March 23, 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting businesses across industries in major ways. Given its weight, we’re introducing a blog series about the IoT and challenges it’s imposing on infrastructure and logistics. Topics covered will include warehousing, labor, transportation and technology.
In our first piece on the Internet of Things, we discussed concerns over warehouse capacity restraints. This time, we’re here to talk about labor.
Labor is necessity of almost any fulfillment operation and is typically the most significant cost associated with fulfillment activities, but finding and retaining labor in major logistics markets is becoming increasingly difficult. Some companies (including ours!) have mitigated the amount of labor they require through major investments in infrastructure, mechanization and conveyance systems.
Today there are limitations to the amount of information data providers receive about labor (primarily through RF guns or Labor Management Systems). However, with Internet of Things technology comes greater connectivity and the potential to gather more insight about labor and processes within a warehouse. This has two primary benefits: optimization and increased safety.
Labor Management Systems combined with RF guns can track warehouse associates and different activities associated with labor (for example, receiving and shipping). However, variables like the path the warehouse associate takes to a particular pick front is currently a gap in knowledge. Similarly, if there is congestion around material handling equipment and labor is interrupted by it, the time a worker spends waiting is untrackable. With IoT-enabled technology like connected forklifts, pallet jacks and other material handling equipment, further optimization opportunities can be identified, resulting in plans to enact better processes and identifying areas to save costs.
Safety is a top concern in warehouses, where things move quickly and large, heavy equipment is at play. Safety procedures are important, and maintaining a safe work environment ultimately leads to a more efficient workplace (among many other benefits). IoT technology has the potential to enhance workplace safety in a few ways we can think of (and likely in many ways yet to be determined).
Currently, RF guns are worn (or held) by associates who use them to scan orders and products. But if the RF gun could track associates’ movements to and from pick locations (similar to wearable devices), logistics providers could identify movements that risk safety (for example, picking up a box a certain way) and enact training to make the workplace safer. Similarly, smart safety harnesses on forklifts could prevent the forklift from moving unless the harness is fastened.
IoT impacts labor across industries
Other industries (agriculture, construction and even assisted living) are also realizing the benefits of connected devices. In the supply chain industry alone, it’s projected that the number of Low Power Area Wide Network connections worldwide (which enable machine to machine learning) will increase from 130,000 in 2015 to over 51 million by 2024, according to HP Enterprises. While an increase of nearly 400% in 9 years is impressive, it’s outranked by innovations in connected cities, agriculture, construction equipment and assisted living. Clearly, major shifts on the horizon as a result of IoT advances.
Stay tuned to continue following our thoughts on the impact of IoT innovation and the supply chain. In our next post, we’ll be discussing transportation innovations.