How the distribution industry has evolved and what does its future look like?
The distribution industry has gone through significant evolution in recent years as warehousing and logistics firms have been impacted by digitisation and the need to modernise. This starts with evaluating workforces and the way that workflow is currently handled and looking at how tools such as barcoding, data analytics and warehouse management systems can help create a more optimised future approach. For many businesses this will involve augmenting employees with technology – the future of the distribution industry is likely to require a balance of these two factors. There are a number of elements involved in this.
- Handling critical data. Real time visibility into data is going to become increasingly crucial for the distribution industry, as this allows a range of insights to be derived and used to make systems more efficient and to help reduce costs. There is already technology available to start making this happen, including radio frequency identity tracking and temperature sensors. The insights that such an approach provides will enable warehouses in the distribution industry to improve essential capabilities the more advanced this technology gets.
- AI, machine learning and automation. AI and machine learning have a lot of potential to improve operations within the distribution industry and are already starting to make an impact. This technology can be integrated in a number of different ways, including using self driving vehicles in high-density storage operations and helping to improve the efficiency of specific processes, such as returns management.
- A digital overview. This approach will enable warehouse operators to have access to – and manage – information from across warehouse and logistics operations. It will give the industry of the future greater visibility over warehouse assets, increase the efficiency of inventory management, and make it easier to comply with chain of custody regulations, among many other things.
- Integrated augmented reality. The distribution industry of the future will be focused on supporting human workers through technology such as augmented reality. This is something that is particularly useful when it comes to picking and can also make onboarding much simpler and faster by facilitating training more effectively.
- The use of robotics. While some areas of the distribution industry have already evolved to include the use of robots this is not yet widespread. In the future, autonomous mobile robots will be used to help speed up the work that human employees do within the distribution sector, whether that relates to optimising picking or reducing idle or travel times. This technology could also help reduce high staff turnover rates by taking on low skilled tasks and providing more opportunity for human employees to dedicate time to more advanced training.
- Optimising big data. Many organisations within the distribution sector have already begun to embrace big data but as the years go on we are going to see increasingly sophisticated ways to do this. In particular, APIs powered by enterprise programmes can be used to work with data to make workflows more intuitive and effective. IoT connectivity, data flow and analytics are all going to be part of this process.
With more real time visibility and digitisation the distribution industry has already begun the process of evolution towards a future that perfectly balances the contributions of humans and tech.
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