Warehouse management has changed significantly in the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic, greater consumer access to technology, and wider demand for delivery mean that firms like Amazon have seen a $12 billion jump in profits compared to pre-pandemic estimates.
But meeting the increased demand placed on warehouses isn’t easy. The sheer volume and speed of orders require digitally-integrated solutions at every level. A generous helping of artificial intelligence is also needed to ensure that everyone’s orders arrive on time and in their intended state.
Fortunately, the future of warehouse tech has largely kept up with demand. New, headline-grabbing tech like autonomous forklifts reduce risks, improve efficiency, and help warehouse managers implement the technology of the future.
Training for the future of warehouse technology
Business leaders will only be able to implement the future of warehouse tech if employees are adequately trained to use, fix, and improve upon the technology at their disposal. This may seem straightforward at first — employees in supply chain management have been reskilled before — but learning to make the best use of futuristic warehouse tech may require an entirely different approach to education and training.
While previous generations of warehouse workers may have been able to learn the trade on the job, the next wave of employees may learn the tools of their trade in the classroom. That’s because the future of warehouse technology has far more to do with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and programming than it does with manual stock management and inventory checks.
Greater access to STEM classes will be required to make the skillset leap possible. Fortunately, initiatives to make STEM classes available to rural Americans are gaining traction. Improved internet access means that rural students between the ages of 5 and 17 can take advantage of remote learning. Increased access to STEM puts the employees of the future in a great position to develop and implement the future of warehouse technology.
AI has revolutionized every stage of supply chain management. Supply chain specialists can now use massive amounts of raw data to predict and respond to events caused by pandemics, mishaps, and global events.
Additionally, AI technology has further improved the efficiency of warehouse operations far beyond what was thought possible 20 years ago. And the uptick of AI in warehouse management is a natural progression in the industry. Now, AI plays a significant role in warehouse automation, helping with organization, productivity, accuracy, as well as employee safety.
Switching to an automated service may seem like a hassle at first. But, as many warehouse clerks and distribution managers have found, most existing materials and equipment can be easily logged using AI. Pallet racks, shelving, and vertical mezzanines can be accounted for using AI and machine learning (ML) programs that crunch data at a rate that far surpasses human cognitive abilities.
Warehouse management used to be a fairly hands-on industry that required workers to manually carry and load shipments.
Today, more of the heavy lifting is being completed by robotics that has followed “industry 4.0.” Robotics today can use new sensory data to mimic human vision and select the correct package at the right time. Importantly, these robotics (such as drones) can scan quicker than humans and access hard-to-reach places.
There’s still plenty of progress to be made, as robotics still need human oversight to avoid malfunction and stop failures from derailing all operations. However, as AI develops, missteps will be continually easier to predict and prevent.
An AI-led future is both promising and daunting. While technology like robotics and AI will certainly improve the overall efficiency of warehouses and supply chain management, one question always looms large: what if it goes wrong?
Most of the fears about AI and new technology are unfounded — multinational warehouse companies don’t make decisions based on whims or incomplete data. However, warehouse management firms should not leave outages to chance and should take every reasonable step to ensure network outages do not occur.
Warehouses that use automation and AI can reduce their risk of a network outage by regularly running internal and external analyses on all hardware and software. Completing an internal analysis is usually easy (checking routers, servers, and power supplies) but external analysis (ISP, internet gateways, cloud services, DN) can be a little more tricky.
Partnering with reliable providers is the easiest way to ensure that external networks remain online. Multi-national, cloud-based services like those offered by Google and Microsoft rarely experience outages and offer more enterprise-grade diagnostics and support that can help firms get their operations back online and functional as soon as possible.
The future of warehouse tech is largely driven by developments in AI. Machine learning programs make it possible for AI-led robotics to operate at a more accurate, efficient pace. This points towards a promising future where warehouse costs are reduced and the speed of sorting, inventory checks, and deliveries are increased.