Microlistics’ Michael Weir and Sam Dawson discuss the future of warehousing, the “evolutionary” approach to adaptation, and why a cloud-based WMS is part of the solution.
In an era where disruptive events have become the new normal for supply chains, warehouse management professionals are confronted with an increasingly challenging landscape.
Every year brings about major disruption, and every few months minor disruptions occur that test the resilience of warehousing and supply chain operations. At the same time, these disruptions also present opportunities for growth.
It’s this latter point that Sam Dawson, Partnerships and Business Development Manager at Microlistics, emphasises.
“Continuing supply chain threats and opportunities are the new normal,” Sam says. “Supply chain professionals can now expect a major disruption every year or so, with minor disruptions occurring every few months. It’s imperative to remember that some of these disruptions also come with opportunities for growth.”
THE FUTURE OF WAREHOUSING
There is a gradual transformation occurring in warehouses across the globe. Warehouses are transitioning from an RF-connected workforce to one where warehouse worker performance is maximised through voice recognition and wearables.
“Voice recognition eliminates the need for keystrokes and reduces manual data entry errors,” Sam says. “Wearable technologies enable pick-by-voice and pick-by-vision, offering even greater resource optimisation.”
The future of warehousing also lies in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which build on the foundations of advanced business intelligence tools.
“Bridging from advanced business intelligence tools to AI and machine learning will apply past lessons to future warehouse performance,” says Michael Weir, Managing Director at Microlistics. “This is a key aspect of the warehouse of the future.”
While warehousing may appear quite simple – boxes in, boxes out – Michael says in future WMS must move away from over-centralisation to decentralisation and flexibility.
“Running a busy warehouse operation efficiently, accurately, and effectively requires managing a large number of constantly changing variables,” he says. “Current advanced WMS centralise decision-making, systemising minute-by-minute decisions to prevent worker errors. As we look to the future, we expect systems to be able to dynamically assess variables in real time, learn from past performance, recognise patterns, and make quick determinations on how to handle exact scenarios at hand most effectively.”
These variables include best use of labour, Sam adds.
“At Microlistics we’ve been working on labour planning analytics to project how long certain tasks will take,” he says. “This is a guide for warehouse managers and supervisors to help them plan for the next day.”
Changes to how material handling equipment operates are also coming thick and fast.
Old-school conveyors and vertical carousels are fitted with scanners to make decisions based on scanned products, and the advent of automatic guided vehicles (AGV) signals a change in how material handling is approached in warehouses.
“When a specific activity can be closed off from the rest of the warehouse, it can be more fully automated,” Sam says. “AGVs are an excellent example of this, as they travel along a wire running under the concrete warehouse floor. In both these cases, these technologies free up human resources for higher-value tasks.”
THE EVOLUTIONARY APPROACH
To adapt to the future warehouse, Michael says, companies must move from a “revolutionary” approach to an “evolutionary” one.
Understanding the difference between an evolutionary and a revolutionary approach to warehousing is crucial in navigating the rapid advancements in technology and shifts in market trends.
Michael explains the difference.
“Taking an evolutionary approach – rather than a revolutionary approach – means accepting that things are moving too fast for you to update and change your warehouse systems in one go,” he says. “Instead, you really need to build a solid foundation because tomorrow will be different from today. Trying to cater for every possible future solution and implement it all at once can lead to an overly complex project, and it may take a long time to see any benefits.”
Michael advocates for an iterative approach to warehouse change, building on a solid foundational platform.
“Our suggestion is to start with a solid foundation, reap the benefits from that, whether it’s extra efficiencies or freeing up cash for reinvestment,” he says. “These resources can then give you the opportunity to tackle the next change, the next improvement, or the next unforeseen challenge. Once you have that good platform, you can iteratively add in automation and other advanced operations like voice and RF.
“Embracing an evolutionary approach emphasises speed-to-benefit, flexibility, and adaptability,” he says. “This approach can deliver faster time-to-benefit and more immediate ROI from changes. That ROI can then be reinvested into continuous improvement.”
WHY EVOLUTION NEEDS THE CLOUD
Cloud-based WMS technology presents a compelling case for future-proofing warehouses in an iterative, evolutionary manner.
“Cloud-based WMS technology scales to handle processing needs without capacity over-compensation,” explains Sam. “It has ready integrations with existing supply chain and business management systems, takes a modular approach to functionality, and gives you access to a constantly evolving product that is continuously improving.”
When asked about the unique strengths of Microlistics’ cloud-based WMS, Michael highlights scalability and flexibility as crucial advantages.
“The scalability allows you to build for today’s needs and ties back to that evolutionary approach,” he says. “You don’t have to overcompensate today for what the future might look like. It’s a system that will be able to scale up fairly easily, providing extra capacity and resources as needed.”
This flexibility extends to the system’s modularity and integration capabilities.
“It’s about having a modular approach to the needs, knowing that there are additional modules that can be turned on, there are different features within a cloud-based WMS that you can easily enable when you’re ready for them,” Michael says. “Likewise, it comes with the ability to connect to other supply chain systems, automation, transport, freight management systems, and business intelligence places. Modularity and connectivity are hugely beneficial.”
Beyond the flexibility and scalability, Microlistics’ cloud-based WMS stands out for its continuous product improvement.
Michael notes that the system provides “access to evolving products and functionalities as new technologies emerge … Microlistics WMS connects those external technologies, building on internal capabilities. It’s a much more rapid way to provide those benefits to your business.”
Sam Dawson, reinforcing the benefits of the cloud-based system, draws attention to the consistency it offers, particularly in terms of support and deployment.
“As our client base transitions to Microlistics Cloud, it makes things very consistent from a support perspective,” Sam says. “When we go to upgrade in the future, we know exactly what we’re dealing with.”
In considering investments in cloud-based WMS technology and other advanced operations, the underlying principle should be consistent returns on investment.
“These systems are expensive,” Sam says. “So, if you don’t see a quick return on investment, your leadership is going to be less inclined to invest in this next-generation technology. But if you continuously demonstrate ROI, then it’s going to be much easier to take that next leap.
“In other words, the adoption of Microlistics’ cloud-based WMS should not only be seen as a step toward modernisation but also as an investment with tangible, continuous returns.”
Microlistics WMS is available as part of CargoWise Warehouse solutions, which also includes Bonded Warehouse, Transit Warehouse, and Product Warehouse. The CargoWise Warehouse Solutions’ WMS products provide intermediaries and other warehouse operators with the accuracy, efficiency, visibility, and flexibility they need to maximise order throughput, improve operating margins, and profitably expand business.
For more information on Microlistics, click here.