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Industry 4.0 tech advances
improve efficiency in the warehouse

Automation, machine learning, real-time data and overall interconnectivity are all essential components of Industry 4.0. By linking physical production and operations with cyber-physical systems, the factory of the future will be able to optimize its processes and increase overall productivity. Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution!

The journey from preventing inventory loss to improving production turnaround will revolutionize how goods are moved and distributed in any warehouse setting. The new technologies in use as part of this journey can also enhance sustainability by increasing energy efficiency, reducing emissions and lessening the need for wasteful materials.

Cloud-based inventory

Cloud-based inventory can help improve efficiency in the warehouse by improving visibility into inventory. It provides access to all the inventories in one location, making it easier for managers to make decisions about balancing stock. And, because the information is in the cloud, it's accessible from any location, at any time.

Check out the other benefits of cloud-based inventory management:

  • Elimination of errors. Since the information is in a central location, it’s less likely for there to be data entry errors.
  • Real-time updates. When stock is updated in the cloud, everyone with access to the system will get the update in real-time. This helps ensure accuracy and prevents delays in processing orders.
  • Scalability and flexibility. With cloud-based inventory, the user can add or delete users, modify access levels and make other changes to accommodate growing businesses.
  • Automation. Automated processes can speed up inventory management, from order placement to stock updates.
  • Convenience. Cloud-based inventory is accessible from any device, any time. Managers can access the system to review inventory status, place orders and check order statuses.
  • Security. The cloud offers a high level of protection, essential for businesses that handle sensitive data.

Improvements in accuracy, speed, quality, compliance coverage and overall workload sound good? That’s often the result when businesses switch to a cloud-based inventory management system.

But not all businesses are created equal, and different warehouses have different needs. Before making a switch in your inventory system, consider the unique requirements of your warehouse and factor them into your decision.

Consider the following before switching to cloud-based inventory:

Buyer vs. vendor mentality — If your business is a buyer, you'll need a more flexible system capable of making changes to accommodate changing customer needs. If your warehouse is a vendor, you'll want to ensure the system can keep up with your production schedule and supply chain requirements.

Perpetual vs. periodic inventory — If your warehouse uses a perpetual inventory management system, find a cloud-based solution to integrate with your existing system. If your warehouse uses a periodic inventory management system, you'll need a system that can import and export data in the necessary formats.

Artificial Intelligence and robotics

Robotic picking systems and artificial intelligence (AI) are additional 4.0 industry tech advances that can improve warehouse efficiency. These order fulfillment systems use robotics, data and software to automate all or parts of processes in a warehouse.

Pick-and-place robotics can be used in various ways depending on the product and the manufacturer's automation requirements. There are four primary applications for pick and place robotics:

  • Assembly: Robotic machines pick up a part from one conveyor belt and place it on another belt that leads to the next station.
  • Packaging: Robotic machines pick up a product from a packing table and place it in a shipping box.
  • Bin picking: A robotic arm first locates a bin on a storage rack before picking and placing the product in a tote or cart.
  • Inspection: Robotic machines pick a product from one conveyor belt and place it on another. While this process looks similar to the assembly application, the focus is on inspecting the product before it's packaged or shipped.

Determining the true costs of robotics and various AI integrations is key – and those costs add to upfront investment and operational expenses, but they often help improve accuracy, speed and productivity in the long run.

Handheld, portable and mobile devices

Handheld and mobile devices have revolutionized the way warehouses operate by giving managers the real-time information they need to make automated decisions.

Printers

Mobile printing can help improve warehouse operations in many ways. By allowing users to print on-demand labels and integrating other solutions, such as warehousing management systems and radio frequency identification, mobile printing can help improve accuracy and speed in the warehouse.

Using printers such as the M611, BMP51 and BMP61 for express label needs, a warehouse can easily integrate with a handheld or mobile system via Bluetooth or print labels directly from a device. This cuts down on wasted materials and saves warehouse space. Mobile printers have also grown in popularity because they help cut back on operational mistakes and the costs that come with them.

