Your Complete Guide to Smart Warehouses

Outdated warehousing systems once consisted of massive storage spaces, pen-and-paper logging systems, and a vast team of human employees spending their shifts tracking down inventory across the facility. Thankfully, smart warehousing has made those days a thing of the past. 

The process of integrating modern technologies to renovate existing warehousing operations, smart warehousing offers a host of benefits to organizations that are willing to invest in the change. Some upfront hurdles do exist, but overcome these, and you can expect to see significant improvements in your warehouse operations. 

In this article, we’ll review the principles behind a smart warehouse and show you which technologies you can implement to bring yours up to speed. Then, we’ll show you how Incito can help. 

A pair of lean consultants auditing the floor of a smart warehousing facility

What Is Smart Warehousing? 

Fundamentally, smart warehousing describes the implementation of advanced technologies to enhance your warehouse operations. Just as the terms smartphone and smart home denote the integration of sensors and technologies that increase your phone’s or home’s functionality, smart warehouses are fitted with intelligent systems that make their operations more self-aware. Some examples include: 

  1. Internet of Things (IoT) retrofittings to capture important inbound and outbound product data
  2. AI-powered management systems to predict the need for reorders, restocking, and potential supply-chain bottlenecks
  3. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRSs) and automated inventory control (AIC) to optimize your warehouse processes
  4. The use of robots, cobots, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to work alongside human employees

By incorporating these technologies into their existing processes or using them to replace legacy systems altogether, companies can boost not only their warehouses’ performance, but also their operational efficiency as a whole.

The Top 5 Smart Warehousing Technologies 

5G, the Internet of Things, predictive analytics — these are just a few of the top smart warehousing technologies that companies can implement to transform their facilities into the storehouses of the future. They’ll need to carefully strategize before they choose which technologies are appropriate to bring into their current infrastructure, but these top five have consistently proved to be the most helpful. 

1. Automated Storage, Retrieval, and Control

One of the first steps on the road to smart warehousing is leveraging automation to transform how you store, retrieve, track, and ship your inventory. ASRS and AIC platforms optimize your warehouse management processes, using a range of technologies to help you streamline your operations. Some of these include:

  • Pick-to-light
  • RFID tags
  • Voice-automated picking
  • Retrieval automation systems
  • Barcode tracking 

Some of these automation technologies serve to reduce picking errors, while others reduce processing times, but the goal of them all is the same: to make your warehouse run better.

Two lean consultants speaking with a smart warehousing staff member at the facility

2. IoT Devices

For your automated technologies to know which items must be processed and how best to process them, they need a comprehensive IoT network to collect the data behind them. IoT devices can consist of either hardware or software, and their purpose is to transmit and store data surrounding your inventory, enabling you to operate more efficiently. Some IoT devices that you might integrate into your smart warehousing operations are: 

  • Sensors 
  • Modems 
  • Routers 
  • Robotic actuators 

Powering the IoT world is 5G technology, as conventional 4G transmission lacks the speed and capacity to transfer so much data.

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3. AI

Having all that data at your disposal is of little value if you can’t turn it into actionable insights. AI’s algorithms and machine learning capabilities have never been more advanced, and leading-edge manufacturers are leveraging them to make their warehouse operations run smoother than ever. Some examples are: 

  • Using predictive analytics to anticipate when supplies must be reordered, enabling just-in-time manufacturing 
  • Anticipating shifts in consumer trends and adjusting inventory levels accordingly
  • Optimizing warehousing processes by maximizing available space and minimizing retrieval times
  • Coordinating layouts and routes for automated vehicles to navigate

Recent advancements have proved that AI is still in its early phases of maturity, but it’s already making warehouse processes more efficient. The result is greater productivity, higher accuracy, and faster shipping times — and, ultimately, greater profits.

4. Robots and Cobots

If AI is the brains behind your smart warehousing system, robotic machinery is the muscle. Robotics have become a staple across the manufacturing and warehousing industries, helping humans perform tedious or dangerous tasks with greater precision than they could on their own. Some examples of robotics in warehousing are: 

  • Robots that perform tasks autonomously
  • Cooperative robots, or cobots, which perform tasks in tandem with human users 
  • AGVs, which reach their destination via a preprogrammed path with the help of IoT sensors

Some overlap exists between these categories, as some AVGs may double as cobots by being partially operated by human users. Regardless of their terminology, they bring greater efficiency, productivity, and accuracy to your operations than humans ever could. 

5. Warehouse Management Platforms

Warehouse management software (WMS) is the command center that ties together all the other components of your stack, making it the core of your smart warehousing infrastructure. It’s where the data from your IoT sensors goes to get processed by your AI algorithms, where it’s then directed toward the ASRS and AIC solutions that regulate your inventory status. Without it, your robots and cobots would have no place to go, so think of your WMS as the hub that unites all of your smart warehousing solutions.

Two smart warehouse employees looking over a tablet during a digital transformation

Optimize Your Supply-Chain Efficiency With Smart Warehousing Technology

Today’s high-speed business world is shaped by a demand for rapid shipping. That places great strain on warehouses to perform at the highest level of efficiency, getting every order right the first time, with minimal delays in transport. 

Smart warehousing reduces the inefficiencies created by outdated processes and streamlines a company’s performance on the whole. Technologies such as AI and IoT empower smarter data collection to avoid supply-chain bottlenecks, while automated hardware and software combine to make the most of your existing processes — and having the right warehouse management software in place is a must. 

Incito’s experienced team of engineers and lean manufacturing specialists have the expertise it takes to bring your warehousing system up to speed with the technology of the future, so contact us today and see how we can help.

How Lean Consultants Can Help You Optimize Your Plant Layout

Achieving a lean plant layout isn’t an easy venture that you can pull off in a day without a well-considered plant layout strategy. You must perform value stream mapping for every step of your business cycle so you know which lean strategies will make your plant more eco-friendly and sustainable.

Although this can be resource- and time-intensive, you shouldn’t lose sleep over it, because lean consultants like Incito have your back. Just schedule a consultation with Incito, and we’ll get you started on the road toward lean plant layout optimization.

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