A warehouse can consist of thousands of products on any given day. Keeping track of all these items entering and leaving the warehouse is one of the most challenging tasks. Effectively tracking the inventory is critical to optimizing the storage space, minimizing costs, and ensuring efficient operations in any warehouse.
While there are several tools available that can help supply chain businesses track their warehouse inventory and keep their operations efficient, the developments in the Internet of Things (IoT) space further enable these enterprises to leverage data and improve everyday warehouse operations. In this context, Analytics of Things or AoT is more precisely the term that is becoming more popular as more IoT devices get deployed in a warehouse setting.
Let’s find out what AoT is all about and how it paves the way for more efficient warehouses.
Analytics of Things (AoT) is a term used to describe the process of analyzing data generated by IoT devices to derive meaningful insights. AoT is an integral part of what makes IoT systems smart.
While the concepts of AoT are becoming popular in business management functions, it is also beneficial for warehouse operations. With AoT, inventory tracking becomes easy as data can be collected from different parts of the warehouse in real-time and analyzed to make informed decisions at the point of action.
Coupling AoT with autonomous robots can unlock new, practical, and pragmatic opportunities for warehouses to improve their everyday operations.
Robots operating autonomously in warehouses are rapidly becoming a common sight. Companies like Amazon have already proven the efficiency jump one can get by introducing autonomy in repetitive warehouse operations. These robots are meant to transport the inventory around the warehouse, taking care of the laborious work while enabling the human workforce to perform value-driven and creative tasks.
Some of the popular examples of robots employed in a warehouse setting include:
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): These robots are tasked with transporting goods within the warehouse. Their defining feature is that they are fully autonomous. As a result, they can navigate themselves and find workarounds if met with an obstacle. The onboard sensors scan their surroundings multiple times a second to create a virtual map for the robot. Proximity sensors, imaging sensors, and LiDAR are standard sensing components in AMRs.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Automated guided vehicles are robots that get the same functionality as AMRs when it comes to inventory management. However, they are not as smart enough to navigate the warehouse independently. Instead, they follow a predetermined path marked with magnetic cables or special tracks.
Aerial drones: Drones are also making their way to warehouse management. The prominent advantage of drones is that they don’t have to follow a specific path around the warehouse. Also, drones do not get in the way of other workers. When it comes to speed and the ability to scan vertical heights, their performance is unmatched by ground systems.
While the warehouse robots are programmed to operate autonomously and make intelligent decisions, most of them have limited functions and focus only on interacting with the physical world around them. IoT devices, on the contrary, take sensory inputs, perform computations, and make the data available to the users to help them make informed decisions.
By leveraging the data produced by these IoT devices through data analytics and feeding these digital insights back to the robots, it is possible to develop better intelligence and collaborative thinking capabilities in these autonomous robots. For instance, with real-time insights available, robots can decide the optimal travel path to pick or place the items. The robots can also be programmed to use the data available through analytics and autonomously detect and fix problems in the delivery systems, minimizing human interference in the supply chains.
Coupling AoT and robotics will provide supply chain teams access to a wealth of insights, enabling them to optimize the performance of the robots and rapidly respond to technical issues and operational breakdowns through predictive maintenance capability. In addition, since the data is readily available, supply chain leaders can quickly evaluate whether they are achieving the desired ROI from their investments in robotics technology.
Robots have undoubtedly helped supply chain businesses to improve their warehouse operations. However, to get the highest value from their robotics investment, it is critical to optimize these systems. Integrating IoT devices with the robots and analyzing the data generated through these digital devices will be the key enablers, helping supply chains become highly efficient and truly autonomous.