Smart warehousing is the use of robotics, computer vision, and language processing tools to streamline warehouse operations. We can already see this with companies like Alibaba where 70% of the work is now done by robotics. Amazon predicts that end-to-end automated warehousing is at least 10 years away but we’re seeing more AI used to assist warehouse teams.
At the recent Applied AI in Logistics Conference (AAIC), leaders in manufacturing and logistics like ICS, Austrian Post and Voestalpine shared valuable case studies on their adoption of emerging technologies reinforcing AI as real game changer. The development of ‘smart warehouses’ means that the entire operation of these warehouses from delivery to back office admin tasks would be done by AI. Here, I cover some of the main areas where AI is having a big impact.
Check out the AAIC session recordings to hear from manufacturers how they’re improving their warehousing.
Inventory management can be automated to ensure the fundamentals are met, but advanced optimisation techniques can be much smarter. Learning from patterns in historical data, an AI-powered inventory system can strike the perfect balance between making sure stock is available and not overstepping any budget or storage constraints.
Inventory optimisation is a holistic solution as it gets better the more you integrate both internal and external sources of data. Getting real-time feeds from your ERP systems for orders, data from machines about work order progress, and tracking inside your warehouse allow you to optimise for your internal operations. Digitising your supply chain and getting better electronic communication between your customers, your suppliers, and your logistics companies can help you better view the flows in and out of your warehouses. You can even use things like weather forecasts to predict delays in stock arrival.
For manufacturers, inventory optimisation helps you hold materials for less time, improving your cashflow, freeing up inventory space, and making your oepration leaner.
One of the biggest benefits to AI is supporting an increase in productivity. Using monitoring and optimisation techniques, recommendations to staff on when to move materials, how best to pick and pack them, and even which delivery options to use can streamline the process helping your staff scale their efforts.
You can also be using speech and computer vision AI solutions to help improve how employees can engage with systems. Imagine a digital assistant like Cortana for your warehouse where staff can ask questions and get stock info as they move around, or where a specific gesture from an employee can signal that a manager is needed.
Computer vision solutions can be used to monitor the warehouse and identify health and safety risks in real-time, helping staff stay safer and reduce risk. In fact, this sort of solution could be more important than ever with the need to have ongoing standards to reduce risk of infection spread.
Realtime monitoring solutions, and indeed all AI you use to support humans, comes with considerations. If this is an area you’re considering, make sure to read Ethical AI monitoring in the post-COVID workplace to help you work through the challenge.
The best time to start was yesterday, the next best time is today.
You can be benefitting from lower overheads by using AI to manage stock levels, whilst building a more scalable warehouse operation that is safer for employees using AI. Using a smart warehouse as your first area of focus can see quick returns whilst giving you the opportunity to build up your IT capabilities so you can go faster, more safely on adding technology to your capabilities.
AI is a huge part in in your digital transformation strategy for your supply chain and there’s two key enablers according to McKinsey:
- Harnessing key skills in-house but bringing in specialists from the outside
- Develop an innovation environment that is fast, flexible and efficient.
- Take a look at how our logistics customer gained a competitive advantage by leveraging real-time data
- Supply Chain 4.0 – the next-generation digital supply chain
- Amazon says fully automated shipping warehouses are at least a decade away
- The Future of Work - Automation in Alibaba
- Applied AI in Logistics Conference (AAIC) video stream
- Deloitte on AI and intelligent automation