What will warehouse technology of the future look like? Will it be all virtual reality and robots or perhaps something a little more pragmatic? You might have seen the speculative and imaginary video of pickers with augmented reality glasses viewing all kinds of images superimposed over the actual warehouse. Or even the video of a warehouse with the lights out and not a person to be seen, but continuing to operate by robots.
While these visions of the future entertain and intrigue us, they rarely are the best solution to today’s warehouse technology problems. I contend that while we are in a period of technological change in the warehouse, the transformation we will soon see will work within the existing processes rather than replace them. Let me explain.
What’s Next for Warehouse Technology
I believe that our next major advancement will be a multi-modal order picking solution that combines existing warehouse technologies such as voice, visual cues and video in ways that are innovative and remove key steps in the current order picking flow the warehouse worker follows. In essence, streamlining the process to make it faster, more adaptable and more accurate.
Imagine a warehouse picker with a wrist-mounted Android device, a body cam and a headset — all technology solutions that are available for off-the-shelf prices and easy to implement. Now connect them together into a seamless and integrated solution and the order picking flow could be something like this:
- The picker hears a voice prompt to “go to location X1.”
- The picker walks to location X1, stands in front of it and the bodycam reads the shelf barcode (without the picker having to do anything additional).
- The system recognizes that the picker is in the correct location and a voice prompts the picker to “pick 2 of item A.” At the same time the Android device on the picker’s wrist displays a picture of what should be picked, the unit of measure and a big number 2 in order to reinforce the message from the voice prompt.
- The picker grabs two of “item A,” looks at the barcode and the bodycam again reads the barcode to identify the picker selected the right item. Naturally, if any of these barcodes are wrong the voice and wrist device can alert the picker of the error.
- The picker confirms that two “item As” were picked with a simple tap on the wrist device and the picker is on to the next request.
While this order picking process may sound complex, it actually removes several steps for the picker, such as no scanning or looking at the terminal. It is not only an incredibly fluid and smooth process that only requires the picker to stop if there is an error or something needs to checked, but it’s hyper efficient while retaining all the controls needed to be 100% accurate.
Tomorrow Is Here
Unlike virtual reality, robots and other aspirational visions you hear about, this multimodal order picking solution is not imaginary. Distributors need pragmatic solutions to condense the number of steps it takes to execute a process in order prevent errors, wasted time and resources. Tecsys offers this commercial grade system today — and at a fraction of the price of specialized voice or video-based picking systems. We designed our warehouse management software so it is scalable and adaptable to help you adjust your operations as your needs change. To me, this simple and highly flexible approach to order picking is the real future of modern warehouse technology.