IoT Delivers Efficiency and Effectiveness in the Warehouse

By: Tompkins International

Executive Summary

A new wave of powerful analytics is at your fingertips. The Connected Warehouse® is now. New technologies make it possible to understand how to optimize warehouses like never before possible. The effect of minor changes in a warehouse can potentially produce significant productivity gains in a facility. Employee morale can be improved, reducing turnover, reducing errors in receiving, picking, and shipping. This improves customer satisfaction and in the end reduces the overall cost of your logistics operations. Tompkins International is on the leading edge of turning these digital disruptions into opportunities for continuous improvement, transformation, and reinvention of your logistics’ operations.

The Work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

What would Frank and Lillian do if they had access to today’s digital tools? If the Gilbreth’s had the Internet of Things (IoT), the Cloud, and advanced analytics how would this have altered their work? Interestingly, this question is very similar to the question, would the Boston Red Sox have won the 2004 and 2007 World Series and would the Cubs have won the 2016 World Series without Moneyball? Not likely, the deep analytics of Moneyball have changed the game of baseball forever. Or possibly another question worth asking, what would Theo Epstein do, if instead of being the General Manager for the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 or the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs in 2016, he was made the President of Warehouse Operations for your company? Since the book Moneyball and Theo advocate advanced analytics, I believe Theo would maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of his warehouse by pursuing deep, advanced analytics. In fact, I think if Frank and Lillian ran your warehouse today they would do the same thing.

Industrial engineers are launching a wave of advanced analytics to improve productivity and worker motivation within warehouse operations. The current efforts are based on the original Gilbreth premise, which in its time dramatically improved construction, manufacturing, warehousing, and everyday routine tasks. The main focus of their research was on the psychology of efficiency and work, combined with the fields of motion and time study.

The Gilbreth premise held that there was a “one best way” to do any task. Efficiency, according to the Gilbreth business management premise, could therefore be improved by finding this “one best way” and replicating it throughout a process. The goal of increased efficiency is both increased profit and greater worker satisfaction.

Based on this body of work from the Gilbreths’, a breakthrough in warehouse performance can be achieved through the combination of digital inputs, IoT, and advanced analytics.

Digital Disruptions

As the pace of digitization of operations in the warehouse explodes, it is more important than ever to establish, “The Circle of Life” for logistics operations, which requires internal alignment in continuous improvement, transformation, and reinvention to maintain your logistics operations in a successful state.

Due to the complexity of today's warehouse environment, collaboration in technology encompasses a broad range of tools that enable optimized scenarios of warehouse processes to work together for maximum efficiency. Broadly defined, any technology that facilitates linking of two or more data points together can be considered a collaborative tool. Companies are developing collaboration strategies and standardizing the digital platform to allow employees, customers, and partners to intelligently connect and interact. A solution that can do this will vastly improve both cost and service performance.

Jim Tompkins, CEO, Tompkins International continues to shape and grow the supply chain industry through innovative ideas and insights into the disruption that has lead to rapid change within the industry. A “must view” is the Digital Disruption video that Jim Tompkins released: Supply Chain Revolutions: Responding to Digital Disruptions.

Digital disruptions are affecting supply chains and established business processes the way business is being done. Businesses cannot be successful in the Digital Age with yesterday’s supply chain practices and technologies. Businesses must be able to respond to the top 11 digital disruptions:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • Big Data

  • Cloud Computing

  • Customer Experience

  • Digital Payment

  • eCommerce

  • End-to-End Visibility

  • Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Mobile (mCommerce)

  • Social Interaction

  • Uni-channel

In a warehouse, humans and machines are working as an efficient whole with an effective dynamic collaboration. The data available in a warehouse consists of sensors and wireless devices. Through dynamically mining and analyzing the big data that is collected from various devices in the warehouse, useful knowledge can be acquired to improve the overall logistics operation efficiency. Industrial sensing intelligence typically involves two main areas of inputs 1) the environment of the warehouse as it is highly dynamic 2) the warehouse as a series of correlated processes and includes inputs from sensors embedded in machines. Through the sensors that are embedded in material handling equipment, forklifts, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) devices, a variety of status information can be obtained and shared with other information sources. Take for example the lighting in a pick to light area within the facility. What is the optimum lighting? Do brighter lights decrease picking errors? What is the impact on productivity? How can you optimize the combination of lighting on productivity, quality, and safety?

Based on data from different devices and different locations, we can design a collaborative sensing intelligence framework. This framework facilitates big data analytics.

Today there are pockets of information in a warehouse. Very little data is shared between the systems, yet each system touches the worker and impacts productivity and cost.

A digital platform can bring all the information together to create the foundation for the ideal solution. The analysis from the platform data can result in higher worker productivity, lower operating costs, improved return on assets, superior customer satisfaction, and the ability to sustain growth and change.

