Exploring Warehouses of Tomorrow: A Guided Tour Through the Most Promising Technologies

Published on 10 August 2023

Generix Team
Generix Team

The Gartner Hype Cycle 2022* report provides an overview of emerging technologies within the logistics sector. This analysis is particularly valuable when launching new initiatives or investments. Let's take a closer look at the latest trends that are shaping the future supply chain, illuminated by insights from Isabelle Badoc, Product Marketing Director at Generix Group.

The Gartner Hype Cycle 2022 report offers insights into the maturity and business impact of the most innovative technologies. It begins with an assessment of the current state of supply chains. These chains have become more complex and chaotic, facing persistent effects of the ongoing health crisis, along with other detrimental impacts such as inflation, rising energy costs, labor shortages, and global tensions stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this disrupted context, adapting to new technologies is seen by businesses as one of the most important strategic challenges over the next five years. The Gartner Hype Cycle 2022 report should provide valuable insights, focusing on six closely monitored technologies. Isabelle Badoc sees this exercise as a great opportunity for reflection: "Some of the presented technologies are revolutionary, while others involve a reformatting of existing systems. What matters is considering the profitability of necessary investments by evaluating the balance between gains and costs."

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) based on Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) Still in its early stages, WMS based on real-time location systems (RTLS) represent a paradigm shift in warehouse management. This approach involves identifying precise, real-time positions of assets (people, equipment, products, stocks), tracking them within the warehouse, and managing task assignments. This system saves time in locating assets and improves task allocation productivity. It relies on technologies such as 3D cameras, visual recognition, and dynamic location sensors attached to moving assets (forklifts, automated guided vehicles, robots, etc.).

Isabelle Badoc finds this technology extremely promising, especially for large sites that require tracking numerous assets: "WMS based on RTLS would facilitate better task or equipment assignment, as well as optimizing the choice of picking location based on highly effective dynamic simulation." Given the computational challenges, she raises questions about the next few years: "Synchronizing different tools or production means will represent a true revolution. However, the real performance gain versus tool financing needs to be assessed."

Multi-Agent Orchestration Platforms This technology enhances integration and work organization among various business applications, heterogeneous fleets of robots, and other automated assets. As warehouses become more automated, they incorporate robots from different suppliers. A standardized software can structure the work of these robots, assign tasks based on their characteristics, and communicate with other automated assets like door and elevator commands. Work organization should become more efficient, with tasks being allocated to the most suitable robot. While multi-agent orchestration platforms are still in development, research is ongoing. "This technology could complement RTLS-based WMS," notes Isabelle Badoc. "Synchronization would then rely on real-time agent tracking."

Digital Twins in Logistics A digital twin virtually replicates all physical and digital elements that support task execution processes. It provides managers with a more accurate view than data tables, crucial in increasingly complex warehouses. It aids decision-making, asset management, and warehouse operations improvement. A digital twin can, for instance, monitor machine operation to enhance efficiency or predict when it should be used. Simulating warehouse scenarios will reduce costs, time, and efforts in purchasing, constructing, and maintaining automation.

Isabelle Badoc highlights that AI-driven digital twin experiments are still in their infancy: "The work focuses on simulation to understand the impact of significant organizational changes. However, in warehouses, we are more interested in execution-related simulation impacts. In fact, with Generix's RMS solution, we are close to digital twin technology: we offer resource planning based on task forecasts from digital simulation."

Autonomous Trucks Autonomous technology is still in its early stages. Autonomous trucks currently are 75% wider than passenger vehicles, five times longer, and 20 times heavier. They need to improve positioning accuracy on roads. Additionally, planning decisions earlier is essential due to braking distances up to 65% longer than those of passenger vehicles. It may take decades before autonomous trucks can handle all road, traffic, and weather conditions. They will likely operate on a hub-to-hub basis, with human drivers taking over for last-mile delivery. Some companies might partner with shippers to test the new capacity while sharing risks. However, looking ahead, aside from regulatory concerns, Isabelle Badoc raises a critical question: "How will an autonomous truck's interaction with delivery work? In other words, who will take over to make the goods available to the customer?"

Warehouse Workforce Forecasting This predictive analysis forecasts short, medium, and long-term workforce needs in warehouses, considering tasks, skills, processes, etc. It's crucial for warehouse managers: workforce availability has become a key factor in productivity analysis, surpassing cost. Effective workforce prediction should combine multiple methods: managerial judgment, work time study, trend analysis, time series forecasting, model-based simulation, and machine learning.

Generix's RMS solution already addresses workforce planning based on sales forecasts. "This technology is mature and available, although not yet widely adopted by clients. The next step to make it more efficient would be replacing sales forecasts with workload forecasts," says Isabelle Badoc.

Warehouse Execution Systems This technology combines capabilities of traditional Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Warehouse Execution Systems (WES). It relies on near real-time task visibility, coupled with business process logic to enhance flows, organization, and task prioritization. Faced with mounting pressures to boost productivity, high-speed automated execution is a plausible solution. While WES solutions are not entirely mature, they should offer significantly lower costs compared to historical systems in the future. They'll be tailored to evolving corporate strategies, transitioning from people-focused management to automation-centric design.

According to Isabelle Badoc, WES will be the "super conductor of task processing, considering all production means and ensuring optimal task sequencing for the best performance, integrating all constraints and data. It's a natural extension of Resource Planning."
Gartner Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2022 - published on June 27, 2022.

Attribution and disclaimers:

Gartner®, Magic Quadrant™ for Warehouse Management Systems, 08 May 2023, Simon Tunstall | Dwight Klappich | Rishabh Narang | Federica Stufano

Gartner® does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner® research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner®’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner® disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Gartner® is a registered trademark and service mark, and Magic Quadrant™ is a registered trademark of Gartner®, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and are used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Gartner, Critical Capabilities for Warehouse Management Systems, 29 July 2022, Simon Tunstall, et. Al.

About Generix Group North America

At Generix Group North America, we provide a series of solutions within our Supply Chain Hub product suite to create efficiencies across your entire supply chain. Our solutions are in use around the world and our experience is second-to-none.

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