Warehouses involved in assembly and dispatch operations of whatever kind have undergone a transformation in recent years. Continuing advances in IT have enabled these operations, from the smallest online traders to large manufacturers, to work more productively and efficiently, become more agile and if needed, steer their way through crises.

The latest WMS solutions and automated IT systems are empowering warehouse managers to tackle situations as they happen, transforming their responsiveness. It comes down to taking the decision to invest in WMS software systems and crucially, using these to digitize their warehouse processes, linked to the adoption of automated ID.

‘Auto ID’ technology has also seen major advances, in step with WMS’ evolution, and the innovation goes on. Take the recent example of the Budweiser Budvar Brewery using Sewio’s real time location system to improve its warehouse efficiency, reduce maintenance costs and get new insights into its logistics operations.

The brewery works with over 20,000 pallets to handle hundreds of varieties of beers, using forklifts equipped with an RFID antenna at their chassis and RFID tags at each of the tracked pallet positions. Budweiser faced growing maintenance costs for its previous passive RFID solution, which by the end was out of action 20% of the time. The new one is now working 99% full time and the data it generates has enabled Budweiser’s logistics managers to use the warehouse much better, ‘virtually growing’ it by 19%.

Moving beer around a brewery and dispatching it to the right places is only one scenario where warehouse IT is making a difference. At the ‘micro’ level, Ecommerce fulfilment and the NHS’s internal supplies logistics, to cite two crucial sectors affecting all our lives, are all about picking and assembling batches of items. These operations involve myriad small orders being packed and dispatched accurately to recipients in widespread, distant locations.

Alongside WMS and auto ID, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are increasingly being used in e commerce and elsewhere to help managers prepare for stressful times like Black Friday by analysing past data and using the findings to anticipate impending peaks in demand.

At the macro level, internal supply chain technology is transforming the way complex manufacturing operations organise their production, particularly where large items like cars, trucks and planes are assembled and parts added at different stages. At the heart of this are warehouse management systems (WMS) controlling the supply chain equipment and tracking and managing stocks of parts as they are received from suppliers and held before being picked and delivered on time, in the required quantity, to locations on the production line.

Macro or micro, transitioning to technology-supported working involves not just investment in the solution but a lot of management time in planning and implementation. However, it puts warehouse operations of all types and sizes in a stronger position to maintain their service levels and thrive in the face of the challenges that lie ahead. Bring it on!

BILL REDMOND

Features Editor