Data and automation are among the key driving factors of running a successful warehouse operation and contribute to the overall sustainability of a business. MHD finds out more.
E-commerce has transformed the way the warehouse functions. Rhett Talley, Marketing and Business Development Manager at Diverseco says the role of the distribution centre (DC) has fundamentally changed.
“With the rise of e-commerce, the point of sale has shifted from a person visiting a retail store to them now ordering direct from the warehouse. Goods are now being dispatched from the DC at a much faster and higher volume than they were before,” he says.
As a result of this, sustainability is very important for these operations and according to Rhett it is two-tiered.
“For where we sit in the supply chain sphere, sustainability is about data and automation. Operations are empowered by good data and automation plays a significant role in improving safety and efficiency,” Rhett says.
Access to good data enables a warehouse to function at the optimum level, with accurate data around stock keeping units (SKUs) enabling Warehouse Management Systems and Warehouse Control Systems to work more effectively.
Without data, it’s not possible to reach the optimisation required for a modern-day warehouse, Rhett says.
“In fast moving sectors like e-commerce, it’s impossible to reach the level of efficiency required without accurate data. All fundamental operations in the DC now require excellent data for all the automation to work at its optimum capacity,” Rhett says.
With so many different SKUs being picked in the warehouse, for any automation to run effectively, it relies on having reliable trustworthy data.
Without this data, there is a need to require people to do the manual jobs which Rhett says is a model many logistics providers are seeking to avoid.
“Sustainability to many people is simply what factors do you have in place that your operations will continue should something happen, and this is where automation and data play a crucial role,” Rhett says.
In order to ensure long-term sustainability of an operation, it’s important to reduce risk and liabilities and this is where automation comes in.
“It’s in the interest of supply chain managers to reduce their exposure to the human element in any menial, repetitive, non-value adding task and redeploy human capital to higher value tasks,” Rhett says.
This is particularly apparent through COVID-19 restrictions where heavily manual operations were forced to grind to a halt.
With menial tasks carried out largely by automation and technology, there is also an opportunity to improve safety for employees.
“Some repetitive tasks have a lot of risks attached to them so there is a huge sustainability benefit to automate these tasks,” Rhett says.
With COVID-19 placing pressure on global supply chains and many organisations experiencing difficulties with trade and distribution, Rhett says there is a huge opportunity for Australia to onshore some essential manufacturing.
“There is a bigger concept of sustainability in the Australian supply chain that has been highlighted by difficulties in global trade and restrictions in air freight and distribution through COVID-19, in particular with goods that come from China. The critical importance right now in Australian manufacturing and government policy is to reconsider onshoring the manufacturing of more of our critical goods,” Rhett says.
But the question looms. How does Australia do that with its expensive workforce? Rhett says automation is the solution.
“We’re working closely with leading robotics hubs and universities to empower Australian manufacturing so that it can bring back much of the manufacturing production locally,” Rhett says.
Rhett says that it is possible in the near future that many distribution centres may create a smart warehouse that operates “lights out” meaning there is no people inside. For him, this creates a great opportunity for data and automation to drive sustainability.