The most interesting technologies and trends in logistics. Part 2
In the previous article we described the benefits of Big Data, drones and augmented reality. This time we focus on, among others, exoskeletons and autonomous vehicles.
Virtual reality is mainly associated with entertainment but in the future will also be widely used in logistics. Distribution centres which are scanned, computer-processed and reproduced in virtual reality will become a testing ground for optimising actions. Before you decide to reorganise your warehouse, you will be able to test all the options in the virtual warehouse which will be its perfect copy. Thanks to this technology you will be able to see how the planned changes will affect the efficiency of your processes and material flow without any additional costs. These possibilities will not be limited to existing warehouses but will be used mainly for the planned investments.
The potential investor will be able to enter the virtual reality and verify the planned infrastructure meets their expectations. At the same time the optimisation work in such a virtual warehouse can be realised by many specialists in different parts of the world without the need for numerous journeys. In the future virtual reality can also become a "testing ground" for training new employees. It is not difficult to imagine training of a forklift operator in a virtual reality distribution centre without fear of damage to the equipment – which is not a rare case.
Exoskeletons and smart clothes are another trend that is changing the logistic operations. It has to be solved in two categories. The first is to improve working conditions and safety by monitoring vital signs, quick alarm if the employee loses consciousness or has an accident. The smart clothes with sensors and company wireless network will be able to rapidly initiate emergency operations. The second aspect is the opportunity to increase the physical abilities of the employees and helping them with the implementation of repetitive tasks.
Exoskeletons are able to break barriers which are the result of human physique, allowing, for example, lifting weights which so far have been beyond our reach or to tire less when performing routine and repetitive tasks. It is also worth looking at this solution from the demographic perspective. A number of the developed countries is struggling with the issue of demographic decline and thus aging populations. At the same time the average lifespan is extending. Taking all this into account, it seems reasonable that the length of our professional activity will have to change. Unfortunately, the human body weakens with age. The exoskeletons and "smart" clothes would be a great help. Active and passive exoskeletons would allow older people perform work which requires physical strength while minimising the risk to our muscular system and skeleton.
The autonomous vehicles are certainly the most frequently described trend in the area of transport. All major automotive and technology companies are developing this technology, investing billions of dollars in autonomous cars and trucks. These solution will be of vital importance in the development of the transport market. However, one should also consider autonomous vehicles that will be used in the internal transport in companies and logistic centres.
I assume that such solutions will be very quickly implemented when it comes to "line" transports between warehouses and factories. A fixed route that, with the right attitude of the local authorities, may be specially modified to the needs of the autonomous vehicle solutions guarantees the safety and effectiveness of such solutions. Containers on wheels will move 24/7 according to a predetermined schedule. Of course, due to this there will be a lower demand for the work of drivers since the fleet of such vehicles will be able to be administered by a trained employee from anywhere in the world and only inspections and repairs will be performed locally.
We will wait a while longer for autonomous vehicles not moving in a fixed loop but to changing locations. In the first case all the aspects of loading and unloading can be specified in the contract and the flow of documentation digitised. In the case of general cargo shipments to one-time customers the human intervention will be necessary, for example while loading and unloading. Not all customers will agree to eliminate the paper documentation completely. However, the role of "a driver" will be limited to the transport administration.
I would also like to mention the internal transport which is an essential element of any company. Forklifts, trolley trucks, towing tractors or trolleys for collection of goods which move along a magnetic induction loop, are controlled with RFID, GPS or other method which is intended to improve the process efficiency, as well as to guarantee their safety. These solution are most commonly used for highly standardised production (e.g. along the production line) or full-pallet releases. It is also possible to use such solutions for individual order picking or multipicking. Picker-following trolleys are tested, for example, by DHL. Thanks to such solutions, the employee has the option of collecting much larger quantities of goods from the shelves. Other solution is autonomous trolleys used/tested in some Amazon warehouses transporting entire bookshelves to employees.
In my opinion, the most important aspect is the overlapping of the abovementioned technologies. The genuine synergy will be achieved only when they will start to complement each other. Autonomous vehicle transporting easily marketable goods of high value, monitored from the air by a drone or an employee equipped with augmented reality glasses, supported by the autonomous vehicle which allows for the implementation of many orders. In the next part of the article I will try to describe the idea of "share logistics", 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT).