Supply Chain Tech: The New Industrial Era

Demand for new technologies in warehouses is soaring as this space heats up as the U.S. market, reports Supply Chain Dive.

197 million square feet of warehouse space opened for managers of supply chains to quicken their speed to market. This explosion in logistics mirrors a market to direct-to-consumer sales, with manufacturers are retailers, with urban hubs acquiring premium status because they mean shorter lead times.

“The way you move inventory to the end user is changing,” said Mark Wheeler, Director of Supply Chain Solutions at Zebra Technologies, a longstanding provider of mobile warehouse technology to SCD. “That requires new workflows and new facilities and new strategies.”

According to a white paper from Arizona State University the warehouses of the future will not be simply storage units, but fulfillment centers with streamlined fulfillment and rapid product movement.

This means that supply chain managers are integrating new technologies into their warehouses in preparation.

Mobile warehouse devices have been in use for decades, but these are becoming more mature and adapted to the needs of warehouse managers. So far, this technology takes the form of general purpose hand-held devices, wearable tech, and finger-managed scanners.

The user interface is mostly based on terminals that interface with warehouse management systems, though this is may evolve alongside the Internet of Things. Wheeler explained the shift in tech infrastructure from a Windows base to an Android base.

“Android, because of its open architecture, is really the only one that is suitable for purpose-built devices,” he said. “As we go to Android, we have the ability to implement full-touch user interfaces, which are easier to learn and easier to use.”

“In general, we see a desire for more touch user interfaces,” Wheeler said. He said that new employees expect this interface and that in the coming five years, app-users and browser-based clients may be numerous in warehouses.

Warehouse Workflow, and Voice-Enabled Technology

Voice-enabled technology is on the rise in these tech-based solutions. A case study in Supply Chain Dive discovered that St. Paul, Minn.-based Patterson Logistics Services saw results of a 25% faster-filling rate with reduced training time and improved accuracy by adding voice-activated operations in 2017.

However, smaller businesses may have a tough time integrating these solutions because they perform best in an integrated system and workflow, the study found.

Despite the success of this integration, not every voice-activated tech solution has been successful. For example, a UK grocer took a financial hit that coincided with voice-activated tech according to reports from earlier this month.

“If you have a very complex WMS, you might look at some sort of bolt-on solution that will provide you some key functionality in a critical area,” Wheeler said.

Going forward, Wheeler expected tech integrations, especially voice-activated solutions, to work best when managers determined if they offered the right pace for their workflow.