Despite fears from some, robots aren’t going to take away all human jobs in the warehouse. A previous blog talked about how to better orchestrate man and machine.
Today, let’s dive deeper into current technology trends that are making processes more nimble, scalable and sophisticated. They highlight two things. First, people and technology are going to work closer together than ever. And second, it’s critical to have a WMS with a vendor-agnostic WES built in so you can take advantage of all emerging innovations.
The rise of cobots
One growing trend is with “cobots”, collaborative human-robotic work which allows both to use their best skills. In this scenario, the WMS assigns picking tasks to robots, as well as optimal travel paths. The robots, equipped with totes to receive the items, travel to the required locations and wait for nearby humans to carry out the item picking. The robots indicate their status with simple colored lights and are often equipped with intuitive touchscreens to support human instructions.
Cobots combine robotics’ efficiency of movement with humans’ fine-motor skills and intelligence. This approach also has the benefit of scalability, allowing a company to apply as many robots and people as demand or the season requires.
Another promising direction is goods-to-person (GTP) technology. Here, sophisticated, ultra-high-density product storage areas are set up in the DC with a series of stations and mini-shuttles. Robots, programmed to know where the products are located, retrieve all the cases or totes needed for a set of orders and bring them to a person at a fixed processing station. The person, in turn, takes the retrieved product and places it into recipient totes for order fulfillment.
GTP can be especially effective with ecommerce orders because it allows retailers to maximize space utilization by carrying a large number of SKUs while still meeting rapid fulfillment service levels.
One more emerging area is next-generation, wearable technology. Lightweight, ruggedized hardware – featuring graphical, intuitive touchscreens – are beginning to be paired with a headset, two-way voice communications and/or a heads-up display via smart glasses. The goal is to create a high-tech worker who can execute work more efficiently than ever before – with minimal training required.
It works by having the WMS display information like item images, highlighted product picking locations and specific processing instructions. The system can also verbally communicate through the headset – even sending the worker audible instructions that coach them through step-by-step DC workflows.
Prepare for next-generation tech
The ways work is done is changing rapidly, as humans and technology are brought closer together. Because DC operations vary so much, no single innovation will dominate the entire industry. Instead, many emerging technologies will continue to offer different advantages.
That’s why it’s so crucial to choose a WMS with a vendor-agnostic WES like the one Manhattan Associates offers. It’s the only way to ensure that you’ll be ready no matter what opportunities develop. Now more than ever, a better operation starts with better technology.
Next article, we’ll get into labor and management pain points and strategies to deal with them.
Use our WMS ROI calculator to find out how much the right solution can potentially save you.