Warehouse digitalisation in today’s challenging environments

By Frank Baldrighi, BDM, Getac Technology Corporation
The advent of COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on Asia and the world thus far. Needless to say, supply chains have been hit rather heavily...

The advent of COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on Asia and the world thus far. Needless to say, supply chains have been hit rather heavily.

Some supply chains are being taxed to the breaking point, whilst others have found themselves stagnating. Even the humble warehouse has not been spared.

Warehousing plays a vital role in the supply chain process. When done right, warehousing has the potential to regulate logistic operations, leading to positive knock-on effects on the firm’s competitiveness. After all, logistic costs can have a big influence on overall production and operating expenses. For instance, the ability to store and consolidate goods for more cost-effective shipments can reduce operating costs for one’s firm.

Another determining measure of the warehousing process that severely impacts supply chain management is productivity. The layout of the warehouse, accessibility of stocks, optimisation of storage space, placement of warehouse material handling equipment and automated storage solutions all play a part in ensuring a smooth operation. Done poorly and a firm could run into supply delays and disruptions.

With Covid-19 impacting industries around the world including supply chain, the need for a well-planned and streamlined warehousing system has only become more pertinent as firms look to reduce costs and maintain efficiency, as much as possible, in these uncertain times. Part of the answer could be to look at modernising traditional warehouses.

Why warehouses need to modernise

Some of the common challenges faced by warehouses are: excess stocks, low traceability and connectivity, redundant processes, poor time management and failure to manage demand fluctuations. Furthermore, the traditional warehouse is more prone to issues such as shortage, damage, and discrepancies of stocks that could negatively impact operations, which could in turn lead to incorrect shipments and ultimately, dissatisfied customers.

Traditional warehouses are known to require extensive manpower as plenty of time is spent completing paper forms or entering data from documents into spreadsheets and other data-management applications. Additionally, manual counting of goods received to ensure that there are no discrepancies, as well as the process of having to shuffle from rack to rack to retrieve the goods required to fulfil an order disrupt the efficiency of the warehouse and add on to labour costs. Having to rely on a large workforce can be detrimental, especially during a period like Covid-19, which has shrunk the pool of available staff due to travel restrictions or social distancing measures at the workplace.

To control warehousing costs and boost productivity, businesses should consider implementing new technologies to streamline operations.

Adopting new tools for enhanced operations

A great way to begin getting warehousing operations up to speed is to embrace new tools and technologies. For starters, introducing rugged tablets into the process not only reduces the magnitude of labour needed, it can also value add to tasks. These improve operational efficiency and the accuracy of order tracking, and prevent delays which will help with reducing issues such as perishable product wastage. Rugged tablets are built to streamline operations with enhanced communication and applications. Predominantly, they transform the process of collecting data.

When equipped with rugged tablets, warehouse personnel no longer have to manually document product information, which would typically lead to readability issues or even paperwork being lost. Binning paper processes also directly reduces operating costs spent on stationery and printed materials.

Furthermore, rugged tablets allow staff to use in-built cameras to collect and process data and information more quickly – the Barcode and RFID reading capability of a rugged tablet eliminates data entry altogether. Other advantages include being able to enhance visibility on stock counts, and even using them as a guide to highlight the right quantities of items to be picked up for delivery. With rugged tablets allowing data to be synced in real-time across departments, human error is reduced, leading to more accurate order fulfilment. Having all that data accessible in a digital form also means the data sets can be used to generate insights that can inform restocking needs.

Not forgetting that connectivity is vital for warehouse operations, rugged tablets provide Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G and GPS connectivity, allowing warehouse personnel stay connected at all times, transfer and receive data regardless of where they are. Also, the whereabouts of workers and visitors can be easily tracked and located, while vehicles and drivers can be monitored in real time, helping operators to follow safety regulations and minimise accidents.

Being able to use a rugged device’s camera features to video conference on the go also reduces downtime in the warehouse. They can simply video conference with supervisors and other technical experts should they need help with diagnosing and troubleshooting certain operations in the warehouse.

In my conversations with customers in the industry, I have noticed that those working in tougher environments sometimes believe they are not at the liberty to enjoy the advantages conveyed by new digital tools. That is not the case. Equipment manufacturers are aware that inventory and warehouse management professionals work in a variety of environments that can present strong challenges to conventional devices. This is why ergonomic rugged tablets were designed.

Rugged tablets are specially made to be lightweight, long-lasting, comfortable to grasp with one hand, and yet tough enough to withstand impacts and drops of up to six feet. This minimises disruptions caused by having to regularly replace faculty equipment.

With an almost infinite battery life achievable thanks to high capacity battery add-ons and hot-swapping technology, rugged tablets allow for secure battery replacement without the need for the device to be turned off. This is key to enable users to continue operating around the clock without having to worry about downtime. This again improves productivity.

Future of warehouse management

Looking ahead, the way warehouses operate in the near future will be highly digitised with functions such as pictures and video taking, tracking, cloud integration, video conferencing and even personal assistants being leveraged. Automatic identification systems such as smart sensors, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), and GPS will optimise inventory management whilst also making warehouses safer.

Rugged tablets will play a key role in helping operators realise the future of warehouse management; improving work processes, turnaround times, productivity and even how staff communicate.

This article was contributed by Frank Baldrighi, BDM, Getac Technology Corporation

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