Ivanti Supply Chain 2019

  • The future of the supply chain workforce is bionic

    Chris Tozer, Territory Manager UK, Ireland & Italy, Ivanti Supply Chain

    April 2019

    Automation has been essential in the warehouse and supply chain industry for years, and never more so now that eCommerce sales have surpassed those taken in brick-and-mortar shops for the first time ever. As a result of this, warehouses are under an increasing pressure to successfully fulfil online orders as efficiently as possible, and within tightening time slots. Automation holds numerous advantages for businesses, such as efficiency, speed and reduced downtime and it is not surprising that there is an 18% year-on-year increase in the testing of robotic automation within warehouses. However, as technology such as drones or collaborative robots are increasingly being introduced into warehouses, many employees fear that they will be pushed out of their jobs in favour of machinery. Nevertheless, this viewpoint is fuelled and heightened by anxiety and is not actually the case. The need for automation, and desire for a creative human eye, will converge and create the next generation of the supply chain workforce, the ‘bionic worker’.

  • As the industry becomes more and more demanding, retailers will turn to wearable, mobile technology to help their employees become more efficient and productive. These devices have evolved alongside the supply chain – once characterised as large and ruggedised, they now resemble smartphones with full surface touch screens and lightweight cases. The next stage of technological development will see the bionic worker utilising wearable technology, such as voice enabled headsets, or smart devices such as watches and glasses, to more seamlessly integrate innovative technological solutions into their daily tasks.

    Countless advantages of bionic technology

    Voice and vision-enabled picking technology has numerous benefits for both the employee and for overall business efficiency. It is a huge step up from the paper-based picking systems that many smaller businesses still operate with and, as well as being much better for the environment, this technology ensures that fewer errors, such as misplaced or incorrectly picked items, are made within supply chain operations. Every mistake costs a business both time and money that it doesn’t have to spare. In fact, the average cost of a failed delivery to a retailer is £12.89 per order, a figure that doesn’t account for reputational damage or the possible loss of further business from a customer.

    These technologies will alert pickers as soon as an error occurs and mitigate against lost or forgotten orders by keeping the information in a centralised database rather than relying on slips of paper which can easily be mislaid. On top of this, the employee that is utilising these devices will be able to complete more orders in the time given, without being slowed down by constantly referring back to a piece of paper. The productivity gains this brings will be a welcome addition to the fast-paced warehouse environment that is becoming strained by the rising popularity of eCommerce.

    The bionic worker has even evolved to have its eyes and hands free when moving around the warehouse, no longer glued to a screen for all of its information. This brings safety benefits as well as greater efficiency. Wearable technology will enable employees to be more aware of their surroundings and therefore less likely to encounter an incident as they will have their hands and eyes free from distraction. This is especially important as autonomous machinery, such as drones and robots, is becoming a common sight within the warehouse and workers must be able to stay vigilant and alert when working in close proximity to these devices.

    Bionic automation can also help to reduce the likelihood of workers suffering from repetitive strain injuries by automating the part of the picking process that would see them constantly reaching for and inputting data into a handheld device. Collaborative robots (cobots) are a great example of this as they allow for warehouse employees to work in collaboration with a machine that can take on certain parts of a task, such as constantly reaching and picking. In addition to safety, bionic devices designed to enhance workers’ experiences will also be available. Exoskeletons are one example of this form of technology, and are designed for those employees that manually lift or reach overhead by wrapping around the body and providing a physical support structure.

    The future of the warehouse and supply chain workforce undoubtedly lies with the bionic worker. Bionic technology, in combination with human creativity and experience, is the key to dealing with both the drastic rise in eCommerce orders as online shopping continues to gain popularity, and the labour shortage that the industry is currently facing. The warehouse doesn’t have to rely completely on robotic automation instead of human employees, but the fusion of the two will bring new levels of safety and efficiency that will set businesses ahead of the competition.

    Chris Tozer is Territory Manager for UK, Ireland and Italy at Ivanti Supply Chain (formerly Wavelink), a role he has held for almost 12 years. Chris is responsible for channel development, management and software sales throughout the region. With a 16 year career in the supply chain technology solutions industry, his areas of expertise are wide ranging and cover channel and business development, partner relationships, enterprise sales and contract renewals. Chris attended the University of Birmingham, graduating with a LLB in Law with French.

    Visit Ivanti Supply Chain on stand 5D10 at RetailEXPO 2019.