BlogSupply Chain TechnologyAutomated systems are one distribution center technology trend

Today’s distribution center technology trends center on using smarter equipment to speed up the path from the distribution center to the customer. Market expansion through online ordering and direct-to-consumer sales models have also increased the need for DCs to carry a more diverse selection of products. At the same time, distribution centers must keep throughput and accuracy high. 

Intelligent technology can optimize every process in a distribution center, from receiving orders to selecting products to tracking shipments. These technologies go beyond simple warehouse management platforms and automated storage and retrieval systems. They leverage unique features like augmented reality and artificial intelligence to speed worker tasks and improve processes. 

Three Distribution Center Technology Trends to Optimize Your Process

Automated robots in use at a distribution centerManagers of distribution centers with large and diverse volumes of products are challenged by the need to keep both productivity and accuracy high. When considering warehouse and distribution center technology improvements, they target systems with the potential to increase throughput, enhance picking accuracy, and improve overall efficiency. Some of these systems include:

  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): AGVs provide an automated method of moving pallets through the distribution center without the need for human intervention, which reduces the risk of injuries and enhances speed. While AGVs aren’t a new technology, how they move is changing. In the past, these vehicles were guided by a fixed path marked by wires or magnetic tape. However, wireless technology allows AGVs to move more dynamically, free of guide wires, to account for the ever-changing environment. AGVs can now be programmed to follow a certain path, and the ability to change this programming gives them greater flexibility to carry out tasks around the warehouse.
  • Vision picking glasses: Augmented reality glasses save time in the picking process by creating an overlay that allows employees to instantly see product details for simplified picking. This eliminates the need for employees to struggle to reach barcodes to scan them. In a recent DHS pilot program, the use of such glasses improved productivity by 25 percent
  • High-density vertical storage: Automated equipment allows managers to expand storage space by making use of vertical real estate through a high-density deep lane storage system. Forklifts and people also need room to move around, meaning that traditional warehouse setups must store and position products in a way that allows for maneuverability. Automated equipment, on the other hand, doesn’t need as much space to move in, so supply chain managers can reclaim square footage for other uses.

One thing these new technologies have in common is the reduction of the human component of labor. Automation places the brunt of the labor on machines, which improves efficiency and increases picking accuracy. However, to make the most of these automated systems, managers must be prepared to make a few changes on the distribution center floor. 

Supporting an Automated Distribution Center Environment 

Plastic pallets can support distribution center tech trendsMost distribution center best practices are based on an increasingly automated environment, where pallets of products move and are tracked seamlessly. A major limitation in this environment is a staple of distribution center production: wood pallets.

Wood pallets frequently shed debris that can get into automated equipment and jam it. They are prone to failure, and a collapsed pallet has the potential to cause automated equipment damage and downtime. The weight and dimensions of wood pallets also vary widely, making it difficult to calibrate equipment. Finally, boards and large pieces of wood often break off wood pallets; if a wood block pallet is equipped with an RFID tag, it’s likely the tag will be left behind at some point along with the board to which it’s attached.

Plastic pallets are up to 35 percent lighter than their wooden counterparts.

Plastic pallets are the best way to avoid these issues and to optimize the ROI of your automation. Plastic pallets do not shed debris or shards that might jam equipment and they have a consistent weight and dimensions that allow for machine calibration to tighter tolerances. Plastic pallets are up to 35 percent lighter than their wooden counterparts, which is gentler on equipment and can reduce overall transportation costs.   

Prior to taking advantage of any distribution center technology trends, managers should consider making the switch to plastic pallets. Plastic pallets are the perfect fit for the distribution center of the future because they are the future of pallets. By switching now, managers can optimize their distribution center for any level of automation. Plastic pallets are sustainable, sturdy, and designed to support the technology that’s improving the efficiency of distribution centers everywhere.

iGPS pallet pooling supports distribution center technology trends by renting a sturdy, consistent platform with embedded barcode and RFID tags for simplified scanning. Our pooling options allow you to save money on managing your pallet fleet so you can invest more in efficient technology. To learn more, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.