Logistics: the augmented operator at the core of the connected warehouse

Alban CocolonSolutions Manager

For most logistics professionals, innovation is a key priority, whether it’s for making life easier for operators, simplifying logistics tasks, making warehouses safer places to work, achieving productivity and service quality gains, or fostering collaboration all along the supply chain. While use cases like connected glasses are still at the experimental stage, others—especially those that focus on operators and PDAs—are emerging as real-world applications. Here, we take a look at some examples.

1. Making life easier for logistics operators

Each and every day, warehouse operators perform numerous repetitive tasks, run multiple checks, and scan scores of items, often in hard-to-reach locations. As well as being cumbersome, this type of work also carries a high risk of error.

Below are some examples of innovations that are making a real difference to the day-to-day life of warehouse operators. and cutting the number of errors in the process:

  1. Connected gloves with display feature a pared-down version of the PDA screen, leaving both of the operator’s hands free to carry out their tasks. This is a particularly useful innovation in the fashion industry, where operators have leave their PDA in the central aisle to go and collect items from narrow offshoots.
  2. Pick-to-light systems, which are geared toward small orders, use light-guiding technology to illuminate the path to relevant product locations.
  3. Put-to-light systems, meanwhile, use lights to tell the order picker where to set down the products.
  4. Automatic parcel measuring systems use the camera built into the operator’s PDA to eliminate manual measurements and avoid the risk of error.
  5. Connected scales automatically check the weight of prepared orders or parcels at the end of the picking process, with the measurement sent automatically to the operator’s PDA.
  6. Bluetooth beacons on loading docks: These beacons automatically check that the operator has loaded the right pallet onto the right truck, issuing an alert via the PDA whenever an error is made.

2. Making warehouses safer places to work

With logistics companies finding it hard to recruit and retain warehouse staff, operator well-being has become a key concern in the industry. In recent years, more and more warehouses have started rolling out cobots (or collaborative robots) as a way to make the work less laborious and to increase operator safety.

Examples emerging at logistics sites include articulated-arm robots that palletize orders at the end of the picking process, picking robots, automatic pallet trucks that follow the operator’s picking route, and even inventory-taking drones. These cobots help prevent musculoskeletal injuries and disorders caused by lifting and handling heavy loads, working at height, and performing a high volume of repetitive movements.

3. Achieving productivity and service quality gains

Amid intense pressure to shorten lead times, cut costs, and reduce returns caused by shipment errors, logistics firms are also turning to innovation as a way to increase efficiency, raise service standards, and boost overall warehouse productivity. These use cases typically focus on simplifying logistics operations:

  1. Pick-to-light, put-to-light and beacon systems keep errors to a minimum, thereby reducing the number of returns and disputes.
  2. Automatic measuring systems (parcel size and weight) keep the WMS fed with reliable data.
  3. Automatic temperature-checking systems help maintain the cold chain for fresh and frozen products.

4. Fostering collaboration all along the supply chain

Collaborative working and real-time visibility are becoming increasingly important priorities all along the supply chain—for logistics warehouses, stores, factories, shippers, carriers, and more. Here too, innovation acts as a facilitator: in keeping data reliable, in easing communication between tools and systems (WMS, TMS, connected objects, etc.), or in sharing data, in real time, within and outside a company.

  1. Data acquisition and reliability technologies (connected scales, automatic parcel measuring systems, etc.) help strengthen the logistics value chain.
  2. Developments in imaging technologies (such as loading dock video capture systems) support better operational monitoring and offer genuine promise for collaborative dispute resolution.

Reflex: 30 years of logistics innovation

At Reflex, our R&D team constantly monitors developments to identify innovations that could add value for logistics professionals. We test some of these innovations with our clients and technology partners via a proof-of-concept (POC) process. Sometimes, we dismiss an idea after testing it: one example is connected glasses, which have proven unpopular among logistics operators because they are heavy and visually uncomfortable. In other cases, we will give an innovation the green light—as is the case with the examples discussed in this article.

If logistics companies are to make the most of mature, genuinely beneficial innovations, it goes without saying that these technologies need to communicate in real time with the WMS. That’s one of the reasons why we recently updated our Reflex radio frequency Android app. It now features a communication system that lets PDAs interact with connected objects in real time, turning operators into fully fledged “augmented logistics agents.”

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