February 05, 2018/ News
Warehouses often conjure up images of assembly lines, rows and rows of shelves, and fleets of workers scurrying around picking and packing items to fulfil incoming orders. However, this is no longer the reality of warehousing today. From these humble beginnings, warehouses have evolved significantly, with technology being incorporated into basically every stage of the warehousing process. This has been a direct response to the increasing pressure to satisfy consumers more efficiently and effectively. Automation and the optimisation of warehousing processes and practices, has become a key source of competitive advantage. A warehouse that fails to keep up with the ever-changing warehousing technology, runs the risk of being left behind.
With the rising prominence of technology in the warehousing industry, a downsize in the workforce is inevitable. Mundane and repetitive tasks are increasingly being assigned to robots rather than humans, in order to improve efficiency. However, despite this shift in the division of labour, automation and technology in warehousing does not necessarily spell the end for warehouse workers. The purpose of the technology being developed for warehouses is not to replace human workers altogether but to vastly improve their productivity. 'Collaborative' robots, driverless forklifts, and pick-to-light and put-to-light systems are all examples of warehouse technologies geared towards assisting employees and reducing the time it takes to fill an order and send it out.
**Warehousing in Retail **
Warehousing in the retail industry has been very responsive to the technology being developed in this field. With retail customers expecting cheap and near instantaneous delivery once they've made their purchase, warehouses are adopting technologies to speed up the process and help make this a reality. Streamlining processes and increasing the productivity levels of warehouse employees is paramount to the survival and success of retail companies.
Some technologies that are really making an impact on the way that warehouses operate, or will operate in the future, include, 'collaborative' robots, driverless forklifts, augmented reality, radio-frequency identification (RFID), and put-to-light and pick-to-light systems.
'Collaborative' Robots (Cobots)
'Collaborative' robots in warehousing industry are small, inexpensive robots specifically designed to assist warehouse workers complete orders. They follow workers around the warehouse, allowing them to remain agile and hands-free, and complete multiple orders in one go. This is because once a cobot has reached capacity, it drops off the order and another cobot replaces it. Time wasted searching for products is greatly reduced and more orders can be completed within any given shift.
Driverless forklifts, as the name suggests, are forklifts that do not require a person to operate them. These autonomous forklifts help transport, stack and pick items throughout the warehouse. Also, since they don't have a human operator, safety in the workplace is improved. Driverless forklifts help to significantly reduce traffic flow issues, damage to goods and errors as a result of fatigue. With some of the manual work alleviated from warehouse workers, they may be able to enjoy more dynamic roles and move on to more skilled positions.
The introduction of augmented reality into a warehouse space has the potential to revolutionise how they operate. Augmented reality involves the modification of a real-world environment with computer-generated elements. One way in which augmented reality may be applied in the warehousing industry, is to improve the picking process. Head-mounted displays might be used to show the worker exactly where an item is and the fastest route to get there. This technology can also be used to track the movements of the worker, keep them accountable, and ensure that they are doing their job as efficiently and effectively as possible. The application of augmented reality, in the realm of warehousing, can improve worker productivity and help ensure smooth operations.
Radio-frequency identification, more commonly referred to as RFID, collects and reads information that is stored on a chip attached to a particular product/item. The RFID provides the item with a unique identifier, allowing the warehouse to keep track of the object and transfer data. Since RFID tags don't need to be visible to be read, they can be tracked within a specified range, which helps to improve the speed of information retrieval and the accuracy of the data. Information that is up-to-date and correct is vital for efficient warehouse operations.
Put-To-Light & **Pick-To-Light Systems**
With the put-to-light and pick-to-light systems, light is used to show where an item should go or where it can be found, as well as how many items should be placed or retrieved. This is extremely valuable in warehousing, as it drastically reduces the time it takes for warehouse workers to find and collect items in such a large space. Another benefit of the put-to-light and pick-to-light system, is that the system is updated immediately so that all information regarding the levels of stock coming in and out are accurate. Put-to-light and pick-to-light systems help make the work of warehouse staff easier and improve their output.
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