Scanners

Warehouse employees can use mobile scanners to scan barcodes on picked and packed products. This helps improve accuracy and eliminates the need for employees to search for products on shelves.

Additionally, mobile barcode scanners can help reduce the margin of error associated with data entry. By automating data entry, portable scanners can improve the accuracy of inventory data and help warehouse managers make better decisions about stock allocation and product demand.

Diagnostic tools

Several issues can hamper warehouse operations, including defective equipment and inefficient processes. Regular equipment monitoring is a must to keep things running smoothly.

The solution? Handheld and mobile diagnostic tools that help identify problem areas in the warehouse before they become significant. These devices allow managers to quickly detect issues such as improper machine temperatures, machine downtime and the lack of water or other fluids. That’s critical information for quickly addressing problems and keeping operations running smoothly.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Numerous technologies have been introduced to cut costs, make warehouses more efficient and improve accuracy. However, they must link together to operate flawlessly.

Enter the industrial internet of things (IIoT), the network of physical objects, machines, sensors and devices, connected to enhance operations, efficiency, management control and the overall experience.

IIoT includes machinery and devices such as:

The IIoT is not new, but it can revolutionize the way warehouses operate, and it’s being newly applied to the industrial sector. The number of internet-connected devices is also increasing, so it's only natural that businesses are looking for answers to boost their efficiency.

Here are some of the most popular IoT devices in the industrial sector:

  • Industrial sensors. Manufacturers may use internet-connected sensor equipment to gather data about their other factory devices and search for faults on production lines. IoT sensors can assist managers in gaining operational insight, maintenance planning and supply delivery by allowing for the monitoring of resources.
  • Smart automobiles. Vehicles are starting to embrace more IoT features as part of a continuous push toward autonomous driving. Many new cars have some form of built-in connectivity, such as 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that allow for various tasks.
  • Manufacturing robots. Connectivity has improved, allowing for more automated factory production lines. Manufacturers may use IoT technology to remotely manage and tailor production robots, allowing them to change the order in which items are produced at any moment.

When it comes to security and maintenance, having secure electrical hubs and breakers is one of the most important aspects of having a remote / connected device that functions and communicates with the central hub. Without these, devices may be unduly exposed to damage or destruction, and the whole system may be compromised.

Overall, the IIoT offers tremendous potential for the industrial sector.

Labeling, recording and mapping

Labeling and tracking all equipment is essential – and even more so when you’re upgrading or expanding your warehouse. Bringing in new devices? Be sure to label and register them with the network for monitoring and efficient use.

Look to these best practices when building a network:

Labeling and mapping

Like yin and yang, these two go hand in hand when mapping out a warehouse to create a network. Every piece of equipment must be labeled, and the warehouse layout should be mapped out to account for all devices.

Industrial labeling is important because it must comply with regulations. Therefore, ensure you know about OSHA compliance and how to make more effective warning signs, for things like combating optimism bias, when relying on machines.

Recording

Recording includes tracking the movement and placement of machines, employees and products in the warehouse. Use this information to improve the layout of the warehouse and help with future expansions and upgrades.

In warehouses, numerous devices and machines must be labeled and registered:

  • Forklifts: Connected forklifts allow managers to keep track of their fleet and where they are at any given time.
  • Conveyor belts: These need to be accurately mapped to ensure product accuracy and proper sequencing.
  • Heat shrink label printers: All parts, including heat shrink wire and cable labels, sleeves and tubing, need to be accounted for in a proper inventory system.
  • Industrial label printers: Use these printers to record the location of the machine they are attached to, making it easier for managers to track inventory and less time-consuming for warehouse employees.
  • Pipe marker printers: These print self-adhesive vinyl pipe markers that identify a pipeline's contents.

With these advances in mind, it’s clear that labeling equipment is essential for both security and efficiency purposes. When upgrades or changes are made, a network map can ensure that everything is connected and working correctly.

When it comes to the future of the industrial sector, 4.0 industry advancements will play a crucial role in improving efficiency.

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