Warehouse of the future: Robots & AI reshape logistics

Warehouse of the future: Robots & AI reshape logistics

Julie Ribeiro

Julie Ribeiro

August 18, 2020

1. Warehouse 4.0: automation of the global logistics force

Within a few years, only 12% of order pickers expect to work with logistics processes involving pencil and paper. The rest of them expect the entire supply chain to be automated.

New technologies will change the codes of tomorrow's warehouses: between artificial intelligence and technological innovations, the field of possibilities is infinite!

Among all this panel of solutions, some will support workers, and others aim to improve the purely logistical processes of e-commerce. But the digitalization of warehouses can also have its limits.

2. Today's modernized logistics warehouse: the flexibility of IT and physical tools

Today, order preparation and stock management are done almost exclusively by humans. And as humans, we are not perfect. An accumulation of fatigue and imposed numerical targets can often lead to many ordering errors. 

This is why more and more brands are including new technologies in their supply chain: 91.5% of companies are considering moving to cloud-based warehouse management. From artificial intelligence to changing the way the warehouse operates, the options are varied!

Artificial intelligence at the service of logistics service providers

The use of AI in warehouses greatly improves the productivity of order pickers. Many inventions such as the "Chuck" robot allow you to optimize the path of your employees in the warehouse when sending an order.

For example, if one of your customers places an order for a set of scented candles and an angora rug, these two products will not be in the same place in your warehouse. To prevent your employees from wasting time searching for the right aisles and locations, robots like Chuck guide them. In addition to working on multiple orders, they calculate the fastest route to minimize time loss. 

In the same way, augmented reality is increasingly being used by logisticians. Leading brands such as Samsung and Google have developed intelligent glasses, which are a great help when preparing orders.Once they are on your picker's nose, they guide him by vision to find the right aisle for the scented candles. They indicate the product reference and check the consistency of the order with an integrated scan. From the reception of the order to its placement in the right dispatch area, the augmented reality glasses assist the pickers from point A to point B.

Dynamic warehousing and transport of goods

A more pragmatic way to reduce your pickers' movements: modifying the structure and operation of your warehouse.

The Scallog company for example has developed robots that bring the shelf back to the picker, instead of the other way round. In other words, instead of indicating the location of the angora rugs in the warehouse, the Scallog robots carry the shelf (built with this in mind) and bring it to the picker.

In this way, a picker can complete almost 600 orders per hour. The Scallog robots organize themselves and provide the shelf with the items the picker needs one after the other. 

With today's technology, companies can save millions of euros a year that they would have otherwise lost due to incorrect orders or returns.

Bigblue Tips: As an e-merchant, it is important to do some in-depth research before selecting a warehouse you want to work with. Some specifics and the use of innovations by a warehouse can significantly increase your efficiency, in addition to reducing order picking time. Don't skimp on doing exhaustive research!

3. The warehouse of tomorrow: the complete and computerized logistics strategy 

Beyond the technologies already present in our warehouses featured in this article, innovations are beginning to emerge.

Robotization for increasing logistics capacity

Since the health crisis following the Covid epidemic, the organization and management of warehouses has been shaken up. Indeed, in addition to extra safety precautions, consumers have been buying more on the net, causing the number of online orders to explode. 

Major brands such as Gap, for example, had to transform its warehouse management to cope with more orders and a reduction in the number of employees. Gap's management therefore decided to invest in the implementation of a fleet of order-picking robots created by the company Kindred AI. 

Unlike the robots that guide your pickers into the right aisles, Kindred AI's robots take care of order picking from A to Z. And from an efficiency point of view, there is no doubt about it: 1 single robot can handle the tasks normally carried out by 4 employees

The drones, responsible for logistics expertise and inventories

In addition to covering the entire length of the warehouse floor, aerial robots are becoming increasingly important in the hearts of logistics and e-merchants. For the time being, drones do not deal with order preparation per se, but with inventory and product identification.And as with robots, two drones can do the work of 100 people.

To take the example of scented candles and angora rug, if your warehouse operates on manual inventory, the risk of error is high. One of your customers can place an order for 2 sets of scented candles, before you realize that you are out of stock. And cancelling an order is not good for your image!

The implementation of drones in your warehouse allows you to avoid this kind of situation. Indeed, if you couple the use of drones with RFID product identification, the drones can identify and list your items from more than 10 meters away. With a success rate close to 100%!

In addition, drones do not need to sleep. This means you can schedule inventories at night every day, or even on weekends. Ideal for reducing your error rate!

4. Does the automation of an e-commerce logistics platform have its limits?

Digitizing warehouses can be a good thing for your performance and for relieving your employees of some tiring tasks. But like any innovation, technologies in logistics also have their downsides.

After all, order picking for your customers can be very time-consuming. Between closing packages and customizing them, some tasks can be very energy-intensive. And while robots can handle many steps, they can't handle everything. For example, if your customer orders a red angora rug, and the rugs have been misfiled in your warehouse, a robot may actually be packing a blue rug. In which case you may be faced with a product return! Checking a package may therefore involve a necessary human intervention, a task that order-picking robots do not yet perform.

In addition, the early stages of warehouse automation have been criticized for many reasons, including the fact that the use of robots may lead to the elimination of positions occupied by humans. Today, however, robots in the logistics area work more like helpers or assistants for order pickers. This is a collective effort, which does not lead to the unemployment of all employees.

Often, the tedious and soul-destroying parts like labeling and closing parcels will be automated, and the more challenging tasks (such as analyzing and optimizing parcel picking) will be reserved for employees. 

Finally, warehouse automation and the emergence of new technologies can be useful in restoring the image of the logistics profession.This sector of activity has been facing an image problem for some years now, with it often being considered dull. Implementing technological innovations in the supply chain could give warehouse management a new lease of life and a bit more of an intellectual dimension.

All in all, supply chain automation has its limits, and may have limits in the future. However, this will depend on changes in demand and the consumption habits of internet users.

5. The efficient and automated logistics chain: the future of e-commerce?

E-commerce warehouses are changing as a result of technological innovations in our society. Artificial intelligence, drones, assistant robots for order pickers... The Internet of Things is taking more and more of a place in the supply chain and within its management.

Technological innovations are perfectly adapted to the needs and desires for the development of a new generation of brands and warehouses: faster, more efficient, and less exhausting.

That said, they remain a personal aid, and significantly assist in improving the individual performance of order pickers. With the automation of logistics management, Warehouse 4.0 is on our doorstep!

Frequently asked questions
Everything you need to know.
No items found.

Similar articles