allow them to run longer, recharge faster and still maintain a quiet and emission free warehouse interior.


Here are some other Warehouse and Technology articles:

Technology and Commercial Real Estate

Seven Must Haves for Your Warehouse Space

Top Markets for Commercial Warehouse Space in 2015

4 Secrets to Commercial Warehouse Leasing


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Don Catalano

Don Catalano