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A Closer Look at How Amazon’s Warehouse Wearables Will Change Data Capture

By Contributing Author | 06/13/2018 | 6:00 AM

By Don White, VP of Enterprise Solutions, Snapfulfil

Recently, supply chain tech experts have been abuzz with news that Amazon would change the way we measure warehouse performance. The eCommerce giant secured two patents for its warehouse wearables – armbands that track employee movement and direct the picking process sans barcodes.

Reactions to the concept were generally positive, even as some commentators suggested the new tech might face resistance from those who see it as an invasion of workers’ privacy. The pros for employees far outweigh the cons, however. More information about resource performance is always valuable in fine-tuning warehouse processes and inventory management, and these wearables could save employees time and effort as they move through the warehouse.

Here are a few ways Amazon’s wearables could help managers drive efficiency and conserve resources – and how they signal the future of warehouse operations:

A new (short)wave of technology

The technology required to manage the supply chain isn’t cheap – take, for instance, the more expensive internet speeds required to maintain smart warehouse equipment. Amazon’s wearables relieve some of this burden by remaining independent of Wi-Fi, leaving much needed bandwidth available. Instead, ultra-sonic and shortwave technologies drive the haptic feedback feature (the buzzing of a bracelet when close to the intended inventory item to be picked, for instance).

Don’t be in two places at once

Warehouse management technology can track item location and provide the data necessary for employees to reorganize inventory layout. Most solutions can only provide static product location, however, and fail to account for relative spatial tracking of slots, inventory and the labor resource’s hands – requiring significant monetary and resource investment that often gets overlooked.

Because Amazon’s wearables could track employees’ locations relative to each other and the items they’re picking, this technology could be the beginning of cutting-edge warehouse labor management. The possibilities are endless – from heat maps (associated with activity in a location over time) to comparative routing and de-conflicting associated with managing labor and locations and order fulfillment to disallow two resources from needing access to the same location at the same time, or in re-routing a person to avoid a forklift path.

Taking measurement to a granular level

WMS technology, until now, has focused on learned capabilities – how we can improve the speed at which staff moves through the aisles or efficiency during putaway processes.

With Amazon’s wearables, we’ll be able to measure something much deeper – intrinsic capabilities. Time and motion studies have been evaluating the impact of movement on efficiency for quite some time. Researchers will now have the discrete detail of observation

and measure that will lead to improved performance: ranges of acuity in hand/eye coordination and even dexterity can now be correlated to measures in individual performance.

Thinking about warehouse improvement sooner rather than later

Even though the possibilities for Amazon’s newest technology are endless, there are a few bugs to work out. Amazon has yet to disclose how soon their employees might wear this new technology – so it could be a few years before Amazon’s creation significantly impacts the supply chain.

While we’re waiting to see how Amazon’s next-level tech develops, warehouses can take steps now to prepare for increased demands on the supply chain. Warehouse management systems provide greater visibility into the numbers behind your most complex tasks – making it easier to adjust non-efficient processes.

Bottom line: There’s quite a bit to be excited about with Amazon’s latest innovation. But don’t forget – your operations demand efficiency now.

Don WhiteDon White has more than 15 years’ experience implementing and managing solutions for the supply chain. He currently serves as Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Snapfulfil North America.

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