We are surrounded by smart things—smartphones, smart watches, smart light bulbs, smart speakers and even smart toilets (trust me, look it up). Everything is becoming more connected and more intelligent thanks largely to data. The same goes for warehouses and distribution centers.
Welcome to the era of the smart warehouse, where data, analytics and robotics are coming together to transform the movement of goods. In the smart warehouse, you have real-time data flowing between advanced robots and high-level software, creating a feedback loop so you can monitor, control and optimize material flow.
How IoT works in the smart warehouse
At the physical level are robots and other automated tech, including:
- Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)
- Gantry robots
- Articulated robots
- Mobile robots
- Monorail transfers
- Automatic storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)
These machines can store, retrieve, pick and transport goods, which reduces or eliminates the need for manual handling.
Bridging the gap between the cyber and physical world is the Internet of Things (IoT). What in the world is that? Basically, you have robots equipped with sensors—such as laser scanners, barcode readers or vision systems—that capture and transmit real-time data on how they’re performing. It’s the same technology that your smartwatch uses to tell you how many calories you burned and when you’ve met your daily step goals.
From data to real-world action
At the heart of the cyber network is a Warehouse Control System (WCS), which receives and stores sensory data from IoT devices. With a WCS, you can assess information on inventory, order lines, priorities and deadlines to manage everything from individual robot movements to the entire material flow of the warehouse—adapting as necessary to everyday fluctuations.
Cyberphysical environments enable new enhancements, including the ability to:
- Easily track orders for better customer service
- Accurately manage inventory levels
- Meet regulatory requirements with complete product traceability
- Remotely monitor robots for easier maintenance
- Deliver just-in-time order fulfillment
- Increase overall throughput and productivity
Warehouse managers can also run analyses on the data to find opportunities for improvement. They can eliminate process inefficiencies and evaluate facility performance. They can also determine when to amp up the number of robots based on current business needs.
With robots, software and people working together, the smart warehouse runs, frankly, smarter, so you can maximize efficiency and readily pivot to any changes. The smart toilet is optional.