VR, which is a visual that completely replaces the physical world in front of you, is another tool that will have an essential role in the future facility. By utilizing VR tools to train and improve operator performance, associates can be prepared for events in a safe environment. In addition, learnings can be shared across our network of warehouses in a proactive way.
Road to the Warehouse of the Future
The measured approach seen in the last 10 years will increase exponentially because today’s technological advancements are being accepted at a much quicker pace. Though this rapid pace of change requires companies to innovate quickly, it’s possible with careful planning. It’s also important to remember that every technological advancement requires a paradigm shift—it’s much more than simply a software update or a new piece of machinery for employees to learn.
For instance, before Golden State Foods commit to any type of new technology, it conducts exploration, which involves benchmarking other innovative companies that are successfully implementing new technologies. Some examples include UPS, which is using smart glasses to reduce the amount of labeling on packages; and Walmart, which is piloting warehouse drones for inventory management. Tesla is also using solar and autonomy to drive innovation. Engaging current employees at this earliest stage of exploration puts them in a position to be change agents within the warehouse and provides them with a sense of ownership over these new innovations.
To avoid exhausting budgets with new technologies, it’s best to start small. Golden State Foods focuses on ensuring the technology solves the basic problem before scaling up. It confirms that the minimum viable product delivers quantifiable benefits that can fund itself for the full production roll out. Additionally, I believe that IoT and other emerging technologies don’t have to be expensive or completely revolutionize warehouse operations. Begin to use these technologies to solve simpler problems, such as building control and monitoring systems that reduce energy consumption in light fixtures, HVAC, and other everyday devices. Starting small to capture these large gains and to create a sustainable warehouse can fuel a passion for innovation that leads to greater outcomes.
One of the most important things to note about the warehouse of the future is that the industry is not looking to replace workers with technology—it is looking to enhance them. An example of this is the university developed exoskeleton suits that Golden State Foods is testing in two of its warehouse locations. These “superhuman” suits reduce the forces on the knees, back, and shoulders to support daily warehouse activity, helping to eliminate the soft tissue injuries that can occur in a warehouse environment.
Automation that works to relieve work in unfavorable environments while helping increase productivity efficiencies will be critical for distributors futures. The companies that can find a balance between automation assistance and increased human efficiencies will be the leaders of the future distribution world.
Javaheri is the chief technology officer at Golden State Foods. Reach her at GJavaheri@goldenstatefoods.com.