Good warehouse management relies heavily on visibility and coordination as well as strategic planning. To make this happen, businesses need to take advantage of technology solutions that allow them to seamlessly share data, communicate, and execute different warehousing tasks. Fortunately, the latest advancements in warehouse technology have made the job easier for ecommerce businesses.
From platforms that simplify data exchange to tools that support storage and retrieval, these latest warehouse technologies allow for better automation and efficiency. In this post, we take a closer look at the various warehouse technologies available to ecommerce businesses today. We also give you a glimpse of what to expect in the future based on the current technology landscape. Let’s get started.
What is warehouse technology?
Warehouse technology refers to the technology used in warehousing facilities to maximise efficiency and productivity. These technology solutions assist businesses in carrying out various warehousing functions, which may include order processing, inventory management, packing and fulfilment, internal movement of goods, receiving and storage, and many more. Some tools even allow you to fully automate certain functions, while others enable you to speed up your processes and improve accuracy.
For example, a warehouse control system is a warehouse technology solution that lets you direct and control the physical movement of goods within your warehouse. Meanwhile, you can also find technology that assists you with warehouse picking by letting you plan your picking operations, generate picking lists, and assign warehouse staff to execute picking orders.
Some of the key warehouse technology that’s available in the market currently include:
- Packing technology
- Storage and retrieval technology
- Data exchange technology
- Inventory scanning technology
- Recording technology
There are several technology solutions that can assist with warehouse packing and automate a majority of the functions. From the actual packing process to the documentation process, you can find plenty of options to help you automate your packing tasks.
With the help of robotic packing systems, businesses can automate the process of opening, filling, transporting, and palletizing product packaging. Additionally, these systems can also help with sealing, coding, and labelling the packages to get them ready for shipping.
Facilities can leverage technology such as custom End of Arm tools to pick items off warehouse racks and then place them inside appropriate cases. These tools are capable of picking a wide variety of items in varying shapes and sizes.
These robotic packing systems are much more reliable than mechanical case packers and more efficient than their human counterparts. As such, they can help to minimise labour costs while boosting packing efficiency and speeding up the fulfilment process.
Automated document insertion
One of the most time-consuming aspects of fulfilment is the process of ensuring that every package goes out with proper documentation so there are no shipping delays or misshipments. Fortunately for businesses, document insertion systems can help to automate and streamline the process for greater efficiency and accuracy.
These systems will scan each item that goes on the belt and instantly generates the necessary paperwork based on the relevant information. They will create labels that contain appropriate information about the product such as the dimensions, weight, and handling procedures. These systems will also include all the necessary documents such as manuals and warranty certificates in the package before it’s sealed and packed for shipping.
3D bin packing
Businesses can optimise their packing process with the help of 3D bin packing technology. This can help you to automate the entire process of measuring and weighing items and finding the right box size to maximise your packaging usage. In other words, you can even create custom box sizes depending on your needs so you can cut down on packaging materials.
It then takes care of labelling and taping the package so that the entire packing process can be carried out without human intervention. By automating the entire process, 3D bin packing systems allow you to complete your packing tasks much faster so as to streamline fulfilment.
Storage and retrieval technology
Storage and retrieval technology isn’t something new in the logistics industry. However, the older, clunkier systems have since been replaced with more modern, sleeker versions that still deliver the benefits of reduced labour costs and increased accuracy. They help to automate and streamline the storage and retrieval aspects of warehousing processes.
Inventory management software
Today’s inventory management software provides businesses with full visibility into their inventory levels and movement in real-time. They can keep track of details such as how much inventory you have in stock, where each item is located, how your inventory is distributed across different facilities, and how inventory is sold across various sales channels.
Additionally, they come with powerful analytics and forecasting abilities. This allows them to make predictions about when you’ll run out of stock and how much inventory you’ll need to reorder. This allows for optimised warehouse inventory management, which can ensure that you always maintain healthy inventory levels and replenish your stock on time.
Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS)
As the name suggests, automated storage and retrieval systems or ASRS can help to place items in the assigned storage locations within a warehouse and retrieve them as required. These systems are capable of carrying out storage and retrieval tasks with a high level of precision and speed, enabling you to automate several aspects of your warehousing operations.
You can use an ASRS to assist with processes such as storage and kitting as well as order picking and consolidation. With the level of precision and accuracy they can deliver, these systems allow you to make the most of your storage space and save floor space. Moreover, they can also minimise the risk of damage during the picking and retrieval processes while helping you increase throughput capabilities.
Horizontal and vertical carousel modules
There are two main types of automated storage and retrieval systems – horizontal carousel modules and vertical carousel modules. Horizontal carousel modules feature a series of bins that rotate in a horizontal direction around a rack and are ideal for storing small parts and pieces. They can significantly speed up your picking operations, allowing you to complete hundreds of lines per hour.
Vertical carousel modules offer high-density storage for SKUs with slow to medium velocity and allow for high-throughput picking. For instance, you can easily get 5,000-7,000 locations in a 20-foot-tall vertical carousel machine, which enables you to make the most of the overhead space in your warehouse. These modules are capable of automatically delivering the required items through a window at the waist level, which translates to better ergonomics for picking as well as high throughput.
Both vertical and horizontal carousel modules allow for quick and reliable storage and retrieval and offer high levels of picking accuracy. As such, they can help to improve the efficiency of your picking operations, which further contributes to an optimised fulfilment process.
Data exchange technology
Modern warehouse technology features sophisticated systems to allow for efficient and accurate data exchange. Electronic data interchange (EDI) technology now enables business partners to quickly transfer data and automate some of the data exchange processes. The transactions are automated based on a set of rules or patterns, allowing for the easy exchange of documents such as invoices, transaction bills, purchase orders, advanced shipping notices, and shipping requests.
