9 IoT Innovations That Make Smart Warehouses Possible

John Funk -
9 IoT Innovations That Make Smart Warehouses Possible

Imagine stepping into a warehouse where everything moves automatically with utmost precision and intelligence. Wouldn’t you be impressed? If you think this isn’t possible today, think again. Through the integration of innovative technologies, we are replacing traditional warehouses with what we now know as “smart warehouses.” These warehouses are far from those ordinary, run-off-the-mill storage spaces that we know. With the Internet of Things (IoT), smart warehouses are revolutionizing the entire supply chain industry.

How do smart warehouses do the things they do? Well, they wouldn’t be called smart warehouses for nothing, would they? Inside these warehouses are strategically placed sensors that gather real-time data on various factors like temperature, humidity, and movement which allow the warehouse to adapt and respond accordingly to changing conditions. Now, that’s smart, right?

What are some of the innovations that make these warehouses smarter? Let’s take a closer look.

#1: RFID Technology

Smart warehouses are more than just a building lined with shelves packed with goods. Each item (or asset) has its own Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag, which allows the warehouse system to accurately track its location and manage inventory in real-time. By using advanced RFID technology, we can eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, lost goods, tedious manual counts, and costly errors.

RFID technology also allows for end-to-end visibility in the supply chain, providing stakeholders with real-time information on the location and condition of the products as it moves from the warehouses to the distribution centers. Additionally, it streamlines the return and recall processes by quickly and accurately identifying the affected items, minimizing the impact on the supply chain and consumers. 

#2: Sensors and Actuators

How do smart warehouses achieve improved efficiency, visibility, and automation? Well, all of these are accomplished with the help of intelligent sensors and actuators. IoT sensors come in various forms and perform different functions, and may include the following:

  • RFID and barcode readers: As mentioned earlier, each product has an RFID tag that provides real-time inventory location and movement information. Any warehouse personnel can attest to the fact that navigating through the maze of shelves can be an extremely difficult task. However, by equipping warehouses with RFID and barcode sensors, your people don’t have to deal with these issues anymore. If that doesn’t sound impressive enough, these sensors also allow for accurate tracking and can considerably reduce, if not totally eliminate, inventory management errors.
  • Environmental sensors: Some goods are extremely particular about their environment, so the warehouse management needs to provide the right conditions at all times to preserve the quality and integrity of the products. Thankfully, these environmental sensors work tirelessly around the clock to monitor the condition (temperature, humidity level, and air quality) inside the warehouse.
  • Weight sensors: Weight sensors are integrated into shelves and conveyor belts to provide real-time data (such as the quantity of products being kept or transported) that are crucial for inventory management and order fulfilment purposes.
  • Motion detectors: Since these sensors are sensitive enough to detect even the slightest movement in specific areas of the warehouse, they enable real-time tracking of staff and assets and allow for the seamless implementation of energy conservation efforts.

Useful Actuators

While sensors are responsible for monitoring physical activity and gathering data in the immediate environment, actuators respond to this information by executing the required actions. Let’s look at some of the most useful actuators found in today’s smart warehouses.

  • Climate control actuators: Using the data supplied by environmental sensors, climate control actuators modify heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to maintain appropriate climatic conditions inside the warehouse and prevent product spoilage or damage.
  • Conveyor belt actuators: Conveyor belt actuators react to the data supplied by weight sensors to guarantee the seamless and efficient transport of goods to different locations. 
  • Security actuators: These are responsible for activating security measures (locking doors, initiating alarms, or switching surveillance cameras on) in response to data provided by motion sensors and other security devices.
  • Robotics actuators: Have you noticed how precisely robotic arms move? Equipped with the appropriate actuators, they can accomplish errands with greater accuracy, enhancing the speed and efficiency of warehouse tasks. 

#3: Robotics and Automation

Warehouse automation and robotic systems are closely intertwined. Smart warehouse robots can intelligently move around warehouses, check inventories, and interact with people, resulting in enhanced efficiency and lower labor costs. But that’s not all. They can also perform more technical tasks such as inventory management and order fulfillment.

