Logistics Management – Legal Air Space for Drones

Concerns about safety and legalities are restricting the use of drones everywhere, except in one rather surprising place: the great indoors of mega-warehouses.

It’s completely legal to fly drones inside a private space, and logistics experts are putting drones to use inside large warehouses to automate certain tasks. Warehouses are finite spaces, and they can be mapped into drones’ programming for highly accurate flights. With the added ability to read RFID tags, drones can perform the mundane labor-intensive “cycle counting” that maintains an accurate inventory.

Walmart, one of the nation’s largest warehousers, has instituted a pilot program (no pun intended) to automate inventory management with drones. They estimate that a drone will be able to accurately check as much inventory in one day as a human employee can in a month – an impressive improvement in efficiency and effectiveness. And there’s the added factor of personnel safety: warehouse employees don’t have to climb ladders or operate lifts to count inventory.

Indoor drone usage isn’t right for every warehouse and every logistics manager. Ceiling height, interior walls, and racking systems all must be considered before moving to drone automation. And drones themselves are not cheap, particularly when spatial programming and RFID readers enter the equation. But for some businesses, it could be well worth the investment. Consult with a storage professional to see if drones are right for your warehouse operations.


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The Remarkable Future of the Supply Chain

Drones, 3D printing – the past few years have seen innovations that could prove highly disruptive to the traditional supply chain. Lora Cecere, CEO of Supply Chain Insights, serves up her predictions for the 2030 supply chain in this post. The highlights include:

  1. Autonomous Supply Chain. Sensors, robotics, and GPS combined into an adaptive, cognitive system that automates manufacturing and warehouse management, and reduces heavy machinery downtime through sensors and connectivity.
  1. Safe and Secure Supply Chain. An automated chain of custody will reduce spoilage, secure hazardous shipments, and guard against fakery in everything from purses to pharmaceuticals.
  1. 3D Printing. Everything from spare parts to medical devices will be individualized and printed as needed.
  1. Learning Systems and Network of Networks. Manufacturers, shippers, and consumers will know where any customized order is in the process, at any time, in any place, thanks to supply chain systems that learn cognitively, and a network that talks to all other networks.

What do these changes mean for your business? Is your business ready for this brave new world? And where do storage systems fit into the big picture?


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Could A New Storage System Have Prevented the Recent Smallpox Near-Miss?

No one is more dedicated to public health than the NIH and the FDA. But recently some smallpox samples missing from one of their labs sparked horrific scenarios ranging from terrorist threats to a real-life replay of “Outbreak.” Now that the potentially deadly samples were found on the NIH campus in an FDA lab storage room, investigators are asking how they went missing in the first place.

The samples were originally collected in the 1950’s and stored in an NIH lab, long before modern automated storage systems were invented. In 1972 the lab’s operations, including the smallpox samples, were transferred to the FDA. Although the investigators’ report is not yet complete, it does raise the question of how periodic upgrades of storage systems, including AS/RS and RFID technology, might have secured the samples on the lab’s inventory.

There is a happy ending to the story – the recovered smallpox samples were handed over to the CDC, where they were tested and subsequently destroyed: http://1.usa.gov/1qPPeMX. But it’s a reminder of how vital a good storage system can be. The health of the human race might depend on it!


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Intelligent Forklifts – Are They Too Smart?

The “Internet of Things,” in which all objects will be connected via sensors to a broad digital system, is still in its infancy. While robotic vacuum cleaners and exercise-monitoring clothes are fairly common, such things as self-driving cars are not quite rush-hour ready. However, RFID and on-board intelligence are being successfully combined to create intelligent forklifts for materials handling systems: http://bit.ly/1sr7wEM. Proponents point to cost savings gained through improved safety, greater efficiency, and better inventory control.

Those of the Luddite persuasion, though, envision robots running amok through warehouses, ignoring RFID signals, destroying products and threatening the lives of their human bosses. But automation systems failures can usually be traced to human user error, or, more important, a poor choice of automation vendor. Cutting corners never pays, especially when it’s your inventory at stake. Thoroughly vet your vendors, and your warehouse won’t end up like “I, Robot.”

Now how do I program my vacuum cleaner to do the stairs…?


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Can Automation Systems Keep Customers Happy AND Save Money?

Remember the old days, when you’d send in your Lucky Charms box tops for a magic ring, and the order form said you’d get your ring in six to eight weeks? In Kid Time, six to eight weeks was forever. We wanted that magic ring right away!

Maybe it was the memory of that “want it now” feeling that spurred the development of modern material handling systems capable of routinely delivering shipments in just one to five days. These dramatically reduced fulfillment times are due in large part to automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). In addition to improved efficiency, AS/RS improves space utilization through increasing storage density, both vertically and horizontally. It can be a great way to keep real estate costs under control. Chelsea Tarr discusses the benefits in MHLnews: http://bit.ly/1jdR44l

So kids, send in your box tops now, and that AS/RS system will ship your ring in just a few minutes!


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Photo © Eva Vargyasi – Fotolia.com

When Clothing Stores Are Bursting at the Seams, They Hit the Wall – Literally

Retailers need to keep plenty of merchandise in their storerooms to replenish the racks. A customer who wants to buy an item that just sold out isn’t only a lost sale today, but perhaps many lost sales forever. However, real estate costs discourage retailers from allocating much, if any, of their high-dollar space for inventory storage. It’s enough to make a retailer bang his head against the wall – and that wall could actually be the solution. Take a look at how wall space can be transformed into efficient storage:  http://bit.ly/1itoeKE

See examples of these wall-mounted rack lifts in the Lift & Storage Systems booth at GlobalShop 2014, March 18-20, at the Mandalay Resort and Convention Center in Las Vegas (www.globalshop.org), Booth 1289. We’ll see you there!


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