The Warehouse Technology Revolution

In August I wrote about some of the gadgets and apps construction firms are using to gather data and cut project costs. But construction isn’t the only industry undergoing a technological revolution. Warehouse firms are also getting in on the action.

Warehouse Farming

Indoor farms are revolutionizing warehouse technologyBy 2050, the United Nations predicts that the Earth’s population will grow to more than nine billion. But there’s only so much farmland to go around, and cutting down forest habitats to create more only causes more ecological damage. So what can we do?

Luckily, some pioneers in warehouse farming are stepping in.

Growing produce in a warehouse may seem unnatural. But there are many benefits. The growing season is year-round, without any worries about storms or frost destroying crops. Lack of exposure to the outdoors also means plants can be grown without any pesticides or herbicides.

Warehouse farming also saves on both transportation costs and time. A lot of produce has only a short period of peak freshness. In the past it might have taken days to get these products from farm to table. But warehouse produce can be grown anywhere, within hours or even minutes of the restaurants and households that will be purchasing and consuming it.

But so far, none of this sounds particularly high-tech. After all, people have been using lights to grow plants indoors since the dawn of electricity. But the revolution is in how warehouse farming operations are using data to monitor their plants in real-time.

Bowery, an indoor farming startup, has a proprietary software network. The company uses it to collect millions of data points on plant health. This data is analyzed by machine-learning algorithms, which then make tweaks to growing conditions in real-time. In this way the company is able to water plants just enough, and only when absolutely necessary. The result is a 95% reduction in water usage compared to traditional farms.

The Push For Automation

Both business owners and employees have been fretting about the rise of automation in warehouses for years now. But employers are always keen to lower labor costs. And repeated picking, sorting, and lifting puts a huge strain on the human body. So the logistics industry continues its push toward automation.

Automation is revolutionizing warehouse technology
Amazon began rolling out robots to its warehouses in 2014. Source: Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Amazon, always an innovator, is leading the charge once again.

Right now, one of its workers might still be racing back and forth in a cavernous warehouse, picking items from long rows of shelves. But it’s just as likely that the worker might instead be supervising a robot that’s doing much of the heavy lifting.

At one Amazon warehouse in southern New Jersey, workers supervise and troubleshoot multiple robots as they stack 25-pound bins. In the past, a human right have performed this tedious, tiring job for an entire ten-hour shift.

Dave Clark, the top executive in charge of operations at Amazon, said the company wanted the machines to perform the most monotonous tasks, leaving people to do jobs that engage them mentally. “You’re engaging your mind in a way that I think is important.”

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is already available for both entertainment and business. Most people are familiar with Pokémon Go, the successful augmented-reality game. And aeronautics and automotive manufacturers have been implementing AR for years.

Now there’s a trend toward using this technology in warehouses.

Augmented reality is revolutionizing warehouse technology
Source: Vuzix.com

DHL is one logistics company that’s using augmented reality. In 2016 they ran a successful AR pilot program in the Netherlands. Now they’re planning to roll the test program out to more warehouses and distribution centers.

Traditionally, order pickers received the list of items they needed to retrieve on an RF scanner. But with smart glasses, the list can stay in the worker’s field of vision.

According to a DHL press release touting the program, Pickers are equipped with advanced smart glasses which visually display where each picked item needs to be placed on the trolley. Vision Picking enables hands free order picking at a faster pace, along with reduced error rates.

Business owners are integrating new technologies into warehouses at a rapid pace. The inside of a typical warehouse – and the types of tasks employees are performing there – will likely look quite different in the near future than they do today.

 

Need workers? Learn about partnering with Spec here.

 

Sources: NationalGeographic.com, NYTimes.com, TalkingLogistics.com, DHL.com, Vuzix.com, NPR.org, InsideIndiana.com