We’re taking a good look at recent technological developments in the world of warehouses, to see how they are impacting pallet management programmes across the UK.
Smart pallets have an RFID microchip placed inside their central plank. The size of a grain of rice, this powerful little chip makes it possible to track the pallet. Each RFID chip as a unique number, so can be easily differentiated from others – this is importantly different from barcodes, in which there’s only one code per type of product. So individual pallets can be tracked from location to location, as well as within a warehouse as part of efficient supply management.
There are different types of RFID chip – active, passive or semi-passive. The active chips are battery powered, meaning that they can continually send out a signal, which is perfect when tracking high-value items or priority shipments over a long range. Passive chips don’t have a power source of their own, but respond to the electromagnetic energy transmitted from RFID readers. Hundreds can be read simultaneously, even when not visible, unlike when using barcodes, making them perfect for supply management.
The humble forklift really is a powerhouse for many businesses, playing such a central role in the management and transport of goods and materials. We think there will always be a place for humans to operate forklifts, especially in smaller businesses, but there is a definite movement towards automated vehicles and robots in the modern day warehouse. Back in January we heard how Amazon are set to invest much more heavily in self-driving forklift trucks, for example.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have been around for a while now, and most have been set up to follow coloured or magnetic lines along warehouse floors, forming tracks, or to follow a laser path. However, newer self-driving forklifts are emerging that use computer vision technology and AI to plan their route through the warehouse, detecting and predicting the movements of the human warehouse workers they encounter and communicating with other devices along the way.
These new self-driving forklifts are capable of manoeuvring around warehouses completely autonomously, picking up and transporting heavy pallet loads and unloading them safely, coming up with the fastest and safest route through the warehouse each time, all without any human assistance. The result looks to be an increase in productivity, fewer accidents and errors, and a safer workplace.
It’s now possible to automate your entire warehouse, and WalMart are planning to do just that by 2020, opening a new tech-enabled fresh and frozen grocery facility that stores items, retrieves them, and loads pallets automatically. They’re expecting it to move 40% more product than a traditional distribution centre.
In general, the benefits of a fully automated warehouse are greater throughput, more speed and safety in material flow, and simple operation of different load carriers. An automated warehouse can also reduce energy consumption and keep costs low.
They are at best advantage when there are a large number of items stored and handled around the clock, and/or in limited space. Software, operating equipment and pallet rack systems all need to interact perfectly, so it’s certainly no small undertaking!