Rising labor costs are incentivizing companies to decrease headcount and boost productivity through greater investment in innovative technologies such as robotics, automation, and self-driving vehicles for material handling. In 2017, we expect to see more investments in robotics, autonomous vehicles, sensors, and devices in the warehouse, which will only increase the amount of available data.

  • Autonomous forklift technology is available and on the market, although manufacturers indicate penetration is still in its infancy.

  • Otto Motors has self-driving material handling vehicles installed at major companies such as John Deere, GE, and Caterpillar.

  • Robotic systems are used to improve eCommerce fulfillment. Tompkins Robotics has been breaking paradigms with its rapidly evolving customer centric technology. To meet the challenges of today while remaining ready for the unknown demands of tomorrow, Tompkins Robotics is positioned to implement solutions that balance automation, flexibility, and scalability.

    • In November 2016, Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay Company introduced a new robotic distribution/fulfillment center system that is 12 to 15 times faster than manual handling. The system can locate and ship an item in 15 minutes, whereas it might take a human 2.5 hours to complete the same tasks.

    • In September 2016, Walmart announced it was testing Symbotic’s warehouse system, which uses robots to drop off and retrieve product cases five times faster than a human can. The system allows food retailers to decrease labor costs by 80% and operate warehouses that are 25% – 40% smaller.

    • Tompkins Robotics is capable of delivering the volumes, flexibility, accuracy, modularity, and cost savings in capital and operating costs needed for eCommerce fulfillment in the United States. In addition, due to the unique nature and cost of this system, it can be deployed faster and easier. The system has a price point that allows more regional locations with automation to speed up delivery to customers at lower transportation costs.

    • More service robots will be used to locate inventory. Warehouses are becoming more automated as online sales continue to grow and distribution centers become smaller. Automation could include more internet-connected forklifts, drones, voice-activated order picking solutions, sensors on trucks, and robotics, such as the Tompkins Robotics t-Sort product offering.

Digitalization will continue to disrupt the entire supply chain, from purchase to final delivery. Companies increasingly will incorporate end-to-end digitalization, including the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and block chain technology to speed the supply chain, and new final delivery models to include autonomous vehicles.

Lastly, in a warehouse environment there is the concern for worker safety and the maintenance of equipment. The sensors embedded in the material handling equipment can be digitized and collected to determine the scheduling of maintenance, reconfiguration of operations, and the emergency shutdown of equipment. With big data analytics unnecessary downtime can be prevented, equipment failure costs reduced, and overall operational efficiency improved.

IoT- SensorThink™

The SensorThink™ platform allows operators to manage their material handling automation, security, HVAC, lighting, and maintenance systems in one environment. SensorThink™ also has a suite of business applications that sit on top of a digital platform. The advantages of SensorThink™ include:

  • Control tower visibility to all aspects of your operations

  • Applications built to enable IoT sensors and devices

  • Cross platform analysis

The digital platform allows us to easily deploy IoT devices in the warehouse, providing access to information previously unavailable. Every piece of information flowing through the warehouse can now be collected, processed, archived, and analyzed; allowing the managing of operations in a way never before possible. For the first time SensorThink™ ties all of the elements of demand, capacity, execution, and performance into a single platform.

The other key component of The Connected Warehouse® is the Tompkins Warehouse Execution System (WES). The Tompkins WES sits on the SensorThink™ platform and orchestrates communications and task execution with material handling sub-systems. The Tompkins WES is easily configurable to manage facilities of varying sizes and complexity. The direct integration with the SensorThink™ digital platform provides access to data from IoT and non-IoT enabled devices, as well as, machines, sensors, and other software solutions. With access to the entire digital landscape of the warehouse, the Tompkins WES, is capable of the most advanced orchestration and task management ever achieved. This intrinsic integration between the SensorThink™ platform and the Tompkins WES together enable The Connected Warehouse™.

This cross platform analytics capability provides building operators insights never before possible, such as:

  • The impact of your building’s temperature and/or humidity on worker performance.

  • Instant notification when an unauthorized operator and/or piece of equipment enters a restricted zone within the warehouse.

  • Instant alerts when the temperature of a conveyor motor exceeds a pre- established limit, indicating a pending failure.

  • Notification that water consumption has significantly increased at afacility within the network, indicating a potential leak in the plumbing system.

How Frank and Lillian Gilbreth would Apply Digital, IoT, and Advanced Analytics to Optimize Warehouse Operations

There is an abundance of big data available in the warehouse. Sensors and wireless devices can be connected in new creative ways. The issue is how to integrate the data and filter out noise to find the pertinent information to discover useful knowledge.