Since the data transfer happens automatically and takes place electronically, it minimises the risk of errors that can occur with manual data entry. It also eliminates the need for data validation, thus further speeding up the process.
Inventory scanning technology
Warehouses need to keep a close eye on inventory and know where every item is so they can easily be tracked down and retrieved. Moreover, they also need to keep track of how many units are in stock so they can maintain healthy inventory levels and make timely replenishments. The use of inventory scanning technology has made this simpler, more feasible, and more accurate for businesses.
Product barcodes contain useful information about a product that can help warehouses to identify what the item is, how much it costs, and where it’s stored in the warehouses. They can also use barcodes to calculate how many units are in stock, which can simplify inventory tracking.
Moreover, you can also use shipping barcodes to keep track of packages as they pass through different phases in the shipping and fulfilment process. That way, you get better visibility into your orders as they get shipped out from your warehouses and get dropped off at different touchpoints until they reach their final destination.
RFID or radio-frequency identification technology enables warehouses to keep track of inventory in real time with the use of electromagnetic waves. Warehouses can attach RFID tags to their products or packages and monitor the physical movement of inventory across different stages of their warehousing operation. Unlike barcodes, RFIDs don’t require the use of scanners to keep track of inventory movement, which allows for better automation.
Warehouse management systems allow facilities to keep accurate records of their inventory. This type of technology ensures that warehouses maintain records about the inventory they purchased and the inventory they received as well as the products sold, so they can always get an accurate idea of their inventory turnover and demand. As such, they can better make predictions about how much inventory they’ll need to reorder and when they need to reorder.
Similarly, these inventory records allow them to make adjustments in their procurement planning. They can make informed decisions about which SKUs to discontinue and which ones are expected to see high demand.
Choosing the right tech for your warehouse is tricky
With so many new warehouse technology solutions available today, the market is flooded with options for ecommerce businesses. This can make it extremely tricky to narrow down the right solutions that can make a positive difference in your warehousing operations.
While you may feel inclined to automatically invest in a number of different technology solutions for various warehousing functions, this isn’t entirely feasible – both budget-wise and management-wise. Warehouse technology solutions tend to cost a small fortune and can be very expensive to implement. Moreover, you have to consider the software’s ability to integrate with the rest of your systems–both existing and new.
As such, companies could risk creating more problems than they originally set out to solve since these new warehouse technology solutions can be expensive and complicated to implement. Fortunately, outsourcing the entire warehouse management process can address most of these problems as long as you’re working with a 3PL that utilises the latest in warehousing technology. Alternatively, SaaS warehouse management solutions can also offer a simpler, more cost-effective solution than implementing multiple new techs all at once.
What will the next-gen of warehouse technology look like?
Considering the fast advancement of warehouse technology, we can expect to see an almost complete transformation to warehouse digitalization in the near future. The next generation of warehouse technology will pave the way for even greater efficiency and visibility while enabling companies to maximise their warehouse capacity.
For starters, we’re already seeing significant advancements in mobile and wearable technology, which allows for greater flexibility in sending and receiving information across the warehouse. Users can easily send and receive information about tasks and inventory from anywhere in the warehouse using these tech solutions.
Soon, we can expect to see the Internet of Things (IoT) transforming warehousing operations. These will help to develop an ecosystem of smart items that will seamlessly capture and transfer data in real-time. As such, this will provide warehouses with a greater level of visibility into every aspect of their warehousing operations. Moreover, they can keep better track of different warehouse KPIs and monitor things like machinery health.
How ShipBob leverages next-gen technology in our warehouses
ShipBob leverages some of the latest innovations in warehouse automation systems, allowing for greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency. So when you outsource to ShipBob, you no longer have to worry about the cost and time needed to implement new technology.
At our warehouses, goods-to-person solutions and pick-to-light systems help to streamline and speed up the fulfilment process while ensuring better picking accuracy. We even leverage a box selection algorithm using Cubiscan to determine the ideal packaging size and reduce dimensional weight.
ShipBob makes multi-warehouse management easier with best-in-class warehouse management systems that seamlessly integrate with your existing technology. These solutions let you keep track of your inventory in real time so you can always stay updated on stock levels and product movement. This allows for better inventory visibility while giving you better control over your warehouse inventory management.
For businesses that want to stick to in-house fulfilment, ShipBob’s Merchant Plus solution gives you access to some of the most sophisticated tools for managing your warehouse. This solution supports omnichannel connectivity, so you can easily keep track of and fulfil orders across all your sales channels.
Get started with ShipBob
Ready to use ShipBob’s fulfilment services or take advantage of ShipBob’s advanced WMS? Request a quote to connect with our team.
Warehouse technologies FAQs
Below are answers to some of the most common questions about warehouse technologies.
What is a smart warehouse system?
A smart warehouse system or smart warehousing leverages powerful supply chain technology and automation tools to streamline and optimise logistics operations. It involves the use of smart warehousing solutions such as automated order processing, automated sorting, and Cubiscan-based box selection.
Which warehouse technologies should we use?
The warehouse technologies you should use greatly depends on the unique needs and challenges of your facility. Most warehouses leverage technology to help with picking, packing, storage, retrieval, inventory tracking and management, data exchange, and recording.
What are some new warehouse technology trends to be aware of?
IoT solutions, drones, and wearable tech are just some of the latest warehouse technology trends that you should pay attention to.
What technologies does ShipBob use?
ShipBob leverages powerful proprietary software to assist with warehouse and inventory management. These technology solutions provide greater inventory visibility and control while helping with order fulfilment and procurement planning.