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Digital warehouse: why make it smart

Smart inventory: why digitise your warehouse

One of the biggest wastes of time has always been the end-of-year inventory, which almost always forced a few days’ closure (in the case of commercial establishments) or the use of days off during the post-holiday closure of industries.

The ERP always has the inventory up-to-date, but the possibility of errors during withdrawals or deposits still forced everything to be reviewed once a year for budgetary obligations.

Little by little things have been changing; firstly, the approach has been changed to a digital inventory on a rolling basis throughout the year: taking advantage of periods of reduced workload, the various locations of the digital warehouse are inventoried in succession until the entire survey is completed throughout the year.

But above all, the real revolution is taking place at the moment where we are moving to a smart survey of the warehouse inventory on a random basis, i.e. checking every now and then at some location whether the values recorded are correct. This is due to the fact that the tools with which data is kept up-to-date on the ERP are now extremely reliable and use the most advanced digital technologies.

Let us look in detail at some of these new methodologies, the application of which depends heavily on the type of company.

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1. RF-ID technologies for digital inventories

In the case of the handling of large quantities of goods by forklift trucks, the use of RF-ID technologies for digital inventories makes it possible to constantly read the position of the goods as the truck passes through gates equipped with RF-ID readers. The positioning in the various locations is also controlled via RF-ID readers. Each pallet is equipped with one or more RF-ID labels that contain the SSCC of the pallet itself, from whose code its contents are derived by ERP.

In this way, we know exactly the quantity of material in stock in the digital warehouse, as well as the material being processed (only partly handled and not fully produced). In these cases, we reason in pallets as handling units; should there be a need to pick only part of the pallet itself, the management would no longer be so smart and efficient, but we would have to be helped by hand-held terminals always equipped with an RF-ID reader.

For several years, Sygest has been implementing solutions of this type, particularly in the automotive sector, to control the handling of carbon fibre rolls.

This is a very special material from a physical point of view because before being passed through an autoclave and becoming the material we know, it is very sensitive to temperatures and must be kept in cold storage at -20°C with a maximum time spent outside that must be monitored to prevent the loss of its characteristics. Sygest, for some major car manufacturers, has realised projects that, through gates and with the help of portable terminals, are able to know the stock of the material in the digital warehouse, its positioning and the remaining life time outside the cell.

2. Automated digital warehouses for large quantities of material

The extreme of this concept are the automated digital warehouses, large, fully automated structures that handle an enormous amount of material inside them for which manual control would be impossible. A very small example of these systems are ‘vertical cabinets’, much smaller automatic warehouses.

3. Digital RF-ID labels for manual warehouses

If, on the other hand, we think of warehouses where picking and depositing is purely manual, digital operation must take place via mobile terminals. RF-ID labels remain a fundamental element if we want to make the management of the warehouse itself smart and digital, but there are cases in which their use can be ‘blocked’ by physical factors; in the case of mechanical production where metal is the mainstay, it is practically impossible to work with RF-ID labels unless special labels with special insulation are used.

Costs are definitely important; the guarantee of 100% perfection cannot be obtained in any case, so in this case, we do not consider such a choice appropriate at the moment. In these areas, digitisation can be aided by ‘smart’ tools such as readers used as gloves and terminals guided by voice commands.

RF-ID technologies in the goods receipt phase

In a ‘fashion’ environment, especially where products are very expensive, the choice of RF-ID becomes a plus that optimises and makes the warehouse ‘smart’. In contrast to the pallets analysed in the first point, in this case the labels must be designed for individual garments, all of which are labelled on receipt of goods. Withdrawals and deposits are made by reading via hand-held terminals equipped with powerful readers that can detect the item even a few metres away. Likewise, the digital sample inventory can be handled in a similar way, reducing this operation to a negligible amount of time.

During the dispatch of the parts, one can decide instead to use a gate in which to pass the material in transit to the exit, especially with control logic following a picking that has already been done anyway with RF-ID systems. We believe that the use of hand-held terminals can in any case be safer since the reading angle can be varied at will.

In this context, Sygest has developed a user-friendly application based on hand-held terminals with an RF-ID reader, which allows both inventory and shipment control and dialogues with the ERP to receive and confirm read values.

With the previous examples, we have therefore realised that a well-organised warehouse today can be totally digital. We have also seen how RF-ID systems can represent a new approach, apart from special cases, and their deployment will further reduce the costs of labels and the system itself and thus make them even more attractive.