the word "solutions' is in gold on a black background

Mobility Solutions in Warehouse Management

Reading time: 6 mins

Meet the Experts

Key Takeaways

⇨ Warehouse operations have always been intricate enough to manage seamlessly and efficiently but COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the challenges.

⇨ The pandemic has created many “new normal” paradigms and to address these, warehousing executives will need to create scalable systems to accommodate not only unanticipated demand but associated evolutions in the wake of COVID.

⇨ Leveraging mobility solutions in warehousing can help address these challenges.

Warehouse Mobility in The Post-Covid World

Warehouse operations have always been intricate enough to manage seamlessly and efficiently, but the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the challenges. The pandemic has created many “new normal” paradigms. To address these, warehousing executives must create scalable systems to accommodate unanticipated demand and associated evolutions in the wake of COVID. For example, they will have to strategize about implementing variable order-picking techniques using a combination of material handling technology and software solutions, allowing them to readily accommodate peaks (and valleys) in order demand because of the evolution of customer demand and an exponential increase in e-commerce volume during the pandemic. This is where leveraging mobility solutions in warehousing can help.

The good news is that advances in computing and technology, specifically on edge, allow organizations to leverage smart devices and mobile solutions tactically to address these drivers. Miniaturization, increased performance & energy efficiency, and lower production costs of smart devices have contributed to adopting smart mobile devices on warehouse floors. Smart sensor computing capabilities have improved significantly, allowing data processing and analysis at or near the source (“edge computing”) and minimizing the quantity of data transferred between the device and the platform. Large, complicated data sets are becoming easier to handle and store thanks to systems like Hadoop. AI and ML algorithms are being developed and tested continuously, increasing our ability to forecast and prescribe actions accurately. All these aspects create a ripe ground for the proliferation of mobility solutions.

 How COVID Has Impacted Warehousing

To understand how mobility solutions and platforms can transform warehouse operations, let us first try to understand the impact of the pandemic on warehouse operations across industries. Below are some key impact areas:

Rapid fluctuations in consumer behavior

We have experienced the impact of the pandemic on customer behavior firsthand. Panic buying and hoarding of critical food items and suppliers resulted in unexpected demand, putting a lot of strain on manufacturers and suppliers and creating a massive bullwhip across supply chains. During the pandemic, modern consumers have moved their shopping habits from offline to online to avoid the risk of community transmission and because of lockdown requirements and other government mandates. This has resulted in an explosion in e-commerce volume and makes operations complicated for omnichannel warehouses and traditional warehouses that were not designed to fulfill eCommerce volume.

Because many warehouses previously only handled items by the pallet, adopting the processes and technology to support pick and pack operations for D2C e-commerce order fulfillment has been a considerable change and extra cost. Workers at warehouses have had to be retrained to pick individual goods, typically much smaller in scale.

Shortage of skill sets and a demand for increased productivity

Labor shortages affecting the bottom lines of companies heavily invested in warehouse automation, like FedEx and Amazon, have been in the news recently. Increased productivity, which can be achieved through clever automation investments, can help to ease shortages of skilled workers. Intelligent devices and mobility solutions will play a critical role here. On the one hand, they can help maintain the distancing requirements through intelligent wearables. In contrast, they can help increase worker productivity by addressing the reduced number of workers, both because of worker shortages and pandemic guidelines. A subsequent section of this article defines ways in which these devices can increase productivity.

Just In Time (JIT) Changing to Just In Case (JIC)

Most firms used just-in-time manufacturing practices to cut inventory costs before the epidemic. Warehouses could also make better use of their space because of this approach, providing more predictability. Due to the need to preserve social distance after adopting COVID-19, numerous manufacturers were obliged to reduce employment or even discontinue operations. Of course, it all started with inbound shipments from China getting disrupted. With JIT, the inventory levels that warehouses carried were “just right”, calculated based on factors like demand pattern, inbound lead time etc. All these factors went wild during the pandemic. As a result, inventory shortages developed. Over time, the balance between safety stock and just-in-time inventory will inevitably shift.

