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

by | Jun 12, 2018

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:

Truly hands-free 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.

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.

MR/AR: Layer instruction & Complete more 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.

VR/AR: Immersive Training

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 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 automating 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.

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.