The Internet of Things (IoT), which allows connecting a wide range of devices into a single system, has become one of the most promising technologies for many industries. The reasons for this interest in these technologies from the business side are quite easy to explain. IoT helps facilitate, streamline and automate numerous processes and, even more important, to increase their efficiency. In this article, we’d like to focus on the new opportunities IoT provides to warehousing and explain the benefits of solutions powered by IoT in warehouse management.
Role of IoT in warehouse management
It’s interesting to observe how the warehouse automation market is expanding with time. In 2012, the volume of this market was at the level of $7.9 billion; by 2021, this figure had increased to $18.9 billion. Experts predict that by 2030, the market volume will hit $64 billion. This means that within the period from 2022 to 2030 the market will grow with a CAGR of 14.8%.
Errors in inventory management can lead to serious financial losses within the entire supply chain. Businesses that understand this are ready to invest serious money into smart warehouse solutions that will help them avoid unpredictable expenses in the future. Thanks to IoT, warehouse managers can get access to accurate real-time data and make better-grounded decisions.
What’s more, with a modern warehouse management system that unites numerous smart devices powered by sensors, it is possible to organize and track many processes remotely without the necessity to regularly attend warehouse facilities and perform various tasks manually. As a result, it’s possible to reduce labor costs.
Another important aspect any warehouse operator has to think about is security. Break-ins and theft remain serious threats, and all the more so when criminals know the facilities are not enriched with a modern warehouse management system. IoT devices make it possible to reliably protect stocks, warehouse equipment, and other property.
Smart devices can also track and control factors such as temperature, humidity, and air quality that can be of great importance for storing particular products. For example, if the temperature reaches unfavorable levels and it can’t be adjusted automatically, warehouse managers will receive a notification and will be able to react in time. Thanks to the functionality provided by IoT in warehouse management, it is possible to avoid losses caused by spoilage, quality deterioration, or other damage.
IoT devices for warehouse management
Let’s have a look at the most popular smart warehouse solutions in use today.
RFID technology makes the process of tracking physical inventory rather simple and fast. Using RFID tags, warehouse operators don’t need to spend time trying to locate different types of products within the facilities. These IoT devices not only help save employee time but also minimize losses that can result from product wastage or spoilage. Warehouse managers can more easily monitor expiration times and organize supply chain processes based on that knowledge. Moreover, thanks to such smart tags, it is very convenient to track and predict inventory levels and order additional deliveries before products are out of stock.
These are small Bluetooth-powered IoT devices intended for facilitating inventory management tasks. To send data, beacons should be connected to other devices via Bluetooth. They help to precisely identify the location of an item or warehouse vehicle and may also be used to track different properties of stocks. Some beacon models can be also enriched with special sensors for monitoring humidity and temperature at warehouses.
Smart sensors as a part of IoT in warehouse management help to gather and analyze data in real-time with a view to automating many processes and enhancing security at warehouses. The most popular sensors in smart warehouse systems are those that measure humidity and temperature, which are utilized to maintain the necessary conditions for storing various items. But also there are smart sensors that can detect unauthorized physical contacts with assets, motion, audio vibrations, and content of hazardous substances in the air.
GPS technology is widely applied for tracking vehicles, tools, equipment, and assets. And companies that rely on IoT in warehouse management can greatly benefit from it. Such devices can be mounted on storage racks, palettes, forklifts, and other devices that should be precisely positioned. Nevertheless, there is one very serious limitation in using GPS trackers indoors, as the signal can be rather low. However, such trackers can be a perfect solution for use in large outdoor sites. Today, GPS is useful not only for location tracking but also for geofencing. When an item leaves an indicated permitted zone, managers will be notified.
Your first thought may be that cameras are used only for security, but there’s more to it. AI-powered cameras can be used for monitoring many processes and can occupy an important position in IoT warehouse management. Such devices can identify actions that do not correspond with the set patterns and notify managers when any accidents occur. In IoT warehouse solutions, cameras can also identify and count objects, which allows operators to control their quantity without serious effort.
Smart HVAC Systems
HVAC is an abbreviation for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. And as we can see from this name, such systems are intended for maintaining the necessary environment at warehouse facilities. Usually, such systems include different types of accelerators and detectors that are connected together to help maintain the required conditions automatically. Using such solutions powered by IoT in warehouse management helps to optimize utility costs and energy system load. Other benefits of these smart systems include accurate analytics, real-time notifications, and predictive maintenance.
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Top 5 IoT applications in warehouse management
As you can see, today a great number of IoT devices are being implemented in different combinations for creating unique smart warehouse management systems fully tailored to the needs of each company. If you decide to develop such a system for your warehouses, the team you work with will need to deeply analyze the specifics of your business and the type of items stored at your facilities.
Though your business may have a range of peculiarities requiring a fully individual approach to inventory management, we suggest you consider the most popular IoT use cases in this sphere.
