Technology is in our lives because it makes our jobs easier, more efficient, and it is usually at the touch of a glass screen or button. So, for those reasons, technology can stay. Gone are the days where warehousing required an abundance of human workers, paperwork, a ladder and an excel spreadsheet. Oh, and maybe health insurance too! But even computers, scanners and label printers are outdated in this day and age. The invention of AI (Artificial Intelligence) is seeping into the technology we use on a day-to-day basis. It’s in the televisions we buy, smartphones we use, and even installed in the vehicles we drive. As retail and consumer consumption grows, warehouses have to stay on top of demand. We’re living in a world of supply and demand… demand and supply? Like the chicken and the egg, which is it first? Nobody really knows.

It’s fair to say warehousing has picked up the pace, and we mostly have technology to thank for keeping us up to speed. Technology within the warehouse has brought logistics a long way. Let’s take a trip down memory lane (or should I say aisle), to show you exactly how these technological advances have transformed warehousing management.

 

Early 1900s

Bringing it back to basics, the resources within warehousing started off minimal. After World War I, the invention of hand trucks made it easier for warehouse workers to to move and manage inventory. Workers were required to hand-pick stock and record the activity on paper documents, however this could lead to health dangers and made it hard to track and count stock.

Early 1970s

World War II developed warehousing management further. Forklifts and pallets enabled quicker and easier inventory movement. Hard-copy documents were piling up, demanding a warehouse of their own. As warehouses introduced computers into the management process, this was the beginning of a much simpler form of data handling.

2000s

The 21stcentury saw an increase in retail demands. UK grocery outlets increased by 4.2% from 2004 to 2005, where the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) reached £120 bn*. As stock demand increased, technology became a warehouse’s right hand man. Already warm to a computer-led system, warehouses started to depend on this method to manage inventories. Scanners and label printers were introduced, and warehouses became paperless. Physical storage for admin was no longer required, making data easy to handle, search and store.

2006

The Amazon Elastic Computer Cloud was born. A cloud storage system that improved data-handling, productivity and document storage within warehouses**. Hands-free technology such as voice control started to creep in, used to command actions such as picking, putting, receiving, replacing and warehouse shipping functions.

Present

Warehousing management technologies didn’t stop there. Automated machine to machine (M2M) technology is an up and coming method for warehouses, designed for speed and efficiency, replacing manual labour. Pick-by-Light uses light to specifically appoint correct stock, and Put-to-Light systems allocates products within orders, efficient for picking from bulk stock. These technologies are ideal for retail warehouses that deal with everyday items, such as clothing, sports goods and groceries.

Future

The big question is, what should we expect from the future? Human-like robots? That’s not a bad guess. With the way technology is evolving and demand is increasing, warehousing systems may benefit from machine-to-machine communication, robots and self-driven vehicles. Whilst the worry of job losses is a different kettle of fish, technology is intended to provide a slicker and more efficient process.

Overall, technological advancements have increased speed, efficiency and control, simultaneously reducing costs. These are all vital factors for retailers, warehouses and logistic chains, and technology seems to be playing a significant part in the process of the upkeep of the supply and demand… or demand and supply. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Rachel Jefferies, Editor, FORWARDER magazine

*Statistic taken from Economic Note on UK Grocery Retailing, (2006), Defra

**More information on this is available in the Technology section of issue 32 of FORWARDER