Zdeněk Hruška: Utilizing IoT or robots in your processes? Solve the basic elements of digitization first
The term “Just in Time” was coined as early as 1926 and, since then, its definition has not changed much; it is an approach taken by most companies. In the century between then and now, however, the speed and optimization of the production process, as well as the movement of materials within and between warehouses, has changed dynamically. New technologies are paving the way for new possibilities, which allow businesses to be Just in Time faster, with lower costs and better optimized processes.
Today, every system and every solution generate an enormous volume of data, which is often either inefficiently processed or not utilized at all. One way to start working with data better is to learn about your system processes and take steps to use your existing data to its full potential. Devices implementing technologies from the Internet of Things (IoT) can record, in real time, key data about factors such as the surrounding environment, the movement of people or objects, facial and physical parameters, and many others to an unprecedented extent. It is therefore important to connect existing systems with current data and supplement them with deeper information and data from IoT devices. Subsequent data analysis, accompanied by this data from IoT systems and other technologies, can provide a detailed insight into the structure of each logistics process and, as a result, make it possible to optimize work and performance with surgical precision at the level of individual activities. Using IoT technologies, companies are able to identify which parts of which processes have the greatest impact on their logistics performance. This might involve an analysis of how efficiently goods are distributed throughout the warehouse, or it might be about warehouse management, where goods require specific conditions (temperature, humidity, and so on) and where it might be possible to use IoT devices to monitor these conditions in real time.
Having the right goods in the right place at the right time, and as quickly as possible and with minimal human involvement, is facilitated by real-time localization (a Real-Time Location System – RTLS) connected to production and inventory management systems. Using RTLS, it is possible to track various objects in the warehouse and in the factory within a few centimeters and seconds. Thus, inefficient processes can be uncovered and adequately optimized on the basis of real data. Time and money can be saved in a variety of ways thanks to RTLS. We can monitor forklift routes and subsequently optimize them and increase the efficiency of individual machines. Or we can monitor cart maintenance and, if necessary, immediately know where to find the equipment and tools needed for repairs. It is also possible to monitor, in real time, which parts of the warehouse are used more or less than others and, consequently, make the use of space in the warehouse more efficient.
RFID technologies make it possible to automatically identify goods or circulating transport materials. Without technology, it is impossible for even the most organized companies to know what is going on in the warehouse and in the factory. Thanks to RFID technologies and other IoT data, you can direct your workers and navigate them to a specific item on a specific shelf in a specific row and, thereby, save a lot of time. Knowledge of current stock (volume and location) makes the work of logistics staff much more efficient. A forklift truck can be equipped with an integrated RFID reader and, when loading, its driver is informed immediately whether the right pallet has been picked up. In fact, individual pallets have an RFID tag. The reader and tag communicate with each other directly, eliminating the need to enter a code manually and identify goods using a handheld code reader. IoT systems give warehouse staff and their managers the opportunity to simplify their work significantly. So-called gates in the warehouse, at loading sites or in the factory can also be fitted with RFID technologies. The data retrieved from these gates allows the system to store information about the movement of goods through the warehouse and around the firm’s premises. By evaluating these data, the movement of goods can be optimized and logistics costs can be reduced.
Systems for recognizing text, faces and objects in images also make a significant contribution to automating the many tasks that warehouses handle every day. For example, if there is an area or zone where only specially equipped staff are allowed to enter, an image recognition system can be used to monitor that area 24/7, thus improving occupational safety. If the system does not recognize the necessary equipment on a person entering the monitored area, it will immediately notify the warehouse management of the situation. Using Artificial Intelligence, we are able to teach IoT systems to recognize almost anything, for example, safety cones, forklifts, people or even goods. Image recognition is useful not only in logistics but also in manufacturing, where it detects anomalies in the merchandise. For example, defective items are identified directly on the production line and, if the anomaly shows up repeatedly, the system promptly stops a larger number of duds from being produced. Today, systems already detect products with incorrect colors, scratches, or the wrong shape, as well as many other faults.
Often, transport materials are lost on the way between warehouses or between the customer and the warehouse. Transport cages, carts, pallets, or crates (with or without goods) are misplaced. The Internet of Things makes it possible to continue to monitor this transport equipment between warehouses. You can have an overview, for example, of where a particular transport cage currently is, where it last communicated, whether it has left the zone within which, according to the plan, it was supposed to move around, and where the cages accumulate. As a result, it is easier to discover the theft of transport materials or even merchandise and thus avoid the unnecessary cost of purchasing new equipment.
Technologies from the Internet of Things are rapidly finding new uses across different areas of industry. As such, it is becoming increasingly clear that correctly interpreting previously ignored detailed data on goods, customers, employees, assets and processes determines the degree of competitive advantage. With the technologies made available to us by the Industry 4.0 era, the phrase Just in Time takes on a whole new meaning.
Published in IT Systems 1-2/2020 and at systemonline.cz.