AI in the Warehousing Industry

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AI in the warehousing industry – things tend to move fast.

Mostly, this is because if they don’t, then they’re likely to be overtaken by something (or someone) else. Like sharks, businesses must move to stay alive – or at least, in a financial sense – afloat.

What ‘New Normal’?

Over the last few years, there have been enormous and fast-moving changes in consumer demands. There is no ‘new normal’… if there ever was a ‘normal’ to start off with. And it’s partly due to these increased demands that more focus has been placed on technologies that can help us stay one step ahead of the competition and redefine the way that we manage our supply chain.

These days, the warehousing industry has plenty of challenges, from maintaining inventory accuracy to managing an ever-decreasing workforce. We just published an in-depth article about that if you’d like to read it. And those are just the first two complications that spring to mind. But whatever issue you might be having with your warehouse, there’s one thing that’s going to make it easier to manage – and that’s access to real-time data.

These days, there are all kinds of sparkly new options available, e.g. integration with automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) – where inventory can be tracked via RFID chips – just to name a couple. And they’re great, the more the merrier when it comes to tools to help you optimise your operations. But they both have one thing in common – real-time data.

It’s the silver bullet when it comes to improving efficiency.

Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.

AI in the Warehousing Industry needs accurate input to work. Because if you know exactly what’s going on in your warehouse, then you can make informed decisions about it, immediately. That means that when things are going well, you can make them even better and more efficient; you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

It also means that if things aren’t going to plan, then you’re going to know about it as early as possible. Which will give you the best chance of fixing things before push comes to shove, your shipment is half-picked, and you’ve missed your delivery window.

Communication goes a long way when it comes to setting customer expectations, and the more information you have, the better you can communicate it.

From a congestion, or rather, from a time-reduction point of view, if you know where all your inventory is, and what kind of MHE you need to access it, then you can use real-time data to make sure that you don’t end up with a pop-up car park in one of your aisles.

If you know how long (on average) it takes for one of your operators to pick a particular kind of order, or a particular kind of SKU, then you can plan for how many operators you’re likely to need when you get that massive order in next week.

If you have an advanced WMS like Dispatcher WMS, then not only can it use the algorithms that you set up to Putaway and pick inventory in the most efficient way possible, but it can also analyse the throughput of your warehouse and start making recommendations as to where to store the fastest moving inventory. In real time.

Spoiler alert, Dispatcher WMS has been using AI in the warehousing industry for YEARS. That’s what those algorithms do – they look at what’s going on and they make recommendations.

And when you combine real-time data with historical data, you can start not only to see trends, but to predict them too.

Contingency planning can become an actual thing, rather than a theory. Exciting stuff.

With a properly deployed WMS, you can have a near 100% accurate view of every item in your warehouse: where it is, if it’s allocated against something, the condition it’s in, how much there is left of it. Everything can be tracked. Everything can be measured. And knowledge is power.

Now, none of this functionality is cheap. And most businesses don’t have a blank cheque when it comes to digital transformation. But putting robots and IoT to one side for a moment, you can get all the way down the road to real-time data that we just talked about just by implementing the right Advanced WMS.

Robots and IoT might be able to do marvellous things, but it’s your WMS that will hold the data, and it’s your WMS that will typically make decisions about what to do with your inventory. Although, if you’re using an ERP or BI tools, then that’ll work too. Just so long as they feed back their data to your WMS, so that it knows what you want from it.

It all sounds very complicated, and concerns about cost and the digital literacy of an often-semi-skilled workforce are valid. But if you’re open to using a strategic approach that focuses on the right partners and the right software (in our case, we implement Blue Yonder Dispatcher WMS, and quite often supplement it with our own intuitive user-interfaced User Services Portal), then implementation challenges can be systematically addressed and overcome.

As we look to the future of the warehousing industry, the integration of AI is promising all manner of increased efficiencies. And it’s probably going to be amazing, once the kinks have been knocked out. Well, either that or our new Robotic Overlords might decide we don’t need to worry about warehousing any more.

But anyhow, in the meantime, if you’d like to use some AI that’s been around for a long time, and that’s being successfully used (right now) by over 2000 other ambitious and industry-leading businesses, in 60 different countries around the world, then might I suggest you consider the algorithms that form part and parcel of Dispatcher WMS.

Because those algorithms have already made BILLIONS of excellent decisions for the companies that have deployed Dispatcher WMS.

Let us know if you’d like to talk about it:

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