Warehouse Trends for 2018

When we talk about about warehouse trends in 2018, you’re probably thinking advancing technology, robots speeding around the warehouse doing things for you, and entirely automated system solutions.  All of that good stuff is definitely coming, but we’re not there yet.  Currently, many companies are still performing manual processes, which leaves plenty of room for errors.  Manual work means messing up inventory lists, sending products to the wrong places, and general human screwing around that wastes time and efficiency, not to mention dollars.  The warehouse trends that we’re talking about in 2018 improve on all this by using artificial intelligence, big data, warehouse planning and analysis tools, and more.  Think of the money and time we’ll save when we remove the manual labor from the equation as much as possible.

Robots Replacing Humans

Right now, managing inventory means scanning items manually.  It’s slow, it’s boring, and it wastes time that could be better spent elsewhere.  But, it’s needed because the optimal solutions aren’t quite there yet unless you have Bill Gates type money to afford implementing it.  In warehouses like that of Amazon, special camera-based robots do much of the “search and find” labor. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) rip around the warehouse scanning products and checking inventory levels.  Not only can it scan RFID chips from a few feet away, bit because of it’s accuracy, it can prevent inventory mess ups (such as sending out the wrong products).  A single UAV is said to be able to replace 50 workers!  That’s pretty crazy when you think about because while the robot may be a big up front expense, it doesn’t need a recurring salary for the rest of its useful life. Big money savings.

But, why aren’t robots everywhere then?  Because it’s not just the big upfront investment, it’s the other manual labor like packaging.  If there is a repeatable process, a robot can learn it and do it faster than a human.  For example, pick up one widget, place widget in box, tape box, slide box down to the next person.  That’s easy.  The problem for the robot comes in when there’s modifications to the standard process.  For example, if an order comes in late and something else needs to be added to the box, the robot doesn’t understand why the normal process is being deviated from.  As artificial intelligence becomes more powerful, robot processing will evolve to support last minute orders and changing processes on the fly, but it’s not there yet.

Personal Smart Devices

The next one of the warehouse trends that’s already in 2018 is personal smart devices.  Sales people are on the road using their smartphones to get in touch with customers, update profiles, change system information, and close more sales.  Employees at major retailers are using smartphones to scan customer credit cards to speed up the check-out process.  Business managers are using their smartphones to stay in touch by phone, text, and email when they’re out of the office.  Personal smart devices essentially are allowing people everywhere to stay connected to the business even when they’re not physically in the office.

As the importance of cost savings continues to be hammered home by the management teams at prominent warehouse facilities, employees will continue to look for ways to save time and money in order to keep their jobs.  Using smartphones and smart devices to speed up warehouse management processes is just one of the future trends.  Imagine having a work phone connected to the inventory management system so you could scan the RFID chips on arriving products without any kind of special equipment.  Everyone, especially Generation Y, carries their phone with them at all times anyways, so it could leads to major time savings.

Cloud Software on the Move

Cloud software allows fast, easy access to state-of-the-art inventory management systems for a rental fee.  In the past, you needed to submit a request for proposal (RFP), go out and try to find vendors to meet you huge list of needs, then install the software on your local servers.  In-house employees would implement any updates and have to troubleshoot issues, leading to a huge waste of time and expense.  Now, with cloud software, everything is accessible without needing local servers and computer equipment.  You reach out to the company, contract for cloud services and they load your data.

Cloud services function on a month-to-month system, like SPC Volta offers.  There are no contracts, generally.  You pay for as long as you need it.  You could be up and running in a week with a new inventory management system.  While customization often offers some advantages for companies that like things done a certain way, the cost savings from cloud services are too big to ignore.  Additionally, consider the potential savings from lawsuits.  If your old data was breached, you’d be in big trouble.  Many warehousing companies would hire auditors to check the system every so often for vulnerabilities and everything is on you, including the large expense to do that.  Many cloud services, especially Tier-1 providers, are protected by heavy-duty encryption, so the data isn’t going anywhere.  And because of that, you avoid the data breach lawsuits that are often seen in the news by companies still using manual processes.

The Internet of Things (IOT)

The Internet of Things (IOT) can sometimes be a hard concept to grasp, but it simply means connecting all of the different systems and processes using the Internet. In 2018, many companies use a disjointed array of systems to get things done.  Inventory acceptance is manual, inventory scanning is half-robot, half-human, inventory management is human managed, but may have robot input.  Imagine a warehouse where as soon as an item is scanned in, it’s added to an ever-updating list of inventory being managed under one cloud-based system.  You’d know the exact location of every product, how many of each you have, current inventory levels, projections of inventory levels in the near-term and future.  All of this information would enhance the management of your supply chain, allowing you to plan for what you already know is coming based on the data.  For example, if you knew that your warehouse capacity was going to free up 10% in November because of the data trend, you could spend more money on advertising this month to get yourself to max capacity.

The combination of the Internet and new technology is allowing warehousing companies to speed up their processes, decrease costs, and improve their warehouse and supply chain management.  These warehouse trends for 2018 will only grow larger as we move forward into the future.