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Technology Trends in Logistics

Introduction

Logistics management is the practice involving monitoring of raw materials, information, goods, people and even money. Logistics managers reduce the duration of the supply cycle of products, optimize the inventory levels and also develop a visibility of the product flow. They manage to do this by employing smart consolidation measures and management techniques of performing tracking activities. Many businesses compete on the global level, and, therefore, the pressure to hold to efficiency in the supply chain is necessary. The managers look onto advanced technology with the aim of becoming more competitive in all phases. Today’s stakeholders in the logistics industry face an era of intense change.

Technological advancements are hitting the market at an alarming rate. On the other hand, companies struggle to stay updated with the changes. Delays in embracing the technologies have a great impact on the future of the logistics and supply chain companies. Technological advancements seem to offer great opportunities for the logistics companies that are looking forward to streamlining their operations to gain efficiency (Hammant, 1995). Thus, logistics is now switching from the automation of material handling at the warehouses to management of real-time information sources, to gaining incisive, technology powers transformation of the logistics sector.

Order Picking

Order picking has the tendency of getting more attention among the warehouse processes. It entails the distribution and fulfillment that has more outbound than inbound transactions (Ten & Schmidt, 2007). Under normal circumstances, the workforce associated with outbound transactions composes a bigger percentage of the total warehouse workforce budget. The sector also gets maximum attention due to its direct affiliation with customer satisfaction. An effective and accurate processing of customer orders is essential to the success of any business. An order picking system is currently central in this case. It categorizes ordered commodities in their proper place and accurately picks the orders for the employees to prepare them for customers. Therefore, order picking organizes itself and is very easy to conduct.

Order picking systems have with numerous advantages. They give little or no stress to workers. They organize the order picking making the task less stressful to the workers (Ten & Schmidt, 2007). In fact, by adopting order picking systems, logistic companies can cut cost by minimizing the number of employees. A reduction in stress among employees is a recipe for an increment in production levels. They can clear numerous orders as the strenuous picking process is taken care of. It also means that the order completion is fast and effective, which is a concept that plays a crucial role in retaining loyal customers. The probability of mistakes occurring tends to be very low when using order picking systems. Both the workers and the employer are free from the consequences associated with unnecessary errors.

Google-Glass Concept

Glass-based computer displays advance at an alarming rate and is increasingly used in logistic environment for an operator interface. They replace handheld portables thereby becoming convenient for information access. Handheld devices are difficult to use, especially for single workers. They put them down and go back and forth, which makes reading them a tedious and dangerous process depending on the location (Arsla et al., 2006). The need for mounted and hands-free devices visible to the users without having them turn their heads from the task proves the relevance of the Google glasses in logistic warehouses. The Heads-up display accompanied by voice control is very useful. It is considerably lightweight and does not interfere with normal vision.

The devices tell workers the easiest directions to locate products. They also read bar codes making it easier to identify the object. In turn, the time required to locate, pick and pack items for shipping is greatly reduced. It is best used in warehouses, especially when workers have to locate a handful of items from millions of products. Another benefit is that it enables consistent users to have a clear mastery of their surroundings. From a theoretical point of view, Google Glass can allow for inventory counts to be taken on items. However, the product has limitations. The Google Glass prototype for industrial use was not a great success (Hammant, 1995). Along with the unavailability for purchase, the screen was too small to accommodate enough information. The voice recognition also did not match the industrial settings. It is a flimsy device and is likely to hinder the use of safety glasses

Indoor Tracking Systems

Indoor tracking systems help in the interaction of employees at different locations. They tend to be inexpensive and easier to install. They are capable of providing a granular indoor location for enhanced employee experience. They enable employees within a warehouse to communicate based on the precise location of items (Arsla et al., 2006). The navigation technologies provide accurate tracking for both persons and items. Indoor tracking systems happen to be convenient where an inventory is to be located and urgently moved by robotic equipment. The indoor positioning systems increase the efficiency and lower the labor costs.

