There’s a lot of talk today about Industry 4.0. For intralogistics practitioners, the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution will not only lead to major changes in how goods are picked, packed and shipped in a distribution center (DC), but also trigger a period of dramatic change in the supply chain field known as Intralogistics 4.0.
Industry 4.0 was a term coined in a project undertaken by the German government to promote computerization in manufacturing. The fourth industrial revolution involves the emergence of “smart” factories, which will utilize such technologies as the Internet of Thing (IoT)s, cloud computing, and big data analysis in the production process. Smart factories will take advantage of cyber-physical systems to adjust production in response to changes in consumer demand.
Just as manufacturing in the 4th industrial revolution will become more responsive to shifts in consumer demand so will distribution and logistics. For intralogistics practitioners the era of Intralogistics 4.0 means that the DC will need to adopt an assortment of technologies to expedite the order fulfillment process and respond more quickly to incessant changes in order variety and volumes.
Essential technologies for Intralogistics 4.0 are automation and intelligent software as they enable the DC operation to make on-the-fly adjustments for order fulfillment. Stock-keeping units (SKUs) will be kept in automated storage rather than traditional rack storage and shuttle systems will be used in combination with a goods-to-person approach for order picking. This approach enables quick SKU retrieval and faster order throughput to get products out the DC door as online buyers increasingly come to expect orders to be delivered in hours rather than days.
In addition to automated storage, industrial robots and eventually humanoid robots will replace most workers handling manual, routine tasks such as each-item picking and packaging. Although DCs will likely never become zero-person operations, the remaining personnel will be highly skilled workers trained on how to maintain and manage technology rather than how to execute tasks.
In the Intralogistics 4.0 DC, sophisticated software will orchestrate the fulfillment process, adjusting in-motion inventory on shuttles, conveyors, and sortation equipment on a real-time basis to accommodate load balancing and optimize processes. The concept of IoT will be extended to the DC such that SKUs will be outfitted with tracking devices to know the SKU status at all time.
As the software overseeing the DC operation becomes more capable of self-learning and takes on a greater role in decision making, the facility will be transformed into a self-managing intralogistics node. Just as Industry 4.0 will create smart factories, Intralogistics 4.0 will bring about smart DCs that supply products in response to shifts in marketplace demand with deftness and cost efficiency.