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Managing the modern warehouse

The industry needs to pay more attention to warehouse infrastructure argues Renovotec’s Richard Gilliard

Research conducted by consulting firm PwC reveals that transportation and logistics CEOs ‘feel a sense of urgency about updating their legacy IT systems, which have suffered from a lack of investment in recent years and are more vulnerable to cyber threats than newer systems.’ (Source: 21st CEO survey, 2018).

A distribution centre employing 50 staff or more loses some 3,000 hours of productivity per annum according to Honeywell research. Over time many logistics companies have been ignoring the problem. An earlier failure to invest, now followed by periods of often wasted investment in new technology – because it is unsupported by the correct infrastructure – only complicates matters.

The research reveals that 89% of managers believe investment in new technology would enable time savings and improve worker productivity, so significantly reducing lost productivity. On the face of it their views are well-founded. Honeywell’s experience shows that an operation that moves away from manual or paper-based distribution centre management can expect 20%+ productivity improvements when it switches to automated processes. Renovotec’s own industry feedback supports these findings, indicating that scanning, forklift and related warehousing and distribution products such as Honeywell’s have the potential to increase warehouse productivity by as much as 25% when correctly deployed. Also, operations that deploy hands-free voice technology pick more accurately as well as saving money—potentially £250,000 in a small distribution operation.

But there is a major barrier to modern warehouse efficiency: a mismatch between the powerful application technologies of the IIoT*era and the network infrastructure that supports them. (*industrial Internet of things)

Research firm Gartner has forecast that businesses will use 4.16 billion connected ‘things’ in 2018, rising to 7.55 billion in 2020. However this very major trend is having a security impact. According to Gartner*20% of organisations have suffered an IoT-based cyber-attack in the past three years; the growth of IoT is creating new opportunities but also generating new problems. For this reason say Gartner spending on IoT security will reach $1.5 billion this year. By 2021 security spending will reach $3.1 billion (£2.2 billion) due mainly to the Industrial Internet of Things. (*cited on Techradar.com)

The increase in spend on IIoT security by some more enlightened logistics companies is an understandable response to a recently perceived threat. Generally however the industry lacks a coherent policy for investment in warehouse infrastructure in general and networks in particular. Experience shows that despite the rapidly escalating data demands of handheld, forklift and voice-directed scanners, push-to-talk radios, security cameras, personal computers and other warehouse devices running over the Internet many companies are still managing their operations using outmoded, inflexible and low-security warehouse networks that prevent them from really benefiting from their investment in new technology – and that leave them more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

In short the rapid growth of IIoT and the significantly higher security threat posed by its many new points of entry are leaving older warehouse networks behind. Lower speed of response to customer demand, poor inventory accuracy and an inadequate view of business processes are just some of the problems caused by an outdated network infrastructure.

Introducing a new warehouse network

Introducing a new network into the warehouse environment may seem daunting but the process is helped by the technology itself, which today is designed to speed and simplify network deployment, from design and planning through to equipment commissioning and installation.

A new option, network rental now does away with the need for capital investment and effectively outsources network installation and support to a third party. But for either purchase or rental the first step must be to conduct a detailed site survey, which is then used to design a solution that provides the coverage, data speeds and security levels the organisation needs. Qualified engineers then manage the installations (cable or wireless), installing and configuring equipment, cabling and infrastructure as specified in the site survey.

End-to-end wireless network solutions include both indoor and outdoor networks. Rugged hardware can be deployed to address a range of enterprise wi-fi, wireless security, guest access and mobile data capture demands. Ongoing maintenance, support, remote monitoring and health checks keep the network up and running, and in good health.

A word of warning. Companies often buy a new network then sit back, seemingly ‘secure’ in the knowledge that they are now better placed to do business and resist cyber-attacks. But for any network to remain current it must keep up to date with new technology. Having a company policy in place to ensure this happens is essential.

Richard Gilliard is Managing Director of rugged hardware, software and services company Renovotec. www.renovotec.com

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