Insight by Zebra Technologies

As warehouse technologies change, trends for the future begin to emerge

This content is sponsored by Zebra Technologies.

As companies take on new technologies, trends are beginning to emerge. One of the biggest trends swaying companies is the elephant in the room: COVID-19.

“Labor availability is a concern, and actually has been for years, but it certainly has been exacerbated by the events of the last 18 months or so,” said Mark Wheeler, Director of Supply Chain Solutions at Zebra Technologies, during a discussion sponsored by Zebra Technologies. “What we’ve seen is a significant increase in the capabilities and the variety of physical automation solutions that also mesh with mobile technology. With the right use of technology, companies can decrease their dependence on direct labor for material handling material movement, thereby driving higher levels of productivity and accuracy, and even an increase in safety for workers. As an example, wearable solutions can keep workers safer by allowing them to focus on the task at hand and not worrying about interacting with technology. The interaction with technology actually becomes part of a natural flow of physical movement.”

Warehouse management is changing quickly as companies are now using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to better track inventory and gain instant insight into assets’ status and attributes.

RFID is allowing companies to track inventory and assets quickly and accurately within warehouses. In addition, RFID also gives suppliers information on asset’s physical attributes, such as the temperature of the item or its expiration date. This insight offers companies maximum visibility in real time of material at the inbound receiving deck, at the outbound dock door, at a choke point and through the entire facility.

Companies are feeling the pressure to increase productivity.

“In the consumer space, we’re seeing a rapid increase in the expectations around service that’s typically defined in terms of order turnaround time, accuracy and visibility to those orders as they’re in process,” Wheeler said. “We see a lot of companies redesigning their supply chains and re-optimizing their distribution networks around these new service expectations. As they go through this redesign,  they’re able to take advantage of a lot of the new technological innovations that we’re seeing hit this market, a market which has remained mostly unchanged for years. I think the market is really poised to change substantially in the coming years.”

Wheeler says he thinks supply chains will become more and more transparent. Businesses will be able to keep their systems much more in sync with the physical world.

There are also challenges too.

“Cybersecurity is critical,” Wheeler said. “It’s something that we put a lot of time into; we always have multiple levels that build on each other to create a fully secure operation. It starts with having up-to-date hardware and operating systems, and then continues with applications that build on that.”

The question for companies is how much they want to advance and how much those advancements can do for the business.

“That challenge is understanding where the value is for your particular operation, and what’s the appropriate level of technology to maximize that value for you,” Wheeler said. That’s one of the reasons we created a roadmap to help customers navigate the appropriate technology, from basic IT capabilities for a simple operation, to large and complex warehouse systems. As you grow, you need to advance your use and optimization of technology to run the most efficient business.”

Warehouse Maturity Model

Artificial intelligence can be applied to more and more processes. We'll be able to build on things like sensor capability and analytical data to have systems that continue to adapt to what's happening in the physical world. Utilizing new technologies in government warehouse operations will deliver greatly improved accuracies, productivity, and efficiencies. Government warehouse managers should consider implementing these powerful technologies today.

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Featured speakers

  • Mark Wheeler

    Director, Supply Chain Solutions, Zebra Technologies

  • Scott Maucione

    Defense Reporter, Federal News Network

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