Like all other elements in the enterprise, the warehouse management stack is becoming increasingly automated and more intelligent by the day. Despite this, the technology is not only focused on the warehouse floor and the needs of an expanding robotics workforce.
Instead, you’ll find just as much activity happening behind the scenes with planning, provisioning, and other processes carried out by unseen software modules. These new tools will play a crucial role in smoothing out the many bumps that still exist in the warehouse management sector, and perhaps provide crucial relief to an over-stressed supply chain.
Warehouse optimization platform developer Lucas Systems recently highlighted the five ways in which AI is expected to impact warehouses and distribution centers, only one of which involved robots. Key issues like dynamic product slotting, where products are transferred from one place to another, and workforce planning will be simplified significantly, at least for human managers. As well, performance management and safety metrics can be more easily met with AI support, and it will even help workers navigate around extremely dynamic and fast-moving environments more easily and safely.
Despite this, recent research from Vanson Bourne shows that while most warehouse directors and managers have high hopes for AI, few are using it for much beyond inventory management. Part of this is due to the lack of internal knowledge and experience with what is a radically new approach to systems and process management. Additionally, there is still lingering fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding aspects like risk and control. This will have to change soon, considering most executives say they expect upwards of 60% ROI on their AI investments within five years.
AI will also help transform the physical warehouse, overseeing often crucial functions like power management and temperature control, and eventually, it may even alter the size and location of facilities. Peter Lewis, the founder, and chairman of Wharton Equity Partners sees a world in which fully automated micro centers could provide better service and better quality products, particularly food, to underserved communities. Rural areas would be key beneficiaries of these new warehouses, which would require minimal infrastructure and only a modest workforce, if any, to operate.
Intelligent links in the chain
By transforming a warehouse into an intelligent, automated entity, the enterprise also takes a giant step forward in breaking down the silos that hamper performance across supply chains and distribution tactics. Jerry Stephens, VP of global sales at Outlier AI Inc. says a connected warehouse overcomes many of the key roadblocks that prevent all elements of this intricate system from working together as they should. For one thing, greater visibility into inventory and the movement of goods can proactively help managers to stay ahead of emerging problems rather than take corrective action after productivity has been impacted. Additionall, planning and optimization platforms can operate in near real-time thanks to the rapid analytics that AI can provide.
In this way, AI can boost productivity and revenue by targeting all the key steps in delivering goods and services to the market, namely, demand planning, manufacturing, transportation, and fulfillment. In the warehouse, in particular, organizations will keep better track of meaningful changes in multiple key performance indicators, not just across days or weeks but by the hour.
Ultimately, we can expect AI to further integrate warehouse management into the enterprise data stack. Even the robots on the floor will become data generators, feeding vital information back to AI-driven software. The end goal is to create a more visible, interactive warehouse that is more adaptable and far more responsive to the many rapid and minute changes affecting the supply chain.
But just as in other aspects of the enterprise, AI-driven warehousing is not simply a platform to be deployed but a fundamental change in the way data, systems, and human operators interact with one another. It will take a concerted effort to first convert warehouse management to this new mode of operation, and then even greater determination to guide its adaptation to suit each enterprise’s unique business model.