Tracking Warehouse Inventory on the Move

Q: Despite technology advances in end-to-end supply chain visibility, the warehouse is still a “blind spot” for many companies. What can be done to improve visibility within the four walls to bring the same level of excellence achieved in other areas of the supply chain?

Van Wormer: Over-the-road transportation fleets have gained tremendous productivity through real-time GPS tracking of their trucks, drivers, and in-route inventory. As in transportation, visibility in a warehouse operation means knowing the real-time location of your materials handling vehicles, drivers, and inventory so operations can be optimized for maximum productivity.

GPS does not work indoors, but different types of visibility solutions and tools provide indoor tracking and productivity gain. RFID, laser, and optical solutions are the most common technologies deployed today. These solutions typically include visualization tools such as real-time location maps, daily performance reports, and historical data analysis. For example, optical tracking technology from Sky-Trax provides second-to-second, inch-accurate tracking of vehicles, drivers, and inventory, with a full package of reporting and data visualization tools that allow managers to view the inside of their facility in ways they’ve never been able to before.

Q: What are the benefits of this kind of visibility?

Van Wormer: Having real-time visibility of your warehouse operations provides immediate improvements in accountability, safety, and elimination of unproductive activity. Managers can also track and analyze fleet utilization and driver productivity to determine opportunities for reducing fleet and shift sizes, and improving labor standards. Additionally, tracking inventory movement from receiving to put-away, picking, and shipping provides insight into optimizing routes, rack slots, zones, and throughputs. Accurate inventory and vehicle location data can be fed real-time into warehouse management systems (WMS) to create optimized tasks, enable interleaving opportunities, and reduce the need for cycle counting resources.

Sky-Trax technology can also eliminate the need for hand-scanning pallet and location IDs, allowing drivers to move more pallets per hour. This historical data can be captured in a database to support Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, or other continuous improvement initiatives. Warehouse operators who have invested in these visibility tools have typically realized productivity improvements of 10 to 40 percent.

These visibility technologies also support next-generation warehouse automation opportunities, such as tracking and controlling automated guided vehicles. The ability to track both manned and unmanned vehicles’ real-time location, direction, and speed allows managers to remotely control mixed fleets, ensuring safety while optimizing vehicle and labor utilization, and inventory flow.

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