The IIoT Can Push Organizations Toward Warehouse Automation

Robert Brice
Tue, Dec 12, 2017
The IIoT is transforming warehouse operations.
The IIoT is transforming warehouse operations. The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is gaining momentum quickly across manufacturing, logistics and the supply chain. The IIoT is rising to such a degree that the technology is changing perceptions around how warehouses can function.

 

According to Manufacturing Global, the IIoT can help businesses turn their warehouses into value-creation centers, taking areas of operations that were long regarded as cost centers and using them to gain competitive advantages in the marketplace.

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The IIoT achieves this goal by creating greater data visibility and transparency across every facet of operations. In practice, this can allow the IIoT to serve as a critical enabler for increased use of robotics in warehouse settings.

Entering the Robotics Fray

According to BOSS Magazine, robotics deployments in warehouse settings have run into a few roadblocks that are now beginning to disappear as more advanced, IIoT-enabled solutions hit the market. Some of these limitations included:

  • Solutions that could only handle a single task. That function may be completed extremely efficiently, but the value potential is limited because of the narrow usage scope.
  • Robots that were not capable of working alongside humans and could only be used in isolated areas where safety risks are eliminated.

The news source explained that IIoT-enabled robots are capable of gathering a wide range of data and using it to support diverse functions. On top of this, machine learning allows robots to identify new ways to complete tasks. Furthermore, advanced robots can now handle a wider range of tasks instead of only being programmed for one task.

With the IIoT providing a data foundation for transparency into operations and advanced robots capable of using that information to work efficiently, the vision of a fully automated warehouse does not seem too distant. However, advancing to the point that robots take over the warehouse is still a fairly distant idea, particularly as many organizations have yet to really advance their digital supply chain agendas, a key starting point for moving into the robotics age.

Advancing Robotics Through IIoT Innovation

"Organizations need to build an IIoT foundation to achieve their warehouse automation visions."

If your business has a long-term vision of a heavily automated warehouse with robots whizzing around to grab packages, perform cycle counts and complete other key tasks, you need to build an IIoT foundation to get there.

Connected devices for mobile data collection, app access and communication are necessary systems in establishing a framework for long-terms warehouse automation. In practice, a fully automated warehouse is so complex and requires such expensive, advanced robotics systems that most companies are still years, and possibly decades, away from such a situation. Instead of going for full automation, many organizations will be deploying robots alongside humans in order to advance the automation agenda.

With this mixed environment of humans and robots in mind, businesses must give employees the tools they need to gather data quickly, communicate with robots and transmit data to stakeholders in real time. Technologies that can provide a base for these types of advances include:

  • Modern wireless barcode scanners that allow for rapid data collection and direct integration with ERP systems.
  • Voice picking solutions that allow users to quickly update an asset's status while keeping their hands free.
  • Augmented reality glasses that can integrate with apps to provide users with barcode scanning systems, a heads-up display and hands-free data interactions.

These types of tools can serve as the basis for effective interaction between humans and robots, creating the database needed to automate warehouse operations. All of these capabilities depend on an ecosystem of connected devices across every facet of the supply chain, highlighting the way IIoT innovation can position organizations to move forward toward increased use of robots and similar warehouse automation systems.

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