Is it just us, or does every new technology making its way through the media and industry hype cycle seem to have large implications for logistics, transportation and warehousing? Perhaps its due to Amazon’s meteoric rise as a company whose main competitive advantage is its supply chain. Maybe it’s because we now live in an experience economy, where winning the marketplace is less about the product than it is about the service you provide to customers who want it.
It really isn’t just us. Technologies that will improve — and in some ways automate — transportation and warehousing abound. At Rowe Transfer, being in the warehousing business for decades has taught us to always be looking ahead and thinking about better ways to serve our customers’ needs. Below, we give you our take on the top 7 technologies that will change the way you warehouse.
1. On-Demand Warehousing
Obviously, as a company with a large warehousing arm, the uberication of warehousing excites us. Owning and managing warehouses is a major expense to many companies, and keeping a steady ROI by making sure they’re filled at all times doesn’t necessarily support your greater business’s bottom line.
What if you only had to pay for what you need, when you need it, and where you need it though? That’s on-demand warehousing, and it’s a major benefit to business trying to break into e-commerce and direct-to-consumer markets. The major barrier to a widespread connected network of on-demand warehousing is integrating data from disparate sources and companies securely, but other technologies are quickly solving that issue
It’s not just for cryptocurrency. Blockchain is really just a shared ledger used to process and track transactions. Any company can contribute to the ledger, but no one can change the ledger without every other participant knowing it. Every time information is added to the ledger, the other participants confirm it and connect it to the information before it. The information=blocks. The connections=chain. Hence, blockchain.
Used correctly, blockchain could give every supplier, warehouser and truck driver access to the same information about where a product sits and where it needs to get. It could create real visibility and efficiency in every nook and cranny of the supply chain if — really when — a powerful, supply-chain-specific tool hits the market. Truckdrivers could easily source full loads, and businesses could invest in just the warehousing space they actually need (see on-demand warehousing).
3. Internet of Things
We already live in an internet of things (IoT) with sensors embedded in everyday objects. Cell phones and computers relaying data information to central data repositories make the digital economy run. In the supply chain world, we’ve been using radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) for decades to track inventory in warehouses. Connecting this data to other devices and letting them communicate with each other forms the larger-scale IoT that technical experts laud.
IoT can reduce human error and even automate many warehouse systems. How? All we need is a self-propelled picker able to scan RFID, and Amazon already has these robots. Connecting IoT devices to your inventory tracking software or warehouse management system simplifies data analytics and forecasting and can provide consumers with exact locations of their packages in real-time.
About five years ago, drones were at the top of the Gartner hype-cycle, with many transportation and logistics professionals expecting little flying helicopters to be swarming city skies with last mile deliveries by now. The reality is, drone technology has stalled out in transporting anything over 55 pounds.
But in warehouses, drones can help automate inventory management by accessing hard-to-reach vertical space to read RFID tags (back to that IoT concept). Drones can reduce safety issues and time-consuming manual labor, meaning products get to people faster and more cheaply without risk to warehouse workers.
Another often overlooked drone benefit is security. Transportation assets and unstocked goods spend a lot of time in trailer yards. Connecting drones to yard management systems could help track assets, and mounting a camera with GPS could make drones a patrolling security guard that never needs a break.
4. Autonomous vehicles
Did you know that 29 states have passed legislation on self-driving cars? Most new cars on the market have some level of automation like helping drivers stay in lanes or parallel park, but fully driverless delivery trucks could be arriving as soon as this year. This could be a boon to the transportation industry, which has been wringing its hands over a growing truck driver shortage for almost a decade.
In the short term, paired with innovations like blockchain, semi-autonomous vehicles could help truck drivers remain closer to home, fulfill full truck loads both ways and even keep the vehicle moving while the truck driver rests. Even in the digital economy, people need physical objects, so a technology that makes road transportation safer and can support the health and well-being of transportation workers is bound to have high adoption.
Many warehouses have been employing some form of robotics for quite a while, but as the Amazon automated picker we noted earlier shows, new technologies are taking warehouse robotics to a whole new level. Right now, most robotics work with or alongside warehouse operators to reduce the physical strain of picking, packing and shipping. Paired with IoT (in this case just read mobile devices), they can also take the human error out of most warehouse activities and take a lot of human movement out of them as well.
Warehouse robots have actually become fairly affordable, and driverless forklifts and inventory robots are somewhat common. Some warehouses have already made a full shift to automation, and as more do, warehousing efficiency will increase, bringing down the cost of on-demand warehousing.
6. 3D Printing
Will it end the supply chain all together? No. The hype around the idea that every person might one day have a 3D printer in their house that could create products with a simple instruction download no longer seems reasonable. 3D printers are just too big and too expensive. But 3D printing does have the capacity to change the global supply chain by making all manufacturing more local.
The reason we have a global supply chain where goods are manufactured on one side of the planet and shipped to consumers on another side is because of labor costs. 3D printing can automate manufacturing, which would make transportation rather than labor the main supply chain cost driver. As they integrate 3D printing into manufacturing, businesses will likely ‘reshore’ and regionalize their manufacturing and turn more to an on-demand warehousing model than huge, integrated warehousing networks.
On-demand Warehousing in East Tennessee
You don’t want to pay for the warehousing you don’t need. You still need secure, climate-controlled storage for your inventory or machinery that employs the latest technologies for tracking and retrieving it, though. The good news is, you don’t need to wait for on-demand warehousing to become a widespread, connected network in order to meet your needs today.
At Rowe Transfer, we’ve been covering the warehousing needs of some of the largest companies and organizations in the area for decades. With a state-of-the-art 50,000 square foot facility in Knoxville, Tennessee, we can handle all of your storage needs for your business. Whether you need to store a product until it’s ready to ship, or you’re looking for temporary storage space for your growing business, our team of transportation logistics professionals will utilize the latest in climate control, security, and inventory tracking technology to ensure your materials are safely stored and ready for you whenever you need them.