- Automated items tracking. IoT warehouse solutions can be of great help for tracking all items coming to a facility or leaving it. This involves using automated detecting and scanning codes as well as sending this info to warehouse servers.
- Asset management. With smart sensors placed on shelves and assets, managers can better track and locate items. If some items are out of stock or close to reaching this status, managers will be notified so they can take the required actions.
- Inventory optimization. As IoT warehouse systems are able to track absolutely all processes and actions, all data can be carefully gathered and analyzed. This allows managers to make well-informed decisions about everything related to stock and to wisely plan inventory and all tasks related to stages of the supply chain.
- Storage racks moved by robots. As we’ve already mentioned above, automated guided vehicles can be used for moving items; at the same time, special robots can be tasked to take items from the shelves and bring them to other zones for packing or pick-up. Robots can be also set up to identify empty shelves and take them from the storage zone or to fulfill other tasks to facilitate and speed up numerous processes.
- Smart warehouse maintenance. To fully enjoy this functionality of IoT, warehouse operators need to buy and install a variety of sensors and detectors to monitor factors such as humidity, temperature, and lighting. Once these sensors are united into a single system, they can control and maintain the defined conditions automatically or notify managers of such a necessity.
IoT warehouse tech trends
Smart warehouse management systems are continuously changing, being powered by new technologies and devices. Look at the most promising tech solutions that can greatly change your approach to managing facilities and organizing warehouse operations.
Smart glasses can also be part of an IoT warehouse solution. They allow employees to easily and quickly pick items for moving or transporting to other warehouse zones. If staff previously had to spend a lot of time trying to find the necessary item, with smart glasses, this task can be made practically effortless. Such devices can also help in tracking products by scanning their tags.
Glasses that have AR features can provide an even wider range of new possibilities. AR glasses can offer access to information on various items. A person wearing such glasses can look at a particular product and immediately view all the important details (such as expiry date, date of delivery, weight, etc.).
Automated Guided Vehicles
These devices are used for tasks that can be fulfilled without humans. Self-guided vehicles are load carriers that travel throughout warehouses without an operator. They can transport various items while being operated remotely. Such vehicles make it possible to cut warehouse staff and labor costs, while reducing the risk of injury.
It’s too early to talk about full-scale adoption of drones for inventory management. However, drones show definite promise for use in smart warehouse facilities. They can be used to track stocks in real time. They can be enriched with special modules for scanning items without any human involvement, which helps reduce physical effort on the employee side. Drones can also move items and locate them across the floor. And though they can’t fully replace people, they can greatly facilitate many tasks.
IoT warehouse systems aren’t the only possible use case for drones, of course. You can read more about applications for drones in different industries in one of our previously published blog posts.
Benefits of IoT for warehouse managers
After discussing the applications of IoT in warehouse management, let’s highlight the major advantages that warehouse operators and other participants in the supply chain can enjoy thanks to these technologies.
- Decreased operating costs
- Advanced inventory management
- Possibility of real-time monitoring
- Higher efficiency in all operations
- Automated facility maintenance
- More informed decisions on supply chain processes
- More accurate analysis and forecasts
- Reduced risks and increased safety for workers
Challenges in implementing IoT in warehouse management
Implementing any tech innovations is often associated with a row of challenges for developers and businesses and introducing solutions for IoT warehouse management is not an exception.
Despite the fact that systems for inventory tracking and automating warehouse operations are already being used by numerous companies, there are still few security standards that are approved and agreed. Such IoT solutions are delivered by different vendors that rely on their own tech platforms. And quite often their platforms are not suitable for addressing modern cyber risks.
Another important pitfall that companies should be aware of is that any prolonged system outage or power failure can result in serious issues when they greatly rely on robots, automated vehicle pathways, and other equipment and devices powered by IoT technology in their operations.
Modern technologies are changing everything. Decades ago, warehouse management processes included a huge number of time-consuming tasks that had to be fulfilled manually, but today the majority of these processes can be automated. IoT warehouse systems have become an integral part of modern business models. If you are interested in boosting your business growth and optimizing operating costs via warehouse management automation, we know how to help you.
Our team has rich expertise in developing and implementing IoT software solutions for enterprises that work in various industries. We understand all the market trends and have a perfect understanding of how businesses can benefit from innovative technologies.
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Why is IoT important for warehouse management?
IoT solutions help companies optimize their processes, automate and streamline a lot of tasks, reduce operational costs, and ensure higher accuracy and quality of inventory tracking. Also, thanks to real-time data gathered by IoT sensors, operators can make more informed decisions.
How could warehouses be automated with IoT?
Various IoT devices like robot units can be used not only for assembling orders or moving pallets and boxes. They can also gather a lot of important data such as info on inventory, stocks, and deliveries, and send it to a common server where it will be processed and analyzed. As a result, thanks to IoT solutions employees can focus more on creative, customer-facing tasks instead of routing processes.