Technology, Shifting Expectations & Logistics 

As businesses and logistics providers know, every process in the supply chain is an opportunity for improvement. Technology and the information age vastly changed – and continue to morph, in enthralling ways – the logistics industry, providing countless opportunities for process optimization. Shifting expectations accompany those changes. Customers now can anticipate one-hour deliveries from leading e-commerce retailers like Amazon. Businesses can retain more control over their supply chains through real-time inventory updates, carrier tracking and increasingly detailed online shipment information from carriers like FedEx and UPS. The federal government is also onboard the technology train, offering unprecedented electronic submission of all U.S. Customs and Border Protection shipping documents via EDI, through the joint-venture Automated Export System.

That nebulous buzzword concept, the “Internet of Things,” increasingly changes the face of supply chains. As humans don wearable devices and radio frequency chips accompany shipments, the interaction of data and information between objects – rather than people – becomes extremely useful for supply chain visibility. For example, a driver wears an internet-capable device, which submits reports of any transportation issues (e.g. traffic, accidents) and all carrier stops and starts to its customer’s – a retailer’s – transportation management system. The communication between wearable technology and a remote server provides 360-degree visibility of the retailer’s current transportation situation and capabilities.  

At WSI’s warehouse facilities, touchscreen tablets on lift trucks integrate with our order entry and management systems. Similarly, innovative pick-to-voice systems allow material handlers to wear a headset and microphone, receiving instructions by automated voice rather than relying on a bar code scanner, a computer screen far away from the picking location or printed pick slips. Material handlers confirm their location and the available products by responding in pre-set commands. Voice recognition software on the back end of the pick-to-voice system ensures the material handler is picking the correct order in the accurate location. The hands-free headset and elimination of a barcode scanner and paper documents leave both of the employee’s hands free to concentrate on proper picking and handling. In some of our distribution centers, employees wear hip-mounted shipping label printers to increase ergonomic function while packing and avoid unnecessary walks to remote printers.

As technology evolves and the logistics industry increasingly expands in complexity, more wearable technologies like smart glasses – Google Glass and Epson Moverio’s Android-based product come to mind – and finger-trigger gloves likely will find their way into warehouses. Introduced judiciously and with safety kept foremost in mind, wearable tech can improve warehouse worker efficiency from 10 to 20 percent, according to a recent DC Velocity analysis.

On the unwearable side of warehouse technology, advanced barcode scanning and labeling, while now commonplace in most warehouses, have innovated the industry in myriad ways. Barcode “license plating,” developed for a large group of items shipped as a single unit, helps warehouses and businesses tightly manage inventory, loads and shipments. Additionally, streamlined picking procedures depend on sophisticated inventory item set ups provided by warehouse management software, used by 3PLs like WSI. Warehouse Management Systems and the ability to order and invoice through Electronic Data Interchange allow for seamless order entry, processing, picking, loading and distribution. The increased efficiency guaranteed by these technologies provides 3PLs’ customers with the assurance that their products are getting to market on time and in the correct quantities.

In the next year, WSI aims to add driverless lift trucks to its “fleet” of high-tech warehousing equipment to make our workforce more productive. Driverless automated lift trucks are more versatile than their Automated Guided Vehicle cousins, thanks to their manual and automatic operations options and obstruction-sensing capabilities.  Whereas AGVs operate on fixed routes, programmed with specific, repetitive tasks, ALTs routes can be modified by a material handler when necessary. On the road, driverless truck technologies are in beta testing at companies like Daimler, Google and Nissan. Within the decade, if tests go well, a human-driven semi-trailer truck feasibly could lead a daisy chain of driverless trucks across the country to deliver truckload and less-than-truckload shipments. Market research firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that by 2030, 40 percent of all vehicles in Europe will contain some sort of driverless technology. Similarly, ABI Research, the United Kingdom-based marketing firm, forecasts that by 2032, 50 percent of new vehicles shipping in North America will have automated driving capabilities.

For businesses seeking greater control of their supply chains, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service is another innovation in the logistics industry. Cloud-based logistics SaaS affords 3PLS, retailers, manufacturers and other supply chain-concerned companies full views of their business processes, from order entry to the customer’s door. SaaS packages like WSI company 360data’s offer complete visibility of a client’s warehouse, transportation, ordering and B2B processes.

As WSI celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016, we look to the future, assessing the scope of our business and how technology can help us further serve our customers. While 2016 may not see the manufacture of the flying DeLorean cars featured in Back to the Future, it will see drone delivery for small parts and 3D printing. These technologies, which primarily focus on high-volume, small-parcel delivery (a sector of the logistics industry in which WSI does not currently specialize), have the capability to change the logistics industry even more drastically in the coming years.

During this exciting time of increased data technology and devices, all of us at WSI will keep abreast of these technologies and remain flexible to our marketplace’s changing demands. Currently seeking high-tech warehousing? Visit our website for more information.

Rob Kriewaldt
Director of Client Solutions

WSI

920.831.3700

WSISales@wsinc.com

Twitter @WSI_Logistics