This year has been a massive performance test for many warehouses and distribution centers. Those who’ve been working to keep essential goods moving have been challenged with unprecedented order demands and volumes, but they’ve performed remarkably well.
Despite some early struggles with shortages of goods, the warehousing industry has responded rapidly, effectively, and with a level of efficiency that has far surpassed early predictions and concerns. The end result is that our economy and society have been able to endure and get through the COVID-19 pandemic without large-scale shortages and doomsday scenarios that many feared we would be facing.
The key to this success has been technology. Thankfully, the warehousing industry had been investing heavily in mobile computing, data capture, and software technologies in the last several years. That investment has enabled automation, workforce efficiency, and the tracking and movement of goods at unprecedented levels.
In every crisis and economic emergency, technology plays an essential role in successful responses. In the Great Recession that began in late 2008, companies that were equipped with labor-saving technologies and able to use technology to automate more processes and create new efficiencies fared much better than those who didn’t. Some even invested in technology while others slashed spending, and in the long run, those with an eye on the future were able to come out of the recession with a major competitive edge—using technology to save costs and optimize their operations for better productivity and profitability.
The same is the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Warehouses and teams equipped with purpose-built technologies such as next-generation handled mobile computers, mobile printers, and wearable devices are handling record order volumes with minimal delays, allowing retailers to restock shelves and e-commerce inventory every day and sometimes multiple times per day.
For example, some of our TPI customers are using Zebra’s WT6000 wearable mobile computer, HD4000 head-mounted displays, and RS6000 Bluetooth ring scanners to create completely hands-free and voice-directed picking, packing, receiving, and putaway processes.
Workers receive orders, voice-directed commands, and visual cues from warehouse software running on the WT6000, which they wear comfortably on their forearm with a special sleeve. Watch what a difference wearable solutions can make.
Zebra’s HD4000 head-mounted display is a feather-light, glasses-style device that allows workers to see order and warehouse information in their real-time field of view, without looking down at a screen. And the Bluetooth ring scanner allows them to scan and verify barcodes and products without juggling a separate device. See The HD4000 Head Mounted Display in Action.
Systems like this take all the delays and guesswork out of tasks such as order picking. As an order comes in, workers are directed to the correct warehouse location and items to pick with maximum efficiency, and they’re able to scan and complete their picking faster than ever before.
By simplifying and automating tasks, minimizing warehouse walking, and keeping workers’ hands free, the efficiency gains are adding up to hours of time and labor saved on every shift. As a result, goods are moving out the door at record levels.
Automation like this is proving particularly beneficial at a time when many fulfillment operations are dealing with social distancing restrictions and reduced staffing levels. Such automation could also prove useful for many other warehouses and distribution centers as they reopen, scale up operations, and deal with unpredictable order volumes and possible temporary resumptions of COVID-19 restrictions.
If you’re not actively working on a technology strategy to turn this year’s challenges into better warehouse efficiency and a long-term win for your business, now is the time to start.
Contact our team at TPI now to learn more about the latest warehouse mobility and automation technologies, and let’s explore the possibilities.