If you’re in London and have a couple of hours to spare, the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at London’s Design Museum is worth a visit. As the retrospective reminds us, fifty years ago filmgoers who saw Kubrick’s ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ were amazed by the idea of Hal, the HAL 9000 computer that controlled the spaceship (Spoiler alert: when Hal’s behaviour becomes erratic and threatens the crew, the plot takes a dramatic twist.)

In the real world, there was no warehouse IT as such in 1969, when ‘2001’ came out. Now warehouses are increasingly run by IT: automated storage and retrieval systems are everyday reality, and key items of warehouse equipment like forklift trucks and loading bay doors ‘talk’ to the WMS systems. The message is clear and upbeat – the technology is here to support your business but you don’t have to be Amazon-sized to benefit. On the scanning front, SATO, the Auto-ID providers offer tagging solutions to help warehouses become hyperefficient.

The key technology is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). As used by SATO’s customers in manufacturing, logistics, retail, food and beverage and healthcare, their RFID portfolio includes encoding solutions, printers, smart labels and tags and readers and printers. They can also print human-readable text and scanable barcodes. Should you so wish, SATO also offer the Visual Warehouse, a wearable navigation system that combines barcodes and RFID with virtual 3D mapping and indoor geolocating technologies.

Elsewhere in the warehouse, advances in connectivity mean forklifts and other warehouse trucks can send telematics data to the WMS system to improve operating efficiency. Hyster Europe for example use telematics to analyse possible ways to reduce the cost per tonne of moving goods. Their study has, incidentally, revealed that better use of Hyster’s Container Handlers had a greater impact on total cost of operation compared to the potential savings from minimising fuel consumption.

Industrial door provider Hörmann also uses IT in its new DAP electronic docking assistance technology to accelerate the docking process, while protecting drivers and warehouse operators from injury and minimising the risk of collision damage to vehicles and loading ramps. Featuring photocells linked to LED warning lights, the docking aid assists drivers when approaching the loading bay, enabling vehicles to dock safely and quickly.

There was no warehouse IT as we know it when UKWA was founded 75 years ago, but in their latest Awards, the Training category winner was Lutterworthbased Core Management Logistics (CML), who are leaders in IT solutions for retail warehousing and ecommerce. Crucially, they also provide operator training.

In August 2018, CML opened a dedicated purpose-built training centre where employees can learn in a comfortable environment away from their workplace and free from distraction. The company has complemented this with Elearning facilities, with over 5,000 E-Learning modules completed so far. CML have also been working with Leicester College since 2017, taking on batches of apprentices and supporting them with the IT skills and knowledge they are likely to need for their future professional development.

It’s heartening confirmation that IT expertise is increasingly important in this industry but human workers won’t be disappearing altogether from warehouse and logistics operations any time soon.

CHARLES SMITH

Feature Writer