What are the potential IoT solutions for warehouses?

What are the potential IoT solutions for warehouses?
IoT-enabled warehouses and supply chains are still in its early stages. Therefore, the industry is still in the process of trying out different applications and approaches in an effort to figure out what makes the most sense.

By definition, IoT is a broad concept. Various sensors can be deployed: cameras, active and passive RFID tags, embedded scales in forklifts, and many others. “We are seeing a multitude of sensor types being used depending on the warehouse type and the products moving through. This could include cameras for security issues, but also for path management for forklifts and identification of empty pallets. Video cameras are able to track the location of the fork lifts to see what routes are being used and then to optimize the path of the forklifts,” detailed Douglas Bellin, Global Lead of Manufacturing and Energy Industries at Cisco Systems.

“We have also seen access control being used not just for the entry and exit points, but also to include access to crib areas or storage points for support products such as helmets or gloves to track what is being used by the employees. We have also seen the advent and inclusion of active RFID around location management to track what is happening in real time and allow workflow management in real time,” added Bellin.

Bottlenecks for adoption
IoT-enabled warehouses are not yet common. To tap into the benefits of IoT, warehouses will need to have a proper, robust IT infrastructure and sufficient bandwidth, especially if video integration is concerned. But besides these technical hurdles, market education is an issue.

“A huge issue for implementation is around process management and people management. It is not about people tracking or process tracking, but around efficiency management and helping employees understand. This is a key issue. Many people do not understand what is available and how this can help their business moving forward, so basic education on the possibilities is a hindrance as well,” said Bellin.

Upcoming solutions
Adoption of new technologies relies heavily on return on investment (ROI). Among the solutions mentioned by the interviewees, dimensioning, or the process of measuring the size and weight of pallets and boxes, showed clear economic benefits.

This is because volume and weight are two major factors that influence shipping costs and thus, supply chain managers need to keep close track of them. “We are using the video in the warehouse to scan the sizes and weights of different boxes and the data for more efficient pallet packing. We can use accurate data which saves us money on transportation. We pay for what we ship,” said John Bermudez, VP of Product Management at Infor.

“With sensors like embedded scales in the forklift, we can also monitor the size of the object, the volume being shipped, unloaded, and loaded onto trucks. All these have economic benefits when a customer pays by weight or volume. Mobile volume measurement, which allows the measurement of an object while it is moving or using a mobile unit, is currently being developed and I believe we will see more of it in the next two years,” agreed Daniel Dombach, Director of Industry Solutions for EMEA at Zebra Technologies.

There is no “one size fits all” IoT solution for warehouse management. Each company will have to find the right mix of sensors and information that can bring maximum benefits.

"Part of the challenge of IoT in warehouse and supply chain management requires companies to figure out what they need. There will be a need to partner with providers that can supply the full solution. The jury is still out," said John Bermudez, VP, Product Management at Infor.

Iot will add intelligence to supply chain
Greater stock visibility will benefit warehouse operators through increasing shrink prevention and worker safety. Knowledge of where each item is at any given time will minimize theft from warehouses and tracking of the movements made by both employees and machines throughout the warehouse might even prevent accidents from occurring. Even if the timeline for the full application of IoT in this setting is still unclear, the possibilities are numerous and its benefits are becoming more and more evident.
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