The Warehouse Management System of Tomorrow: Faster, Leaner, and Mobile

The Warehouse Management System of Tomorrow: Faster, Leaner, and Mobile

The Warehouse Management System of Tomorrow

Imagine this: you show up at your place of work, look out onto the warehouse floor, and see all your employees hard at work making sure inventory is being stocked and orders are being fulfilled. But these are not your normal employees, instead, they are robots automatically and seamlessly performing the work previously assigned to countless humans.

Some warehouses are already adopting these technologies, and it won’t be long before others do as well. With the ubiquity of mobile and greater access to the latest technology, it’s not surprising to see more manufacturers incorporating emerging devices into their processes.

Warehouses once relied exclusively on paper for production orders, dispatch notifications, and as a means of managing asset and inventory. Fast forward to today and you’ll see an increasingly paperless industry. Warehouse Management System software, scanning solutions, and other applications are now in place to enable data to be entered directly into digital or cloud storage. This has reduced the number of errors caused by readability issues or lost paperwork, while also reducing the operating costs of the companies.

So how do warehouses become more efficient between the world of today and the future world of automation? Well, the transition is becoming increasingly achievable with all the evolving technology. The key is evaluating the current infrastructure and technology, coming up with a strategy based on key objectives, and starting to make the investment.

Over the last couple of years, we have been working with Arrow Electronics to do just that – improve efficiency through mobile solutions. When we first started working with Arrow, they had a WMS system in place but were using older technology that limited the efficiency of their employees. Shockoe created an overhauled WMS using mobile tablets, wireless handheld scanners, and a revamped user interface. The new process and interface allow operators greater flexibility and maneuverability, increasing pick speed efficiency. Supervisors can now make necessary decisions away from their desk through the mobile interface allowing them to review reports, manage inventory and processes, and communicate directly with the operators.

As we continue to grow our relationship with Arrow, we are exploring means to provide further functionality to operators and immersing them in the mobile experience. This will include wearable technology which enables operators to work hands-free and eliminate the need to bring a cart down an aisle.

As we move forward, other technology will be considered to improve the efficiency of the warehouse operations. For example:

Integrating with Smart Glasses

How about integrating the core functionality of a smartphone into a pair of glasses? The main difference is the display technology: images are projected directly in front of the field of vision, freeing-up user’s hands for other tasks. When working in a warehouse, having free hands and ready access to information is hugely progressive for both ergonomics and efficiency. Using this kind of device in the picking process will ease the work for operators and can help increase picking performance. It is also a flexible solution to implement since it doesn’t need any other specific equipment in the warehouse.

integrating with smart glasses

 

Voice as a guide

Adding voice-guidance to different WMS functionalities can also increase the efficiency of warehouse operations. Instructions can now be heard rather than cumbersomely viewed. This can be integrated into both smart glasses or a traditional mobile app, further allowing the operators to function hands-free and increase focus on their tasks.

Integrating Virtual & Augmented Reality Into Processes

Augmented and mixed reality ‘picking’ uses smart glasses to merge virtual images and information with an operator’s surrounding environment. The operator would wear the glasses, follow any on-screen instructions, and scan product barcodes all within the glasses’ display. The combination of real-world and virtual information provides speed and accuracy beyond previous warehouse picking technologies.

integrating virtual reality

Training with Virtual & Augmented Reality

Did you know only 40% of information is retained when people observe versus 90% when they experience it themselves? So, how about leveraging VR or AR to train employees so they can become productive quickly, while also improving the quality of the work and reducing training costs? Using smart glasses, VR headsets, or other simulators allows both new and current employees to get immersed in the work to learn without having to shadow other employees. This keeps productivity high across the board as you don’t need to pull someone away from current work to train someone.

The state of warehouse management has evolved over time as companies continue to evolve to keep up with consumer demands. Fully automated systems will take time and money. Yet, with the ubiquity of mobile and existing WMS software, an affordable cutting-edge solution might not be so distant. By employing a combination of mobile solutions, smart glasses, AR/VR/MR, or voice, warehouses can become exponentially more productive — improving not just cost, but also overall quality and safety.

training with virtual reality

Note from Editor: 
With mobile technology, employees are no longer confined to their static cubicles, bulky PCs, and disorganized file cabinets. If you’d like to learn more about what it means to have a truly mobile workforce, check out this page.

Also, you can read about “A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want” in our previous post.

Product Management in App-griculture

Product Management in App-griculture

Back in the day, when life was simple and technology was limited, dairy producers would keep track of their herds by using journals or notebooks. As time as passed, adoption of computer software increased where data could be entered, but only after jotting it down on the farm first. Nowadays, there is mobile technology everywhere and there are apps out there to support all kinds of activities – including dairy farming.

How convenient is it for a dairy producer to take his phone or tablet anywhere to keep track of his/her herd? Well, to keep to a one-word answer – “extremely”. Not only is it a time savings by not having to log something on a piece of paper and go back and enter it onto a computer, it’s the convenience of having the information with you all the time.

Here at Shockoe, we have had the opportunity to work closely with a couple of clients to build apps for the dairy farming community. As part of the process, we had conversations with the future users of the app (dairy producers, veterinarians, and animal technicians) to learn how they use their existing software and what was missing.

As we traverse through the mobile development lifecycle with our clients, our product management practice focused on a few key main areas to ensure we meet our client’s needs:

1. User Experience

If users open the mobile app and don’t feel like there is any value for it, they will quickly delete and continue to use something else. The app needs to have the functionality to allow the users to accomplish their tasks, but also be structured in a way for easy navigation and reliable performance.

2. Simplicity

Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This and the principle, KISS, that has been around since the mid-1900’says it all. If a mobile app is not intuitive and easy to use, it will not be used – even if it on a device being carried around all day.

3. Security

If data or user information is not protected, the app is a huge failure. Users need to know the mobile application they are using is safe to use. This means securing the code, securing the device, securing the data, and securing the transactions.

4. Analytics

What is the most common functionality used in the mobile application? Which functionality is the least used by users? How long are the sessions for a user? Answers to these questions and feedback from the users, help determine what enhancements can be made for future versions. It just doesn’t stop after the mobile is pushed out to the stores, monitoring and evaluating needs to occur.

Dairy producers, vets, and technicians need the ability to access information about their animals, update data, and also perform various functions throughout the day. Following these key elements and working closely with the users, allows us at Shockoe to deliver a high quality mobile experience.