How Mobility Solutions in Warehouse Management Can Help Address These New Paradigms

As discussed above, the implications of post-pandemic trends are many. But the good news is that technology if leveraged strategically, can help address these. The most critical impact is seen in warehouse productivity. Increased productivity, which can be obtained through clever automation investments, can help alleviate shortages of skilled workers.

While this was just an example, the applications of mobility solutions and smart devices within the four walls of a warehouse are many. Vehicles in an IoT-enabled warehouse might be upgraded to collect products automatically. People, vehicles, and products may all be tracked using strategically placed sensors or smart tags in the warehouse, which can then be transmitted to warehouse management and their web systems. Staff who use smartphones or tablets can guarantee that boxes and pallets are loaded into a truck in the proper order for transportation.

Warehouse managers can also employ mobile devices to re-engineer outmoded processes. For example, a mobile device can automate guided put-away of inbound items and inventory consolidation, eliminating the processes and time needed to complete these tasks separately. The Internet of Things (IoT) increases the value of a warehouse management system (WMS) by filling it with critical data from digital sensors, devices, and IoT-enabled machinery. In addition to productivity benefits, intelligent mobility solutions can help generate the following benefits in your warehouse operations:

Process optimization: Wearable technology, particularly technology that allows for hands-free labor, minimizes the number of steps needed to execute operations like picking, sorting, and staging. Warehouse managers can get real-time data from IoT devices, which helps them better manage their products, control employee operations, and interact with other parts of the supply chain, like shipping and transportation.

Reduced costs: As the efficiency of IoT devices improves, employees’ time is better spent, and the time saved can be redeployed to higher-value jobs. Mobile devices can help lessen the costly risk of breaking in difficult industrial conditions like the warehouse.

Reduced errors: In a well-equipped smart warehouse, mobile devices can completely replace paper-based procedures, reducing the risk of human error associated with manual data entry. Eliminating these errors improves warehouse productivity and allows for capacity expansion without needing physical expansion.

What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?

There is no doubt that technology in smart devices and mobility solutions if leveraged strategically, can help address the new paradigms of warehouse operations in the post-covid world. However, there are specific strategic points that SAPinsiders will find helpful in their journey towards leveraging these technologies in their warehouse operations.

  • Understand your unique nuances. Several firm characteristics—strategy, business model, and finances—all play a part in the intelligent mobility devices deployment decisions that must be made. The following are essential factors: How might intelligent sensor integration help you achieve your supply chain goals? What data gathering and aggregation issues do you currently face? How might edge computing and automated data generation help with improvements? Have the supply chain’s financial and operational objectives been adequately defined?
  • Develop in-house expertise. To achieve interoperability, smart sensor integration necessitates a high level of knowledge. Furthermore, getting the most out of intelligent sensor data necessitates a functional preparedness to absorb the data and put the insights to use. Here are a few aspects to ponder: Can your present IT and data management resources properly integrate and manage an intelligent sensor ecosystem? What analytical capabilities are available to generate data insights? How is technology currently being used today to make data-driven decisions?
  • Security is paramount. Adding sensors and intelligent mobility solutions to the supply chain might result in hundreds, if not thousands, of additional cyberattack surfaces. Sensor deployment across the supply chain necessitates heightened risk awareness and a laser-like emphasis on system security. Are you prepared to guard against the cyberattack vulnerabilities that smart sensors introduce? Do you have a good understanding of your present data? What changes will you need to make to your data governance to accommodate smart sensor data?
  • Evaluate investment requirements. Though technological advancements are lowering the cost of smart sensors, putting together the technology stack to support an intelligent sensor ecosystem necessitates significant investment in product software and hardware, security tools, networking, storage, and systems integration. What changes to your existing IT infrastructure will be required to enable an intelligent sensor ecosystem? Should these expansions be built in-house or outsourced? How should you build your organization to promote long-term development and adaptability in the face of rapid technological advancements? Are there any sensors or connected devices in use right now? If that’s the case, how are they being incorporated?

More Resources

See All Related Content