Transforming Warehouses into Intelligent Spaces: A Look into RTLS and Beyond
Despite some dips in the global economy, people are buying more goods than ever. In e-commerce alone, sales have increased from $1,336 billion in 2014 to $6,310 billion in 2023 - a whopping growth of 372%. Customer expectations have also skyrocketed, with consumers demanding faster and more precise deliveries. The COVID-19 pandemic caught most businesses off-guard, leaving the supply chain a little wary, and creating a push for wholesalers and retailers to stock up on critical items. All this means that companies are carrying more inventory now than at any point in time.
Consider that even a small increase of 5% in business inventories would require companies to add another 700 million to 1 billion square feet of warehouse space, and it becomes clear that the warehousing sector will have to work hard to keep up with demand. Building new warehouses or continuously adding space to existing ones is an expensive and logistically complex undertaking. Companies are therefore focusing on using their existing space more efficiently, coaxing as much performance out of each square foot as possible. To do this they are turning to technology to build intelligent warehouses.
An intelligent warehouse uses the latest technology to help systems and processes work smarter, not harder. The Internet of Things (IoT), real-time tracking systems, automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics are all used to make sure products are in the right place at the right time, reduce the cost of running the warehouse, and keep a close eye on how much inventory is in stock. This sophisticated ecosystem gives companies real-time updates on where everything is and how it's moving around - the foundation of effective supply chain management.
In this blog we will take a closer look at intelligent warehouses and the technologies that are shaping them.
Transforming from Warehouse into Intelligent Warehouse:
Efficiency and Productivity Gains
Intelligent warehouses leverage automation and smart technologies to streamline their operations. For example, automated picking systems or autonomous forklifts can significantly reduce the time it takes to fulfill orders, leading to greater operational efficiency. Intelligent warehouses use RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) and barcoding systems to improve inventory management by providing accurate, real-time information on stock - essential not only for warehouse management but for supply chain health as well. This real-time visibility into inventory helps warehouses keep optimal stock levels and reduces the costs of overstocking.
Automation in intelligent warehouses reduces the traditional reliance on manual labor, leading to substantial cost savings. Robotics and autonomous vehicles enable tasks like order picking and packaging to be done without human intervention and at speeds people could never manage. Intelligent systems are also less prone to human errors, such as picking the wrong items or misplacing products and they reduce the costs associated with human errors such as returns and reshipments.
Enhanced Customer Experience
With real-time tracking capabilities, intelligent warehouses provide customers with up-to-the-minute information about their orders' status, something that consumers have come to expect. Not only does this build trust, but it allows customers to plan ahead around deliveries and catch problems early on in the process. Intelligent warehouses also make same-day or next-day delivery an option, because they can fill orders very quickly - a consumer's dream.
In today's market, where consumers can find the same product in any number of places globally, speed and efficiency are key competitive differentiators. Warehouses that embrace intelligent technologies will gain a significant competitive advantage not only because they can meet customers’ needs effectively, but also because they can quickly adapt to changing market demands and scale their operations efficiently.
As environmental concerns grow, intelligent warehouses can incorporate sustainable practices, such as energy-efficient lighting, optimized routes for vehicles, and waste reduction measures. These eco-friendly initiatives not only reduce the warehouse's carbon footprint but also contribute to cost savings in the long run.
Challenges in Creating Intelligent Warehouses
Despite the benefits and compelling case for moving towards intelligent warehousing, there are a number of challenges that need to be considered:
Adopting new technologies: Well-established warehouses have long-standing practices, and employees may be resistant to learning new processes and technologies.
Initial investment costs: Despite the long-term cost savings, the upfront costs of implementing intelligent technologies can be significant, and this can deter some businesses, especially smaller ones.
Data security and privacy: Intelligent warehouses rely heavily on data collection and analysis - from both the business and customers - and this presents concerns about data security and privacy. Putting the right safeguards in place can be complex.
Integration complexity: Integrating various technologies and systems within a warehouse means dealing with complex compatibility issues and interoperability challenges requiring the right expertise and partnerships.
Workforce training: Introducing new technologies means that all employees have to be retrained and even upskilled. This is time-consuming and costly because it takes people off the floor and away from their work.
Regulatory compliance: Warehouses must adhere to industry-specific regulations and standards. Implementing new technologies while maintaining compliance can be a challenging balancing act.
Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) in Intelligent Warehouses
RTLS are a pivotal component of intelligent warehouses because they are able to locate any tagged object and track its movements. RTLS solutions use a combination of sensors, communication devices, and Wi-Fi or cellular signals to identify the real-time location of assets such as machinery and vehicles, inventory, and people within the warehouse. This opens the possibility for a whole range of applications that can revolutionize how a warehouse is managed.
The Uses of RTLS in Intelligent Warehousing
Inventory Tracking and Management
Traditional warehouses often grapple with inventory accuracy. RTLS solutions address this by providing continuous, real-time tracking of inventory items, virtually eliminating the problem of stockouts and overstocking. The system can automatically trigger reorder points when inventory reaches specified levels, eliminating human error and ensuring ‘Just in Time’ restocking. RTLS solutions also produce real-time data that can be used for more accurate demand forecasting, allowing warehouses to hold the optimal amount of stock at different points in time.
Warehouses use a range of valuable assets including equipment and machinery, and can use RTLS to monitor their whereabouts in real-time, preventing theft or misplacement. RTLS can also track when and how often a vehicle is used, allowing maintenance to be scheduled and reducing costly downtime. Asset tracking improves the effective allocation of resources and ensures that equipment is always available when needed.
By equipping employees with RTLS-enabled devices, such as wearable tags or mobile devices, warehouses can monitor employee movements and productivity allowing for the quick detection of accidents or safety breaches, creating a safer work environment. Productivity can not only be tracked but also improved by using RTLS data to optimize task allocation and reduce idle time. RTLS data can also be used to make sure that employees are adhering to safety protocols and regulations.
Using RTLS: Some Issues to Consider
Precision: Implementing a solution that offers precise location data is key to preventing misplaced inventory, operational disruptions, and faulty decision making.
Scalability: As warehouses expand or reconfigure their layouts, RTLS systems must be scalable to accommodate these changes without significant disruptions. The scalability of an RTLS system can vary from one solution to another, so it is important to work with your system provider in order to implement a scalable solution that aligns with your specific needs and growth plans.
Data integration: RTLS generates a substantial amount of data that must be integrated with other warehouse management systems. Integration challenges may include data formats, compatibility with existing systems, and the development of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to facilitate data flow.
There are many examples of companies that have transformed their conventional warehouses into smart hubs, allowing their businesses to grow exponentially and become market leaders. See box below for a few of them.
Revolutionize Your Warehouse with Deeyook’s Next-Generation RTLS
Deeyook’s Wi-Fi-based RTLS can help transform your warehouse into an intelligent warehouse quickly and easily, allowing you to maintain a continuous, unbroken chain of custody of all assets.
The patented technology used by Deeyook provides the highest-level of accuracy, ensuring constant knowledge of the precise location of each asset, whether indoors or outdoors, in an open space or dense environment. Because the solution is based on the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, it is simple and cost-effective to scale up as needs change. In addition, Deeyook integrates with all leading warehouse management systems, easily becoming part of a complete intelligent warehouse solution.
With Deeyook, you can revolutionize your business, allowing employees to quickly locate inventory and ensure that the right products are always available to fulfill customer orders promptly, saving time and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Deeyook is an ideal partner to help you implement RTLS solutions that work for your business. Visit our website for more information.