Indoor tracking systems such as optical real-time location system are very precise in locating items compared to manual guidance and navigation. They eliminate the necessity for physically scanning the pallets license plates. Therefore, they increase accuracy of inventory by eliminating the major causes of inaccurate inventory such as damaged directional labels, outdated inventory controls, and inconsistent reporting (Arsla et al., 2006). In addition, they increase productivity to a great extent by eliminating the chances of operators taking time to reach their radio frequency devices to respond to duties

Fewer accidents are likely to be reported since the systems use visual and auditory alerts to notify both forklift operators and pedestrians about any impending collision. The data collected by the tracking system can provide the speed monitoring of forklift enhancing forklift safety practices as well as the generation of reports on forklift activities such as speed. While the indoor positioning systems are capable of determining location, they need to provide additional information to help determine the area a person or object is facing. It will assist in providing directions thus avoiding collisions of forklifts.

Guidance and Navigation Technology on Material Handling Equipment

In the modern world, logistics business environment call for full control of operations. Facilities, material flow, the way employees work, and information must be covered. Typically, all these still need to utilize as few resources as possible. Material handling is an activity that constantly goes on at all time in the warehouses. The success can be achieved when the right equipment, in good condition, at the relevant place, and in the right manner is used. It simply entails picking, moving, and aligning of items through the warehouse. In general, a large amount of manpower would be required handling the items that are traced across many departments whether in the form of raw materials or finished products. The cost incurred in the handling of items is always the largest percentage of the overall production cost (Hammant, 1995). Material handling is at the center of everything. It provides a point of control for close to all factors. Using technology in this part reduces any possible variances caused by errors in human delivery operations. It also lowers the overall cost of transportation of items. The technology offers the ability to move items without adding barriers such as conveyors within a system.

Automated guiding and navigation vehicles consistently transport material to locations that might be serviced by forklift, conveyors, or cart transport. They can accommodate relatively high volumes of consecutive movements of items as required. Little or no human supervision has to be there to perform the movements. They are relevant in warehouses with serving processes while conveyors are not compatible with the environment. The most sophisticated guidance and navigation technology system are the AGV (Hammant, 1995). In addition to increasing productivity, they improve efficiency and safety. They come in diverse equipment for different applications. Currently, the material handling sector acquires greater attention due to the growing pressure to reduce the overall production cost. Material handling functions are most targeted as the major point for cost reduction. Thus, a well designed and integrated handling system tremendously saves the cost while still improving on customer services. Automation of the material handling sector also has its limitations. It comes as an additional investment that turns out costly. It is also vulnerable to downtime in case of a breakdown.

Warehouse Robotics Technology

Automated robots dramatically improve production quality. All applications are conducted with precision, and there is a high level of repeatability (Hammant, 1995). The consistency is hard to achieve by other means. Robots work with speeds increase, which directly impacts on production. Automated robots can work at a constant rate without pausing thus having the potential to operate more than any human worker. Robots enhance warehouse safety (Ten & Schmidt, 2007). The workers do supervisory duties where there is no possibility of performing dangerous duties and in hazardous settings. Improved safety of workers leads to subsequent financial saving as there are fewer health and insurance concerns among employers. There is also an overall customer satisfaction.

The initial cost of installing warehouse robotics can be very high, especially when a business purchases exclusively new robotic equipment (Rushton, 2000). Regular maintenance has a financial toll, as well. Incorporating robots does not necessarily guarantee results. Therefore, introducing a production plan is crucial. Employees require training on how to program and interact with the robotic equipment. It can be time-consuming and financially costly.

Automated Order Fulfillment Systems Designed to Reduce Labor and Increase Accuracy for Order-Picking

Whether conducting direct shipment to the consumer or replenishing the inventory of the store, integrated fulfillment operations are very essential. They increase operational efficiency, production and customer satisfaction (Magee et al., 1985). The order fulfillment systems support complex processes in the current fast-paced operations including bucket brigade, discrete order, put distribution, zone and zone less picking, and batch pick and sort. The fulfillment systems meet the requirements of every operation for warehouses filling in thousands of orders and also provide a powerful planning tool to maximize on labor and hence decrease operational costs. Faster fulfillment systems open markets to additional customers. For the majority of larger warehouses, complexity in order management creates problems. These problems include inaccurate promise dates, rising supply chain costs, and high unneeded inventory (Magee et al., 1985). The complexities occur due to increasing globalization, multiple market channels, and complex supply chains.

