The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century changed manufacturing forever. Now 200 years later, we’re looking toward another change in the industry. Some call this Industry 4.0 and others call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. No matter how you slice it, technology is changing the landscape of material handling.
Here are some of the technology trends emerging from these changes:
At the center of this revolution, we find Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. Commonly thought of as marketing buzzwords, these are actually two important pieces that go hand-in-hand in disrupting the industry. To ignore them is to ignore the future of the supply chain and manufacturing itself.
In Industry 4.0, we see:
- Pieces of technology communicating both with humans and with other technology
- Technology assisting people with tasks that are difficult or unsafe
- Information contextualized in ways previously not possible
Above all, Industry 4.0 helps introduce automation and data exchange in technologies, including manufacturing technologies. This creates a multitude of benefits: more control in supply chains and better health and safety for production workers ultimately increases revenue for companies adopting the model.
As the industry evolves, we find new ways to connect our processes and information. Smart manufacturing is the integration of systems and software to achieve this. By employing computer control, this type of manufacturing allows for great adaptability and adherence to Six Sigma. The data gathered by integrating these systems allows for elimination of waste in those processes while promoting accuracy, visibility, maintenance and safety.
With more technology comes more opportunity. Robots are a natural extension of automation and intelligence, creating safer and more ergonomic environments for employees. Guided vehicles, picking, and loading and unloading technology will be available and affordable by 2025, and it’s up to companies to keep pace as these become part of the mainstream.
Big data and connectivity
The world of material handling thrives on data, from tracking quality to increasing throughput. Big data is a term that describes the capture and analyzation of the data that we weren’t previously capturing and analyzing. With upgraded technology, we leave digital footprints in everything. Connecting processes and tracking these digital footprints improves the speed and accuracy of our tools.
To capture this data, we need systems that integrate and talk to one another. Using a solution like a warehouse control system (WCS) is going to become more and more important to the future of material handling. A WCS can track both implicit and explicit data across systems. That data can be analyzed and used to make updates in processes that will more efficiently allow users to operate a warehouse at peak performance.
It’s hard to talk about big data without talking about how we’ll access that data. Moving forward, wearable computing will continue to make an impact on material handling. When real-time data is key, people must be able to access and compute information from anywhere—whether that’s from a personal computer or on the shop floor. Wearable computing allows employees to do this while keeping their hands free increasing productivity and order accuracy in picking operations and other processes that require speed and quick decisions.
How to keep up
It’s imperative that businesses keep up with current trends, preparing themselves for the future. For material handling, these trends can be the difference between failure and success. Material handling and logistics companies can future-proof themselves by:
- Choosing to utilize technology from companies who readily integrate with other technologies rather than offering proprietary solutions.
- Adopting forward-thinking strategies that align with business goals. Looking at least five years ahead when planning a strategy is a great start for this—you don’t have to adopt every piece of technology that comes down the pipeline, but you should identify the technology that is right for your company.
Every industry is changing based on technologies available. Future success for material handling hinges on updating our technology and processes based on consumer demand; disrupting our own methods is the way we’ll create lasting success. It will be the solutions providers who evolve with this technology to carry the sector into the next chapter.