The value of Internet of Things (IoT) technology in tracking inventory and logistics in the material handling industry is clear. Yet, that’s only the beginning of how this technology is impacting the industry. The implications of IoT have broadened to the facilities themselves, with new innovations and applications making work more efficient and more cost effective.
Case in point: loading docks.
“We’ve been manufacturing loading docks for decades,” says Brett Lindstrom, director of marketing and connected experience for Loading Dock Systems. “And it’s really been about loading docks in a raw industrial sense, and how they do the heavy lifting. But adding IoT technology – smart controllers, sensors – to dock equipment is now really allowing customers to analyze data and get some real insights on their dock operations.”
He admits that dock operations have historically been overlooked from a technological perspective. “We’re going from dry-erase boards and Microsoft Excel sheets to real data that can improve efficiency and reduce costs,” he says. “Now, we’re looking at real time data that interacts, that can be loaded into the cloud, and really analyzed like it never has before through our iDock System.”
For example, IoT provides the kind of real data that can help companies reduce or eliminate retention fees and charges. Sensors installed as part of his company’s equipment package monitor when the dock is in use, relay data on truck arrivals and departures as well as how long the truck is on site.
“So if your company is charged a retention fee from the trucking company, you can go review that data and check the security cameras, and see if that’s actually a valid charge,” he said. “You have the data.”
Loading Dock Systems recently rolled out MyQ® Dock Management, a new system that provides a variety of advanced metrics to analyze the data. Visitors to ProMat will be the first to see it in action.
Lindstrom says that while large operations with huge docking facilities clearly benefit from the investment, smaller operations are using this IoT to improve response rate and employee time allocation.
“It can be programmed to shoot out a text when a truck arrives, for example, and if you have employees who have other job duties beyond working the docks, that helps better allocate their time,” he says.
A similar revolution is occurring with forklifts, traditionally any warehouse’s go-to vehicle for physical inventory movement. Yale Materials Handling Corporation’s Emerging Technology Commercialization Manager Kevin Paramore says that his company’s IoT innovations, known as Yale Vision, help virtually any piece of mobile equipment become a Smart device.
“Yale Vision is our wireless asset management system in which we apply IoT technologies to material handling equipment,” he explains. “Yale Vision is a complete telemetry solution that uses onboard sensors to provide real-time monitoring of individual lift trucks and entire fleets of equipment. It records data from each unit and automatically uploads it to cloud servers.”
The real-time data management is key to effectively utilizing IoT technology. Paramore says that the system’s automated, instant alerts equip operators and managers with the ability to resolve issues as they arise. This leads to improvements in safety, the ability to optimize maintenance services, and improve equipment utilization.
Yale Vision’s IoT applications can also improve safety and regulatory compliance, both by encouraging operators to adhere to best practices and enabling management to understand issues and implement smart solutions.
“The monitoring system tracks use by individual operators so management can tell which ones are triggering avoidable damage and could use additional safety training,” he says. “Operations can also use the system as part of a proactive approach to maintenance and lift truck upkeep.
“Yale Vision can digitize an end user’s OSHA checklist and prompt the supervisor or maintenance if action is required,” he explains.
Service is an area that Yale is focusing its emerging innovation, and it’s already using the technology successfully. For example, fault codes trigger an automatic alert regarding possible service needs.
“IoT is a big catalyst for Yale as we work towards predictive maintenance and other solutions that transform the service experience,” he says. “We are also plugging in many peripheral components to our Yale Vision solution, such as a power monitoring data set for most lift truck power source options such as lead acid batteries, lithium-ion and hydrogen fuel cells. This extension of the system provides insights to help operations better care for their power source and maximize performance and useful life.”
But there’s still room for continued innovation, especially in the area that started it all for the industry.
“There’s still a lot of inefficiencies in inventory management,” says Will Stavanja, director of customer success for FlytWare. “Despite the innovations that have occurred, it remains a very manual process, there’s still some pen and paper usage, some climbing on the scissor lift and taking a count.”
Outside pressures have also continued to impact the industry, and that was no more evident during the past year, when COVID-19 forced consumers to stay home.
“Consumer demand as we know it continues to grow, and now more than ever, we want our goods and services faster and cheaper,” he says. “This increase in demand along with expected shortages of labor has caused companies to look into automation and IoT solutions in an effort to enhance operational efficiencies and improve inventory accuracy.”
FlytWare takes inventory management into a whole new dimension by relying on drones
“Our technology was developed to solve the painstaking process of inventory management, allowing supply chain operations to focus on what they do best,” he says. “We leveraged our experience of operating drones autonomously in confined spaces with machine learning and visual recognition technology.”
FlytWare uses off-the-shelf, pilotless drones to collect large amounts of data and images, allowing for increases in cycle counts rates, the ability to generate more accurate operational forecasts, and reductions in inventory storage needs to offset expected inventory inaccuracies.
The drones can be dispatched to scan on command or scheduled to operate during warehouse downtimes and rely on charging stations rather than manual launching and battery maintenance.
“Drones offer an extremely high consistency of data collection, virtually 99 percent accuracy,” he says. “Humans get tired, they make errors. Drones can also see more than the label, they can take photos of the inventory that you can’t see from the floor or on a lift and you can see if the inventory is damaged in any way. It really is transformational.”
While IoT can provide immediate cost benefits and efficiency improvements to individual facilities, Paramore says that a big-picture approach really illustrates the positive effect IoT implementation is having in the industry.
“This kind of IoT can also help multi-facility organizations identify and measure key performance indicators in an apples-to-apples fashion across their facilities, to help create healthy competition across their network to optimize productivity and manage costs,” says Paramore. “Efficient operations inside the four walls keep tightly planned supply chains moving on schedule, helping to support operations beyond the warehouse, including on-time deliveries and customer satisfaction.”
With IoT data from the various areas of their operations – docks, warehouses, mobility, and inventory management, among others – operators can also accurately plan for the future.
“Furthermore, if a business is experiencing growth and opening up new greenfield facilities, the lift truck data from their other existing facilities can help create a baseline to more precisely project the needs for each new facility,” says Paramore.
Author Bio: Laurie Arendt is an award-winning business writer based in Wisconsin. Her writing regularly appears in national trade publications in a variety of industries. To contact Laurie email editorial@MHNetwork.com.