Manual investment. When a company’s priority is in following

Manual labor
pervades almost every aspect of logistics, be that in the operations of
picking, shipping, packing, or storing – a human worker is irreplaceable aspect
of handling businesses. Even in warehouses today, somebody must drive the forklift
trucks, pick the items packed for shipping, and organize loading. And someone
must drive the van, truck, or road train to move shipments from one delivery
point to the next. However, there has always been a necessity to facilitate
human labor wherever possible. That is how certain innovations and developments
came into existence (Rob O’Byrne, 2017).

“Lights-Out” warehouses

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One of the
oldest, yet continuously developing innovations are coming from the prospect of
reducing repetitive work for human workers by either partly-, or
fully-automating the processes with the help of robots. Such processes often
include checking stock levels, receiving or preparing shipments, putting goods
away, etc. By relying on robots to execute that kind of activities, the
companies benefit in several areas.

According
to Rob O’Byrne (2017), in the “no people” scenario, there is no need for
maintaining a certain temperature level suitable for human workers. Instead,
the functioning of robots may take place in such conditions as hot and cold
temperature extremes, unless the goods stored require otherwise (Van der Vorst,
2005). Another aspect, such as condensation, related to temperature differences
may be avoided in a warehouse operated by robots by simply keeping the
doors/windows of the warehouse shut, as there are no human operators that would
need to take breaks and leave the building between shifts. No breaks, no
errors, and a non-stop work operations – all that are the benefits of “turning
your warehouse’ lights off” (Logistics Bureau, 2017).

Unluckily,
not all issues can be solved by these innovations. One of the pitfalls for
fully-automated warehouse may lay in a wish for fast return on investment. When
a company’s priority is in following cost reduction strategies, an idea for
transforming warehouse activities with high investment costs related to it
might not be perceived as a right approach (Logistics Bureau, 2017).

Driverless trucks

Although it
is not necessarily an innovation in the sector of warehousing, but usage of
driverless trucks may have a direct effect on the planning of locations for
distribution centers, shaping the supply chain network design accordingly to
the average daily distances that the trucks are able to travel (Logistics Bureau,
2017). As Rob O’Byrne states in his article:

“If the average daily distance increases to say
1,000 miles, thanks to driverless trucks, distribution centres may become
simultaneously fewer and larger, as well as being situated in completely
different locations” (Logistics Bureau, 2017).

It is also
believed that fulfillment processes and ordering patterns have a great chance
to get impacted thanks to a lower number of driverless trucks needed to achieve
better delivery speed (Robotics Business Review, 2014). Unlike human driver, a
driverless truck is more likely to stick to the optimal speed level, determined
by regulations, which is resulting in a lower fuel consumption and subsequently
less environmental impact occurring.

Just like
in the scenario of “lights-out” warehouses, the innovation of using a
driverless truck is rather costly for a transport company to implement. Not
only that but there are also other risks involved, such as compliance with laws
and regulations in different countries regarding presence of driverless trucks
on the roads. All that is resulting ina quite complex situation where
technology is once again perceived as an opponent to human labor, while instead
should be viewed as a cooperation tool for ensuring safer and more reliable
performance (Logistics Bureau, 2017).

3D printing

3D printing
is a technology that enables on demand production of certain types’ goods
locally (Garmulewicz, 2016). In other words, all you need to produce a specific
product is to have an established network link, or a phone line, via which the
designer of a product will be able to transfer printing concept and instructions
to the location where products are going to be printed. This enables to skip
transportation of finished products and provides an option for a warehouse to
reduce space needed for keeping a stock of finished goods by allowing them to
store only the raw materials needed for the production. Opportunities for using
a certain type as of raw materials for 3D printing are still growing. According
to Rob O’Byrne (2017), materials that are used already by companies include
plastic, ceramic, metal, and other kinds, such as chocolate, etc.

The process
of 3D printing is controlled and operated by CAD – computer-aided design
(TechTarget, 2017). That means a printer is simply following instructions for
its operation, and there will be no need for additional setup time for the
machine to be adjusted to in case if changes in the design are being
customized. This way, the warehouse operated by 3D printing is sure to have no
problems with excessive safety stock of produced goods, allowing the bullwhip
effect disappear from the operations.

However, a
certain downside of introducing 3D printing technology into warehouse
activities may have its place in current employees’ perspective. Not every
warehouse worker, truck driver, or a forklift operator is going to be open for
such a change and be willing to re-qualify for a new position of becoming an
end-product designer, or an engineer in 3D printing (Purch, 2013).

Drones + RFID

The
Flaunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is
trying to combine unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) with RFID to automate their
processes of inventory control (Murray, 2015). Advantages of RFID, to name a
few, are greater visibility of inventory, transparency, and easier inventory
control operations (TransRussia, 2017). By binding the RFID reader to an
unmanned aerial vehicle (drone), inventory can be cataloged with much greater
speed. Space on the ground can also be saved, because RFID technology together
with the maneuverability of an unmanned aerial vehicle ensures the stock keeping
at the point of “right up to the roof” (Kevin Gue, 2014).

Another
company, named “DroneScan”, conducted several trials and is confident in their
solution to be of a great advantage for businesses (ITE Group, 2016). Their
drones weight only 800g (DroneScan, 2017). Attaching RFID scanner to it, the
drone was tested and showed the results already in two days. Compared to a team
of warehouse operators, fully equipped with handled scanners and driving the
forklifts, it took them to count the same amount of stock only in three days
(DroneScan, 2017). However, using drones inside a warehouse is foreseen to
require high skills of navigating it safely before the technology could be
widely integrated (ITE Group, 2016).

“On-Demand” warehousing

Giving
companies the opportunity to be more adaptive in their warehouse storage is the
main purpose of “On Demand” warehousing initiative (SupplyChain247, 2016).
Storing seasonal stocks separately from the main warehouses is providing such
advantages as saving space and handling the returned goods faster and more
efficient (ITE Group, 2016).

FLEXE
is the company that provides this kind of a new system and calls itself the
“marketplace for warehouse space”. Registering on their website allows its users
to see the available space in the warehouses from companies that post it online
(ITE Group, 2016). All operators are free to advertise storage space that they
have available for potential customers, providing quick and easy supply for the
rising demand. Despite its only current presence in North America, FLEXE is
believed to be able to easily change how the logistics sector offers adaptive
storage options on the market of the future (ITE Group, 2016).