A new collaboration bringing together academic and commercial expertise will develop technology to enable more dynamic management of warehouse operations, to help firms meet the surge in online shopping and cope with demand for ever faster deliveries and strains on the global supply chain.
The University of Bath’s Centre for Smart Warehousing and Logistics Systems (SWALOS) is bringing its algorithm and modelling expertise to the project, while Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) Company, Logidot, will further develop technology to track, in real time, human pickers, forklift trucks, handheld scanners and other hardware at work in warehouses.
Online orders now account for nearly one third of all UK retail sales (Office for National Statistics). Pressures on warehouse operations are calling out for new methods of managing order prioritisation, human labour and hardware, to enable companies to meet tight delivery deadlines and adapt to changes to orders and unpredictable spikes in demand.
“We’re very excited to be working with Logidot on new technology to enhance warehouse operations and enable companies to make better decisions to improve performance and safety. The pandemic has brought our reliance on smooth supply chains to the fore and triggered new trends in warehousing which are all about improving distribution to customers and responding to changing demands,” said Dr Vaggelis Giannikas, Director of SWALOS.
“We’re confident that this project will demonstrate how emerging technologies coupled with smart decision making can help tackle some of the real-life problems faced by the logistics and retail industries.”
The technology will bring cost savings in traditional warehouse set-ups, as well as aiding the rising trend of urban micro warehouses, and dark stores cropping up in shopping centres and towns across the UK. These new spaces allow companies to fulfil fast deliveries more easily, locating themselves close to customers, with good transport infrastructure, but they are currently often ill equipped to handle high volumes of orders and supply chain fluctuations.
The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation’s highly competitive Innovate UK SMART grant scheme and will run over the next 18 months.
Logidot founder, Dr Niccolo Corsini, said: “Covid-19 and Brexit have highlighted the essential role played by the UK warehousing sector to keep vital supplies flowing in the midst of a crisis. Most warehouses are reliant on traditional labour intensive and error prone manual processes to track and fulfil orders and we are honoured to have been recognised as an innovative solution to help companies adapt to current challenges.”
The solution will be based on Logidot's state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor tracking technology to continually monitor the movements of material handling vehicles (forklift trucks), equipment (barcode scanners) and order pickers wherever they are in a warehouse. Very low power wireless hardware will be developed for ease of installation and reduced maintenance cost, alongside innovative dynamic routing algorithms to add constraints (e.g., dispatch times, synchronisation with delivery services and customers pick-ups, zoning, routing and picking optimisation) based on warehouse layout and operational data inputs specific to urban dark stores and micro-fulfilment centres.
New functionality and tools will be integrated with Logidot's high-performance location intelligence platform, warehouse management systems and last-mile delivery services to provide real-time data insights.