Technology is Changing Warehouse Operations
Now that vaccine distribution has become more widespread and restrictions throughout the country are being lifted, businesses that made the decision to operate remotely are reopening office buildings. However, many companies have realized that their employees don’t need to be in the office to complete daily tasks. Some are having employees return to the office full-time, others are taking a hybrid approach and many are closing offices altogether.
Hybrid business models are a combination of what many companies had before the pandemic and the remote work that employees have become used to. By creating a combination of the two, businesses can ensure there’s enough space for everyone in their buildings and ease employees back into commuting to the office.
Of course, a remote or hybrid business model is not feasible for all parts of the supply chain. Warehouses require an extensive amount of organization and management that is traditionally manual. This made the past year especially difficult for companies dealing with an increase in demand and a limited amount of on-premise staff. However, recent developments in technology are making it possible for logistics professionals to effectively manage warehouses from home.
Technology’s Evolving Role in Warehouses
While warehouses are still a ways away from being completely autonomous, aspects of their daily operations can be handled remotely. The creation of RFID tags has played a big part in reducing the number of people needed to be physically present in the warehouse. Supply chain and operations managers have been able to gather data and insights, often in real-time, about warehouses even if they aren’t physically there for a while. Recent advancements in technology are making it possible for some grounding operations within the warehouse or at the loading dock to be done remotely. Here are a few examples of companies working to create this technology:
Zebra Technologies’ SmartPack Trailer uses video and 3D sensing with analytics to collect information about trailers being loaded and unloaded at a dock. Logistics professionals can optimize tasks in real-time, take detailed records of each of their shipments and use data to generate actionable analytics.
Founded in 2018, Phantom Auto has been working on warehouse technology that allows professionals to work remotely. Autonomous forklifts and other vehicles work well in a controlled environment, but the movement and unpredictability in actual warehouses makes them too difficult to apply. Phantom Auto has created a system that allows logistics professionals to control forklifts, yard trucks or other vehicles remotely.
Their technology branches off into two different types – the remote control of one specific vehicle and the remote control of multiple autonomous vehicles at once. In the first case, the driver operates a single vehicle remotely – it is exactly like they are driving around the warehouse without actually being there. Since autonomous vehicles operate independently, warehouse employees can remotely supervise more than one at a time. The vehicle does most of the work, they just have to step in and help if it gets stuck or bumps into something. The vehicles involved in both of these methods have video and two-way audio so that remote drivers can see and hear other employees in the warehouse to make the experience even more like physically being there.
Logistics automation has become especially important this past year. The demand for technology with advanced capabilities has grown as companies look for ways to overcome spikes in order volume without having to search for additional workers. Mobile robots and other supply chain technologies have helped boost output and efficiency in these scenarios. It will be interesting to see how these advanced technologies continue to evolve and positively impact supply chains!