Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that has become popular in recent years, but what does it mean? More specifically, what does IoT mean in the context of warehousing and logistics, and can IoT be helpful in boosting warehouse efficiency?
We’re going to take a look at all of this and more below, but if you work in warehouse operations, you need to know how IoT technology is shaping the future of your industry. Supply chains, inventory tracking systems and more now rely on IoT devices and machine learning algorithms to communicate between networked devices, and having a fuller understanding of the benefits of IoT in warehouse management can help your operations to more fully take advantage of these technologies.
What is IoT?
Simply put, IoT describes a network of non-computer and computer devices that are connected through Internet protocol networking. For example, a smart refrigerator in your warehouse’s break room may have Wi-Fi built into its cooling system. The refrigerator can connect to your phone via an app and send diagnostic alerts if problems occur.
A Simple-Yet-Practical Example
WiFi-connected lighting around your warehouse may blink to alert you of a problem, and a central IoT system can automatically run a diagnostic test on the refrigerator to determine what’s wrong. From there, replacement parts can automatically be ordered, routed and shipped directly to your warehouse.
In this scenario, the refrigerator, phone app and lights are “things” connected via Internet protocol networking that can send and receive information, hence, they are part of the Internet of Things. The interaction between things connected on an IoT network is seamless and can remove a number of steps needed to get things done.
Expanding IoT Technology in a Warehouse Setting
To take things a step further, a warehouse may incorporate RFID tags to track parcels on the floor. These tags wirelessly communicate with automated guided vehicles that transport parcels and pallets.
IoT sensors positioned around the facility alert the central warehouse management system of the location of each RFID tag and autonomous vehicle to track movement. When an RFID tag reaches a particular destination, other IoT devices can be notified and further steps can be taken to process the parcel or pallet.
How IoT Benefits Warehouse Operations
When you take advantage of IoT in warehouse management, you gain a number of benefits, including:
One of the biggest reasons for outsourcing in supply chain management is efficiency. Outsourcing often means that you can take advantage of larger networks without the upfront investment required to establish these networks in your own warehouse.
IoT provides similar benefits in that IoT devices are networked to take advantage of each device’s strengths across a system. Improving warehouse efficiency through IoT networks is accomplished by creating an environment in which the right equipment “talks” to your entire management system, and each piece of equipment is therefore connected to one another.
This creates an efficient warehouse by automating communication between devices, and by extension, between departments and tasks. Instead of having to manually relay information back and forth after monitoring various equipment and making changes to settings manually, entire processes can be automated as various IoT technology communicates across a warehouse operation.
Improved accuracy is another benefit of using IoT technology in warehouse operations. The unfortunate truth is that human error exists in every warehouse. Perhaps a serial number gets missed on a parcel or a reading is taken improperly when measuring something. Although these problems are unavoidable due to human nature, they can cause massive problems in terms of productivity and efficiency in warehouse operations.
IoT devices and networks can dramatically reduce errors on the job and increase accuracy. Because IoT devices are computer components programmed to carry out specific functions, the degree of accuracy with which IoT devices perform their duties often beats that of human beings.
IoT is Not Without Its Drawbacks
Of course, the other side of this argument is that humans are versatile and can think and reason in workplace situations that require change. An IoT device will not have the capability to make decisions outside of its pre-programmed parameters. While these devices are very good at making decisions within their parameters, they don’t have the flexibility of a human brain and cannot adapt to variables that have not been pre-assigned.
Hybrid Warehouse Environments are the Solution
A potential compromise for warehouse managers is to implement IoT networking alongside human workers. For example, an IoT-enabled warehouse could transmit real-time data to a central computer via smart glasses worn by a worker.
The worker would be tasked with reviewing various things around the warehouse floor, and the images and video sent back from the worker’s smart glasses can then be analyzed by the IoT network to determine next steps. This setup extends the power and productivity of the human worker by taking advantage of IoT technology without relying on it completely.
IoT technologies can also enhance productivity by allowing workers to process more data in a shorter amount of time. Due to IoT networking, more data can be passed along to more places in real-time. Workers can then make decisions faster based on output from IoT networks. This means more work can get done in a shorter amount of time.
Additionally, things like IoT sensors can boost productivity through inventory management. When IoT trackers and sensors are used throughout a warehouse facility, the central system can keep up with changes in inventory levels to make intelligent routing decisions as inventory changes.
Because IoT devices can be connected to a centralized data processing system, these devices can also communicate with other devices along the same network across a supply chain. If a slowdown occurs in one part of the supply chain, all other devices can be updated to reflect changes. From there, alterations in routing can be made and production speeds can be changed across a network of devices to prevent supply chain disruption.
Safer Work Environments
Wearable IoT devices for workers have also become an important safety feature of IoT in warehouse management. Wearable devices can be used by workers in potentially hazardous areas of a warehouse or logistics facility and can relay information about a worker’s condition. These devices can also be combined with IoT sensors that monitor conditions like air quality to provide advance notice to workers if a potential breathing hazard exists.
Autonomous warehouse vehicles can be guided safely through IoT technology as well. Trackers and sensors can be used to direct traffic flow around a warehouse floor, stopping and starting autonomous machinery based on the positions of other equipment in a warehouse.
If a worker or object blocks traffic flow, this data can be sent to all connected devices. Changes can then be made to processes to prevent bottlenecks and accidents.
Focus on Scalability
IoT technologies promote efficiency and productivity as well as safety, but you may feel intimidated at the thought of investing in IoT all at once. The good news is that warehouse operations can invest in IoT integration slowly over time.
Implementing a core system now means that devices can be added or retrofitted down the road to take advantage of enhanced IoT functionality as needed. This is also beneficial as IoT technologies are always changing and evolving, and you may want to have access to a scalable system that can change with the needs of your warehouse operation as newer IoT technologies come along.
Contact Pallet Market Inc to Explore How Technology Can Improve Efficiency in Warehouse Operations
If you’ve been searching online for custom pallets near me or similar search terms in the hopes of finding solutions for your warehousing and logistics concerns, contact Pallet Market Inc. We specialize in personalized pallet manufacturing, pallet sorting, pallet pickup and drop-off and a range of other services for warehousing and logistics professionals.