Everyone is interested in what the ‘modern warehouse’ will consist of as they look towards reinvesting in their operations – being mindful of buzz words such as ‘future proofing’ and ‘streamlining’. Considering the many changes that have occurred over the last decade or so in this arena, advances in technology have certainly made the warehouse an exciting playground for many suppliers and warehouse managers alike. Seeing their peers adopt technologies and inevitably benefit from their successful implementations have encouraged many other operations to take the logical step from continuing down the path with paper based processes to embracing technology driven solutions.
Having supplied many systems to the warehouse and supply chain industry over the better part of 20 years, I can still see a genuine drive and desire to make things better across the various supply chains. As technology becomes available, there are no shortage of warehouses and supply chains willing to participate in acquiring the best improvements and gains available. This is indeed encouraging and I consider it a privilege to be able to work closely with some of the largest distribution and logistics companies globally to help define and shape the future optimisation of the supply chain industry.
One key component found in all worthwhile solutions are real-time live interfaces and access to information across the entire supply chain. The modern economy accepts nothing less than up-to-the-second information and the more data that can be provided, the better chance you have of attracting new customers. It does not necessarily mean that all of this data will be needed in each and every case, but when you do need it, it proves invaluable.
Common to all such optimisations are the general deployments of wireless networks. A decade ago, the criterions were still emerging. Confusion was prevalent with the emergence of the IEEE 802.11 standards. Manufacturers of wireless equipment were trying to get ahead of each other in establishing standards to the point where there were many ‘standards’ on the market long before they were even ratified. This has now calmed somewhat and we have a general deployment of secure wireless technology which permits the seamless availability of data. Wireless data is now generally available and has been more or less commoditised into the networks arena. What has changed is the source of the data – and what has risen to the top as being crucial is access to that data.
Heavey RF Group’s focus for their clients has always been and will continue to be building on what has consistently proven to work. We have seen many technologies ushered through the doors of a warehouse such as bar-code scanning using mobile handheld terminals, voice-directed logistics using speech recognition systems, pick-to-light systems, robotics in a ‘lights out’ warehouse and RFID solutions using radio frequency tags. We have applied and achieved immense benefits for our clients with all of these technologies. And while we place strong emphasis on maintaining a significant knowledgebase and continual education of next generation technologies, this is not where we solely find success. The key to our successful implementations has been found in understanding the unique processes, environment and directives of the operation and marrying to it the correct technology. This is what has proven to work consistently.
One driver for the selection of any technology or solution is generally the scale and reach of the warehouse or supply chain. For example, nearly all warehouses can benefit from the common application of mobile handheld or vehicle mounted computers based on the real-time offering of the information on the floor. For many new implementers, though, it is often times only after a real-time environment has been established making the data immediately accessible that they discover they would have been better suited to deploy a more sophisticated or elegant technology. A voice directed solution unfailingly proves to enable supply chains to derive benefits that go well beyond availability and access to information but is equally vital to financial gains – the management of your workforce. Other technologies will provide other benefits, but are again dependent upon the size and scope of your overall operations. Pick-to-light and robotics carry a cost that must be driven by high volumes in large scale operations, while RFID is still trying to find its ‘sweet spot’ in the supply chain.
Where prudence enters for our warehouse and operations managers is determining not only what technology, but more importantly which solution is the right fit. Understanding the directives and goals of your organisation and sourcing the right solutions provider will unwaveringly lead you to a successful implementation -no matter the technology you select.
Ronan Clinton, Chief Executive Heavey RF Group.
Heavey RF Group