How Smart is Your Warehouse?

Singapore’s economic development can be divided into three distinct phases – beginning as a bustling entrepot centre supported by cheap manpower from immigrants around the region, progressing through a wave of industrialisation that brought in more and more machines, and in its current phase as a smart city providing world-leading services.

The logistics industry has mirrored Singapore’s dramatic transformation. We no longer see coolies lugging goods back and forth between junkboats and shophouses along the Singapore river, and instead, the work has shifted to huge warehousing facilities with forklifts and vehicles buzzing to and fro. Even though these old shophouses and warehouses along the river have long-since been relieved of their original purpose, the logistics industry has remained a key economic pillar for Singapore. In fact, the World Bank has ranked Singapore as Asia’s top logistics hub for 10 years in a row, supporting the needs of diverse industries from 3PLs to chemicals and oil firms.

So are we at peak warehousing? While our leadership in moving goods at a massive scale is undisputed, are our warehouses ready to extend our leadership in the era of e-commerce, and support the logistic requirements in managing goods at a micro-scale?

In the age of smart cities, you may think your warehouse is already smart enough to take on this next phase of growth. Here is a simple checklist with five hallmarks of a smart warehouse to measure yours by:

Warehouse Management System (WMS) 

A Warehouse Management System or WMS is the foundation for any smart warehouse – think of it as an operating system for your warehouse. A great WMS will help consolidate and digitize many warehouse functions, providing you with real-time data about your warehouse right at your fingertips. Beyond providing inventory visibility, it also enables warehouses to track the inventory location for optimised storage space utilization. The WMS would allow your employees and selected business partners access up-to-date information on everything that goes on in your warehouse, allowing you to plan efficiently and make any adjustments to your processes as needed.

Automated Picking Tools

Automation is a central concept to enhance productivity in the smart city era and one of the ways in which robotics will revolutionise our warehouses is the use of automated picking tools. These automated pickers can increase the efficiency of the picking process by reducing picking errors, maximizing labour allocation, and scaling to the individual needs of your warehouse. The best automated picking tools can be seamlessly integrated into existing warehouse practices and processes, working in tandem with your team to create a more efficient picking system.

Infographic depicting loose vs bulk picking

Automated Guided Vehicles

Everyone is familiar with visuals of the state-of-the-art fulfilment centres today run by e-commerce giants like Alibaba Group’s Cainiao logistics arm, replete with robotic helpers moving seamlessly and speedily through their corridors. These automated guided vehicles can help streamline your warehouse processes by bringing products to your staff rather than having your staff go to the product. Like automated picking tools, automated guided vehicles can scale easily to the needs of your warehouse: a smaller operation could opt for faster machines that carry lighter loads while a large company could implement automated guided vehicles that deal with products in bulk. The system also leverages on data intelligence to plan the most efficient route to distribute parcels and avoid collisions in the warehouse.

Infographic depicting automated vehicles in warehouses

Automated Inventory Management Systems (IMS)

Automated inventory management systems fundamentally change the way inventory management is handled in a traditional warehouse. Gone are the days of manually doing your stock takes with a clipboard, pen, and paper, a traditional method prone to miscalculations and human error. Harnessing the different technological capabilities of identifying weight, product labels such as barcode and radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions.

These inventory control platforms allow for the complete automation of the inventory management process and improves the speed of locating, retrieving and accounting for items that move in and out of the facility of varying size formats of 'eaches' to cartons. Between pallets to parcels, the system supports real-time inventory updates to sales channels, to meet retail needs.

Internet-of-Things (IoT) Implementation

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the system by which internet-connected devices interact and share data with each other. Proper IoT implementation is key in ensuring that all the various programs, robots, and technology in a smart warehouse work together harmoniously. Working with sensors and warehouse data, IoT allow for the smooth operation of any and all moving parts in your warehouse. IoT is an essential part of minimizing mistakes and preventing accidents, and is a crucial means of streamlining functions in a smart warehouse.

Infographic depicting Internet of Things in Warehouses

Common elements of IoT in warehouse include:

  • Warehouse Management System (Space utilisation and optimisation)
  • Temperature Monitoring Systems (Data loggers - temperature and humidity)
  • Inventory Management System (Inventory levels)
  • Transport Management System (Geo-locationing and capacity reporting)
  • Material Handling Equipments (Battery levels, usage duration and equipment uptime)
  • Security Systems (Access controls and biometric data)
  • Safety Systems (Manpower monitoring - operational time)

Smart Warehouses

These five technologies are just some of the ways in which the 21st century warehouse is getting smarter, and an increasing number of companies are recognizing the potential of these technologies to transform their business. For example, anticipating the tremendous demand from Singles Day 2018, Cainiao opened a smart warehouse in their IoT-enabled logistics park in Wuxi earlier that year. The complex included fully automated assembly lines and more than 500 self-charging automated guided vehicles that reportedly increased warehouse efficiency by 30%.

Labour-intensive warehouses are now a thing of the past. With a smart warehouse, you can streamline any basic warehouse functions that you need, minimizing human errors and improving efficiency through automation. It really is time to leave the pen and paper behind and join the smart warehouse revolution.


About UrbanFox

As an omnichannel enabler, we empower homegrown and global brands to strengthen their presence in this region – through multi-channel marketplace management, real-time inventory management, integrated fulfilment for B2B2C, and through hybrid last-mile delivery – providing end-to-end seamless logistics solutions.

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