Between farm and fork, agricultural produce navigates a crucial link in the supply chain – the warehouse. The warehouse is a vital point that provides a safe structure in which the crop is stored after harvest until it’s on its way to wholesalers or retailers. Warehouses play an important function in agricultural marketing, by way of ensuring continuous goods in the market, protecting the produce from deterioration, and stabilizing the pricing by adjusting demand and supply. A warehouse isn’t just any structure, though –it’s a scientifically built structure constructed in such a way that both the quality and quantity of products are protected, for which specific types of preservation methods are used.
There are many types of warehouses, and the most common one is the ordinary warehouse used for the storage of general items, that range from food grains to fertilizers. These include both surface and underground structures. In some cases, such underground structures are safer from threats from external damage: rain, wind, or even theft. Surface storage structures are built on the surface, and the produce may be stored in a bag or bulk. A silo is another type of storage structure, grains in bulk can be unloaded on the conveyor belts; and through mechanical operations, are carried to the storage structure. The storage capacity of these silos could be to the tune of 25,000 tons. There are also special commodity warehouses built specifically for storage of specific commodities like cotton, tobacco, wool and petroleum products. And finally, there are refrigerated warehouses, which require the temperature to be maintained at a particular level. These are used to store vegetables, eggs, fish, and meat.
To get work done efficiently, companies are going through a digital transformation, and the warehouse sector is no exception. There are a great number of things that are done easier and faster in digital mode. This transformation to digital not only future-proofs the companies but also ensures that the supply chains operate at peak efficiency, which is great for customers and businesses alike.
With growing investments in digital solutions, companies are taking advantage of the benefits of real-time data, better communication with employees, efficient workflow and better sales.
so what are these technologies, and how can they be used? A brief look at these:
In the near future, big data will be making its way into the warehouse; and a digital technology known as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is helping continue this trend. This is a technology that allows for the sharing of documents, with a shared format between two computer systems. Popular uses for EDI include sharing of purchase orders, shipping orders, stock transfer receipts, shipping advice and inventory advice. When integrated into a successful warehouse management system (WMS), the key benefit of this is the highly visible flow of information between two different computer systems. Even if business partners do not follow exactly the same systems, with a standard format and compatibility systems, EDI documents allow for greater efficiency, visibility, and collaboration among all parties, leading to smoother operations.
The warehouse seems an unlikely place for a drone, but they can aid tasks that might otherwise require a large number of man-hours. One such task is barcode scanning. Imagine a warehouse stacked with inventory: this makes the barcodes on the top shelves difficult to reach and read, and often requires the use of a forklift, cage and staff to scan them. Drones, on the other hand, can count as much stock in two days than an 80-strong team, complete with lift trucks and handheld scanners, can achieve in three days. The ultimate challenge is about safely navigating inside the warehouse before they are adopted on a large scale. And with major companies like Amazon and Walmart looking to expand their warehousing operations with drone technology, the future for drones looks bright.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology already in use in warehousing, and its getting more sophisticated. RFID technology uses radio waves to feed information between tags attached to stock and readers that pick up the signal. This ensures greater stock visibility and transparency, which offers ease of inventory as well as the reduction in theft. Efforts are on to combine drone tech with RFID to further automate the inventory process. By attaching a reader to a drone, inventory can be cataloged at a much faster pace. Floor space can be saved, as the RFID and drone combination will allow a stock to be stacked as high as possible.
Not every company can afford to own or lease warehouses full time. The air bnb concept is catching up in warehousing, which means that any warehouse with spare space can advertise it for the use of customers who need space at short notice. All it requires is registration on a website. Although this facility is currently operational only in North America, it is gradually changing the game with such adaptive measures.
Cloud storage can be beneficial to warehouses by helping in cutting down on maintenance, infrastructure and labour costs that come from the installation and upgrading of warehouse management systems. Many warehouses are still using old and out-of-date systems, and switching to cloud technology will both save costs as well as self-update. The main consideration is about the ownership of the data and locations of the servers; based on these, an assessment can be made of whether it will be truly cost-effective.
How can batteries make a difference? Tesla has recently unveiled two batteries that can draw energy either from the nearby power grids or renewable energy sources like solar power. This brings the advantage of allowing local power sources to be used, and thus offsets the upfront costs of installing automated systems. The capacity to draw power from the renewable energy means greater flexibility in locations of warehouses.
The construction of warehouses too is undergoing a change. Traditional materials and methods are being replaced by single-envelope technology with composite panels which are air-tight, energy efficient and durable. These are key benefits, especially for cold storage facilities.
This is just a snapshot of the upcoming advances in technology for the warehousing and logistics sectors.
Meanwhile, with e-commerce and digital distribution growing, it is up to the firms to be up-to-date with the latest innovations. Implementation of digital technologies will be vital to the smooth running of warehouses, as the 21st century rolls on.