The Gilbreth approach can be a starting point to construct a problem-solving network for a logistics operation. Based on common features of data collection from different sources, parameters can be set to integrate the disparate data. With the change of time or location, the state of a problem we want to solve undergoes transitions. The state includes various current states from different relevant operations. With the help of featured parameters, the data can be integrated to achieve the collaboration of difference processes and the integrated information can be used to discover actionable knowledge.

Take for instance the impact of temperature or humidity on the workforce in a picking area. Temperature sensors can be installed in the picking area. Worker productivity can be monitored. Temperature variations can provide insight into the number of picks per hour and/or the number of errors per hour. Employee turnover can also be a consideration. What is the optimum picks per hour by temperature? Does turnover increase as the temperature of the warehouse increases? The effect on one measured data point on another can be analyzed to maximize worker satisfaction and productivity.

The typical analytic framework has three components:

  • Data Collection

  • Integrated Analytics

  • Information Mining and Knowledge Discovery

Data collection is the start of the framework and consists of the collection of big data from defined sub-systems, sensors, wireless devices, or other digital sources.

Integrated analytics takes the data collection to another level. The effective integration of the different data points is a key process in knowledge discovery.

How to optimize the collaboration of the different processes and people within a warehouse must be solved. Warehouses execute on a series of processes and tasks which are location and/or time related. The difficulty in understanding which parameters affect warehouse performance and how they affect it.

Based on the parameters defined information mining and knowledge discovery can be achieved. This facilitates “The Circle of Life” and enables continuous improvement, transformation, and reinvention.

The Connected Warehouse™ is Now

The digitalization of a business is defined as the strategy, planning, and execution of the right digital initiatives that align with and enable the business strategies of the enterprise. Digital is a broad topic composed of numerous new technologies, new business processes, new business models, and customer experiences. In short, it is a new way of doing business, both externally with customers and internally, including with trading partners.

The ideal warehouse operation would store every single piece of digital information and put it in a common format.

Examples include:

  • Plug and Play IoT

  • Machine to Machine Learning

  • Advanced Analytics to Improve Operations

  • Security

  • Management of Robots and Automation

  • Warehouse Control System (WCS) for your Material Handling Equipment

  • Building Automation

Companies of all types are facing challenges that are unprecedented, in terms of digital disruptions, competitive innovations, and customer centric advances. Supply chains are not excluded from these disruptions. In fact, smart digitalization of supply chains can be the foundation for responding to (or getting out in front of) these threats. Amazon is the perfect example, its supply chains are fast, efficient, high performance, and customer centric.

Digitalization of the supply chain is not only a defense measure against disruptors; it is also a needed strategy for profitable growth. It can yield substantial internal efficiencies, provide much higher agility and flexibility, and radically transform the operational performance of a company for measurable value creation.

The Connected Warehouse™ facilitates a company’s strategy, planning, and execution into the Digital Age. It can take companies at any level of digitalization as far forward as their business strategy envisions.

The Connected Warehouse™ can be set up to solve your quality and process problems within a warehouse.

Typical questions you may have:

  • Are certain packages easier to pick?

  • What causes picking errors?

  • Who are the most efficient lift truck operators and why?

  • What is the optimal environment for maximum productivity?

  • What tasks are employees best suited for?

  • What is the total cost per unit?

  • How does lighting effect performance?

At a high level the collection and analysis of digital information enables:

  • Ability to measure the impact of environmental conditions on work

  • Provide a complete picture of worker tasks to continually update and optimize your Labor Management System (LMS) standards

  • Allow real-time visibility into every digital action in the warehouse

  • Integrate worker security with worker activity

  • Combine control tower capabilities across all of your facilities

  • Create one integration point for all technologies in the warehouse

  • Ability to support automation and IoT, seamlessly integratingtechnology into operations

  • Provide instantaneous alerts when conditions are outside of pre-established parameters

The benefits of The Connected Warehouse™:

  • Total Operational Visibility

  • Continual Productivity Improvement

  • Ability to Manage and Reduce Costs

  • Plug and Play Sensors and Devices

  • Execution Integrated with Analytics

The Connected Warehouse™ is now. The Connected Warehouse™ will facilitate the continuous improvement, transformation, and reinvention needed to sustain a competitive advantage within your logistics operations. Going forward, competition will be fierce with strong eCommerce players setting the bar for logistics productivity, quality, and efficiency. Through the leading edge tools provided by Tompkins International, we can work together to continuously optimize your supply chain. Change will occur at lightening speed as digital devices are implemented in a warehouse. Your supply chain will be a source of competitive advantage (if you digitalize if you work with Tompkins, etc.? something needs to be added) in the future as the availability and delivery of product ordered online will be a major source of the customer experience.

For further information please refer to the Tompkins links below:

The Connected Warehouse™ -

Tompkins Robotics-


Tompkins International innovation approach utilizes both the creative and the analytic talents within organizations to innovate across the full customer experience.

Please contact us at: (800) 789-1257