In our “Industry 4.0 Series”, we’ve noted that “Industry 4.0 is a decade in the making yet is still out of reach for many manufacturing organizations.” This series of articles, papers, and webinar, provides insight into the hurdles facing companies in implementing elements of IoT, outlines the six steps to Organizational Agility and Efficiency, and provides a Step-by-Step Guide for Implementing a 90-Day Roadmap to a Smart Factory.
Named because it is considered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Industry 4.0 concept is to capitalize on unique benefits that prior revolutions have created to date: technology, automation, artificial intelligence, the internet, and the capability to capture and process big data through data science. The practice is to bring these all together and people into a system of highly autonomous technologies that share real-time status and operating data with each other.
It’s important to recognize that Industry 4.0 is not just for manufacturing and production operations. It applies equally well to many other functional departments, like warehouse operations.
Warehousing operations are well suited to the application of 4.0 principles. It’s a closed physical space (microenvironment) with a defined function and plenty of automation and technology options to choose from in building the right model(s) for your business. We say models, plural, as consideration to large, multi-warehouse businesses whose sites may vary by size, product mix and geographic location, each employing a different version of the model. Through technology and plug-and-play automation, scalable instances are available.
WHAT IS WAREHOUSE 4.0? (W4.0)
The Internet of Things (IoT), big data and data science, augmented reality, wearables, computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI), low-cost sensors, cobots and high-level computing can be combined to build a robust system of warehouse automation; as a result, warehouses and distribution centers are becoming ‘smart,’ an essential component of the Integrated Supply Chain.
WAIT, I ALREADY HAVE A WMS, SO WHY WOULD I NEED MORE?
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) software is the fundamental building block for Warehouse 4.0, but not a total solution. Basic instances of a WMS, depending on its implementation, provide data on what has been received, where it is stored and what has been shipped; in other words, it is a data filing and processing system that can provide action recommendations.
A smart warehouse goes well beyond just WMS. Following the path laid down by your company’s ‘digitalization Roadmap,’ which will include some combination of the W4.0 description elements above, you can make significant progress toward automating business and operational processes and rules.
Managing the information details through data analytics and adding AI to make autonomous decisions and executing actions through its interconnected devices will enable your company to reduce costs and standardize operations on a global scale while achieving ultimate customer service and quality goals.
The warehouse model you build can range from basic, upgrading the WMS with more elaborate storage management, including handhelds and forklift-based interactions to fully autonomous receiving, picking and packing systems in a ‘lights out’ operation.
Designing your particular program needs to recognize the purpose of a warehouse, simply, is to act as a buffer between:
- Suppliers and your business – supply chain strategy will determine sourcing, timing and quantity of materials to ensure target customer service levels
- Demand and manufacturing – the ultimate goal is JIT to minimize investments, but recent pandemic disruptions in supply chains have caused a rethinking of risk mitigation, so many companies have opted for maintaining some on-hand quantity to ensure an uninterrupted, more efficient manufacturing operation
- Manufacturing and customers – the warehouse function is to store and safeguard product for release (pick, pack, stage, ship) to customers as determined by the ERP operating under the business rules