Ware House Management Systems

Warehouse management system (WMS) is software applications supporting day-to-day operations within a warehouse. The programs allow for centralized management of duties such as tracking inventory and stocks (Rushton, 2000). WMS systems may stand out as independent or be part of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. WMS working alongside automated data collection provide high accuracy levels, reduce labor costs and have a greater ability to customer service by reducing unnecessary cycle. A reduction in inventory with a corresponding increase in storage capacity is not likely to be seen. Increased accuracy with similar increase inefficiencies in receiving processes reduces the amount of safety stock. However, the impact of the reduction is negligible compared to the inventory levels. Demand variability, lot sizing and lead times predominantly determine the levels of inventory. WMS have little impact on these factors.

The choice to implement WMS is determined by the need to service clients in a manner that the current systems cannot support (Rushton, 2000). These include first-in-first-out, automated pick replenishment, cross-docking, lot tracking, wave picking, yard management, automated material handling equipment, and automated data collection. The most crucial interface of the WMS is that to the catalog management system. Information used to operate the WMS has to be transferred to and from the WMS and CMS. Both systems have to operate effectively to realize the success of the WMS. There are extra costs to allow customization of the WMS system to perform special consumer tasks, small orders, pick, pack and ship for specific customers. WMS applications are complex and data intensive. They require dedicated staff.

Paperless Solutions that Increase Pick Rate Productivity, Accuracy and Cost Efficiency

Picking not only happens to be one of the most demanding processes within a warehouse but also has the probability of errors (Rushton, 2000). Advanced picking technologies are introduced in different forms: pick-by-light, pick-by-voice, and pick-by-RF. They all facilitate picking by eliminating order fulfillment errors. The picking technologies enable picking operators collect the intended items precisely and in the right quantities. The concepts can also be combined to enhance efficiency. For instance, pick-by-light can be used to indicate the location whereas pick-by-voice indicates the quantity. It does not matter whether they occur independently or as a combination, they are still efficient, cost-effective and flexible.

With automated picking systems, the rate of production greatly increases as compared to manual operations (Hammant, 1995). Ergonomics is also improved since picking happens at the required heights and the systems have visual aids ensuring the accuracy and safety of the operator. The automated systems maximize on the space as the primary driver to choose them. They are also ideal for longer heights of up to 12ft.

Voice Command System that Uses Spoken Commands to Direct Picking Receiving Put Away, Replenishment and Shipping Functions

Voice command technology employs speech recognition and synthesis to enhance communication between workers and the Warehouse Management System (WMS). The Warehouse systems use wireless wearable gadgets with headsets and microphones to allow them to receive vocal instructions and verbally confirm them back to the system (Arsla et al., 2006). The wearable gadgets communicate via radio frequency or a local area network.

Production in the handling of items usually improves greatly since the hands and eyes are free and thus speed up the picking and receiving operations. Improvements are also registered in administrative productivity due to the paperless picking and allocation of duties as the task is only keyed and confirmations done using the gadgets (Arsla et al., 2006). The technology of using spoken commands to direct picking, receiving, putting away, and shipping functions has a minimal initial cost, and the training is easy.

The real-time communication facilitates the real-time update of stock. In turn, it triggers letdowns to replenish picking, and avoid re-picks or even prolonged waiting time caused by empty pickings. Cycle counting is part of the letdown tasks and facilitates the efficiency in stock checking. The improvements lead to less time spent to investigate stock discrepancies. Safety is also improved as the devices minimize chances of operational accidents. In addition, reduced paperwork eliminates wastage and promotes tidiness and a safer warehouse. Both manufacturers and retailers constantly encourage logistic companies to make an effort and adopt these technologies (Magee et al., 1985). However, many third-party logistics companies are moving at a slower pace. To remain stable in the intensively competitive market and meet the demands of the clients, logistic providers must in the future embrace these technologies because they change the face of the logistics industry.

Conclusion

Warehouses are becoming successful. Profitability has also increased in the warehouse due to evolving technology that has changed the way different operations are being carried out in warehousing firms. Many companies have realized the significance of integrating technologies into their various businesses. Managers have also realized how operations conducted through the use of technology can greatly impact the supply chains and the entire business. There is much visibility in the supply chain due to technology.