Enterprises often consider the warehouse purely as a cost center, a part of the organization that they’d chalk up to the cost of doing business. As a result, warehouse operators have focused on controlling or reducing those costs rather than looking for ways to contribute to increasing revenues.
A smart warehouse
, however, can play a bigger role in an enterprise’s success. With the right technology, a warehouse can evolve from a cost center to a growth center. Smart warehouses enhance customer experiences and help build customer loyalty — as well as turn out fast, accurate shipments in a cost-effective manner.
Making the Smart Warehouse a Reality
Achieving an ultra-competitive, smart warehouse requires technology solutions that streamline distribution processes and provide real-time visibility. A smart system will deliver those benefits, and more, by leveraging edge IoT and vision machine learning. The system allows data to stream freely between cameras, warehouse management system (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), the cloud, and warehouse employees to automate processes and provide data when and where it’s needed most.
Smart systems utilize smart cameras that read barcode labels on packages moving through material handling systems. The WMS provides cameras with the manifest of the day’s shipments, enabling them to confirm that products meet specifications and packages are on the correct pallets. If a camera detects an error, it alerts warehouse workers by illuminating the package with a spotlight or sounding an audible alarm.
Challenges Facing Warehouse Distribution Operations Ergonomics
This might not be the first thing you think about when evaluating productivity, but it should be. Warehouse employees are fumbling around with different shaped boxes and hand scanners, and that inconsistency can lead to mistakes. Make it easier for your employees to load a pallet by putting ergonomics first.
Automating the pallet loading process with edge IoT and vision machine learning enables warehouses to move more products in a given period. Workers no longer have to carry and use handheld computers or scanners, which can slow them down. Instead, smart cameras read barcodes and direct packages to the correct pallets.
The ergonomic system allows workers to have both hands free to do their work — rather than trying to juggle handhelds while they move large cartons. It also eliminates the risk that workers will develop repetitive motion injuries from scanning a massive amount of barcodes each day.
Inconsistent Quality Control
What if a box that never gets scanned could still be identified as being in the wrong place? What if within milliseconds an employee can be alerted that an item is in the wrong place and also keep the pallet manifest up-to-date in real-time?
Vision machine learning can ensure products that the warehouse ships meet specification and product standards. Smart cameras can alert workers if boxes moving on a conveyer are filled to the correct level or spot product defects or anomalies. Smart cameras can also alert workers that a barcode is incorrect or unreadable, which will further reduce errors and, ultimately, lead to greater customer satisfaction.
Decreased Return Rate & Shrinkage
Items accidentally placed on the wrong pallet go to the wrong destinations. What do you do when a customer tells you they received a wrong item with their order? What if they never received their order? You send them another order, of course. More orders, though, equals more costs. More refunds equal more cost.
Machine vision systems “see” whether loaders are placing packages on the correct pallets, ensuring customers receive exactly what they order. A smart system decreases the number of “no-scan” boxes are lost in the distribution process and lead to waste and loss. Vision machine learning can provide enough metadata about packages, such as size and shape so that they can be identified even without a barcode.
Another advantage of solutions powered by vision machine learning and edge IoT is the ability to update inventory data instantaneously. The moment a robotic system picks an item from a bin or a camera identifies a package or pallet, it shares data with the WMS and ERP or inventory control system. A smart system eliminates the need to call back to a database, giving a true, real-time picture of inventory.
The Smart Warehouse Uses Smart Pallets
The ROI of a smart system can be substantial. Through automation and eliminating current points of failure in your processes, productivity per labor hour will increase, and costs from returns, waste, and other sources of shrinkage will decline. The ergonomic system will also make workers’ jobs easier and improve workplace safety.
Additionally, warehouse operators — along with the entire enterprise — will have access to accurate real-time data that can inform decisions, improve customer services, and pinpoint any areas where warehouse distribution could improve.
And that's why ADLINK created the Smart Pallet. Using a combination of AI, machine learning, Vision, and what we call "the edge," we've concocted the Edge IoT solution that comes pre-packaged to help quickly and affordably solve warehouse woes and decrease costs commonly associated with the day to day operations of shipping and receiving.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, the warehouse no longer has to be merely a cost center. The smart warehouse will meet or exceed customer expectations through excellent service, faster turnaround, accuracy, and consistent product quality. Those new capabilities, which have a notable impact on customer satisfaction and brand image, will enable the warehouse to contribute to overall enterprise growth.
For more information, download our application story
on improved warehouse logistics or visit our page on Edge IoT for machine vision with ADLINK Edge™ Smart Pallet