#4: Predictive Analytics

After collecting the data from these interconnected devices, we use advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to translate information into insights, forecast trends, optimize workflows, and predict potential issues. 

How does it do that? Specifically, predictive analytics plays a crucial role in inventory management and equipment maintenance. By accurately forecasting market demand through careful analysis of historical data and current inventory levels, smart warehouses can easily adjust inventory levels to ensure the availability of popular items while keeping inventory costs at a minimum.

In the same manner, warehouse equipment (such as forklifts and conveyor belts) have embedded sensors to collect data on usage patterns which we use to predict when these equipment are most likely to fail. This allows them to schedule preventive maintenance during the low periods.

#5: Cloud Computing

Where does this mind-boggling intelligence draw its immense power? The answer lies in the cloud—a vast, interconnected space where data resides. Aside from simply storing all the collected data, it provides on-demand data analysis in real-time that we can use for identifying market trends, finding cost-effective solutions, and simplifying processes. 

By integrating the power of predictive analysis and cloud computing, warehouse managers can instantly respond to changing conditions, resulting in improved real-time decision-making and operational efficiency. And since the technology also analyzes the energy usage of the facility based on available historical data, it can optimize energy consumption by adjusting lighting, heating, and cooling systems in real-time to achieve significant energy savings.

#6: Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies

There is more to smart warehouses than just automation. With Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies, we can achieve a more comprehensive approach to warehouse management. We can use these technologies for various applications, including personnel training, order-picking, and maintenance. For example, Augmented Reality (AR)-enabled wearable devices such as smart AR glasses can help warehouse staff accurately locate products, track delivery, and speed up operations. 

While we employ AR technologies in real-world contexts (for example, inside a warehouse), Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are entirely virtual. VR headsets, for example, create immersive training simulations for warehouse personnel, optimize order-picking processes by providing visual cues and guidance to workers (such as the exact location of items on shelves, the quantity to be picked, and the best route to minimize travel time), and provide remote assistance by connecting off-site experts and on-site workers in real-time.

#7: 5G Connectivity

As we enter the realm of smart warehouses, one thing appears to be the invisible thread that connects all devices and systems: 5G connection. Real-time communication between Internet of Things (IoT) devices is possible because of 5G’s higher upload and download speeds, consistent connections, and enhanced capacity. 

As 5G facilitates the seamless integration between numerous devices and systems in a smart warehouse, it provides low latency for real-time operations and enhances connectivity to allow for a more extensive network of sensors and IoT devices. As such, more devices can work simultaneously without sacrificing performance.

Additionally, 5G connectivity enables remote monitoring and maintenance of systems and warehouse equipment (thereby reducing downtime), enhances security systems by supporting high-quality video streaming and real-time analytics, and allocates network resources based on real-time demand.

#8: Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Warehouse management systems combined with IoT technologies provide total visibility and control over warehousing activities, resulting in marked improvements in the decision-making process.

#9: Energy Management

Another essential factor that enables smart warehouses is energy management. By using IoT-enabled solutions to monitor and optimize warehouse resource consumption, we can easily achieve significant cost reductions and the company’s sustainability goals.

Summing it up, smart warehouses incorporate technology and logistics to bring previously static storage areas to life. With IoT working in the background, what used to be simple storage areas for goods, assets, and equipment in the past are now considered innovation hubs exemplifying efficiency, visibility, and predictive power.

John Funk - Inbound Marketing Specialist, SevenAtoms

SevenAtoms is a top-tier e-commerce, SaaS, and tech growth agency located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. We specialize in driving demand and boosting revenue for online retailers across various industries. We are a Google Premier part...
SevenAtoms is a top-tier e-commerce, SaaS, and tech growth agency located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. We specialize in driving demand and boosting revenue for online retailers across various industries. We are a Google Premier part...