Streamlining Efficiency with Paperless Warehouse Processes
Axel Schmidt from Gartner "Cool Vendor" ProGlove explains why paperless warehousing is an environmental imperative.
Global paper use has quadrupled over the past 50 years as technology has enabled businesses to leverage fast and cheap printing. Little mention is made, however, of the environmental impact of this seismic shift in behavior; let alone, of the clear commercial advantages paperless workplaces enjoy over more traditional ones.
Environmental pressures on all industries mean it’s imperative for businesses to take ownership of the effect their actions are having. By switching to paperless systems organisations can reduce their impacts significantly, and by capitalising on more intelligent, digital processes they can achieve these aims, and others, more efficiently.
Businesses mustn’t be afraid to leverage resources that are available to them to help with this switch. Innovative, wearable technology for example, provides the opportunity to unlock valuable efficiencies and advantages across industries. Such benefits include enhanced rates of data collection, accuracy and error correction, health and safety, and a happier workforce.
This smart technology can be easily implemented within the warehouse to transform a wide range of tasks from being paper-based to a much faster and streamlined digital alternative. Vital functions such as; order and process documentation, directions, shipping notifications, return forms and more can all be optimised through digital transformation. There is no longer a need for these to be communicated via outdated printed methods. It’s time for business leaders to start driving efficiencies from within.
Adapting to the trends
The widely documented rise in ecommerce sales over the past few years – particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic – has meant businesses have had to think strategically about how to adapt and improve efficiencies within the supply chain. Eradicating paper-based processes in favour of a real-time, digital approach combined with wearable technology is one of the easiest ways to achieve this.
Throwing increased delivery pressures into the mix as consumers want their goods on the next or same day and with accurate hourly slots, has also meant warehouses need to be optimised to match this demand. Without a streamlined approach many businesses could suffer a loss in customers and be their own downfall. Paper-based is the past, and customer experience isn’t the only reason to ditch the physical.
Health and safety
Workers occupied with reading printouts and organising papers are not aware of everything around them, and in areas where machinery and vehicles are constantly in operation, this can present a dangerous hazard to employee safety. Warehouses are only going to get busier as ecommerce grows, and operations must be adapted so not to sacrifice workers’ health.
Speeding up data
Paper-based record keeping is slow and monotonous, as well as an inefficient use of employees’ time considering the technological advances that are accessible to all levels of the warehouse. In a time when efficiency is paramount, it’s counterintuitive to still use manual data recording. Processing, analysis and data comparison should be handed over to automated computer systems, which will also help to reduce inaccuracies from human error. So what’s the ultimate solution?
Overriding technology such as Warehouse Management Systems or Enterprise Resource Planning both reflect essential management requirements, but not necessarily the concerns of shop floor workers.
There’s a particular function that offers a radical increase in efficiency and that’s barcode scanning. Initially introduced to help limit paper processes, traditional handheld scanners are typically bulky, unreliable and uncomfortable to work with. However, by utilising industrial wearable barcode scanners, that are ergonomically designed and integrated within a glove format, the role can be a fluid extension of the worker.
This smart technology can facilitate a number of warehouse jobs such as sorting, picking and packing at speed. Integrated displays are used to direct workers to the next picking location in real time, without time consuming and tiring walks back to static information terminals, or having to sort through paper-based documents. It leaves the worker hands free at all times to pick up items and safely negotiate warehouse locations, and workers need only press a button in the glove to quickly scan an item. This makes the whole process much faster, easier and more efficient; reducing the scanning time by up to four seconds per scan. If you consider the amount of scanning per day per worker, particularly with the increase in ecommerce, these seconds quickly add up to significant, measurable and valuable efficiency advantages.
Ergonomic wearables also have no need to be put down and picked up again for every scan, and as lightweight alternatives to their bulky counterparts they remove an extra level of weight from the worker to help combat fatigue.
Worker safety is paramount, and the hands-free nature of these devices significantly improves this. Sensors can also be included which emit a signal to alert other workers to an individual's presence to address risks created by forklifts and other machinery or moving infrastructure.
Sensors can also be used to improve picking accuracy through haptic feedback options, such as acoustic signals, vibration and LEDs on the back of the hand to provide immediate confirmation of correct product selection. This not only drives up productivity but also avoids worker frustration and reduces picking errors.
The future is now
It’s time for the paperless vision to become a reality today, to maximise efficiency and improve organisational productivity to meet changing trends and consumer demand. Although it’s not possible to remove paper completely due to legal requirements, it can be significantly reduced to help the environment and organisations thrive.
Wearable technology can clearly help to maximise performance and worker comfort, and integrating this into the workforce can be a seamless process. Workers need no longer experience unnecessary and tiring repetitive activities. Furthermore, accuracy can be drastically improved to better the employee experience and safety – ultimately underpinning the organisation's success.