Optimizing Warehouse Control Systems With Industry 4.0

Dr. Ralf Garlichs, EVP Products & Technology, Interroll Group
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Dr. Ralf Garlichs, EVP Products & Technology, Interroll Group

Dr. Ralf Garlichs, EVP Products & Technology, Interroll Group

With industrial IoT (IIoT, also referred to as Industry 4.0) on the rise, it is critical for CIOs and IT personnel to participate in the selection and deployment of warehouse control systems and equipment. Involvement in the purchasing and deployment processes of the physical equipment in a facility will help maximize the optimization of the manufacturing, distribution, and operational efforts in which a business invests.

With innovative new software for industrial systems, cloud solutions and autonomous robots, warehouse machinery, and equipment can provide valuable data and analytics to improve distribution center operations. But this improvement can only be achieved if the existing manufacturing infrastructure has the capability to operate with new technologies.

Conveyor systems have become a prime investment for OEMs and end users looking to optimize the transport routes of goods, as well as minimize downtime in distribution centers and warehouses. By working with IT personnel to integrate interoperable software that can connect with the machinery’s sensors, CIOs can ensure that their organizations see improvements in the speed, accuracy, and control of their systems.

Implementing Industry 4.0 within warehouse control systems can be a daunting process for both CIOs and warehouse managers. However, integration of these systems can help both departments enhance their procedures based on the data and analytics the system collects. When assessing industrial technology options to integrate with conveyor systems, there are four key requirements that the machinery and technology should address.

 Making products "intelligent" should become a logical evolution of any plant’s overall philosophy 

1) Ease of installation. This includes the installation of both the physical system and software interfaces. The ability to connect these two functions provides real-time visibility into the equipment’s performance, remote monitoring to track products from start to finish of the supply chain, and the ability to collect data, analyze it, and make continuous improvements from the information gathered.

2) Communication. With installation of new software and even autonomous robots that are beginning to crawl factories, the need for accurate and reliable communications is crucial. In ecommerce for example, the sensors in the conveyor systems must be in communication with the robots to ensure goods are placed and removed from the belts at the correct time. In hand, the RFID chip in packages must be in connection with the distributor, shipping provider and end-customer, confirming that the location of the good can be accurately tracked and traced throughout the entire process.

3) Security. The collection and availability of data creates a new level of an organization’s security vulnerability. Greg Masters writes in SC Media, “The results of a recent survey querying IT security pros about the threats posed by devices tethered to the internet were practically unanimous: 96 percent of them said they expect to see an increase in security attacks on IoT.

Such IIot security risks open doors to unauthorized access and hacking into the machinery. Once a hacker has entered, they have the ability to shut down systems and interrupt business and supply chain processes. Large-scale hacks can cause long-term delays in shipping and even machinery failures that can injure employees. It’s crucial that CIOs work with warehouse personnel to understand the potential threats that cyberattacks can impose on critical operations, as well as the procedures required to safeguard systems. Cybersecurity experts suggest that one of the main ways to mitigate security risks is to continuing coordinating operational and IT procedures of IoT systems.

4) Error detection. Another IIoT benefit is the ability to anticipate when there may be a machine failure or malfunction before it occurs and schedule maintenance to minimize downtime during critical periods. Such automatic oversight ensures that machinery is operating properly and immediately alerting on-site personnel of maintenance needs. With predictive software that can flag failures before they occur, facility managers can minimize downtime and reduce repair costs.

CIO and IT personnel should feel an increasing responsibility to work with warehouse professionals to integrate technology with the physical equipment. The key outcome is a significant increase in productivity in the flow of materials, but also less downtime thanks to predictive optimization of maintenance. Furthermore, logistics centers with a modular design can naturally be managed with greater flexibility and operated for longer. As well, business-to-business (B2B) processes can easily be integrated between two or more partners using standardized machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, provided that data exchange and transparency are desired by all those involved.

As a simple example, smart conveyor systems could be programmed to run only when a package is on the belt, saving energy and reducing the operational and energy costs associated with the overrunning machines and paying staff to overlook procedures. In addition, the speed that the conveyor belt travels can be altered based on the weight and size of a package, providing facilities with a greater carrying capacity due to the flexibility of the machines, opening the doors for more diverse types of packaging, higher throughput and even new customers and partners.

Naturally, Industry 4.0 involves more than just changes in the information technology (IT) sector. It is primarily about changing processes on the basis of data, which is interpreted intelligently to optimize efficiency and productivity in intralogistics. It is increasingly necessary to provide tools which customers can use to improve the creation of added value in the project workflow and when operating intralogistical solutions. In the smart logistics of the future, workflows will be more flexible, more complex, and even more efficient. The demands on the reliability of solutions will consequently increase further. Such developments will ultimately prove positive for a company’s quality and service.

Forward-thinking CIOs and IT pros won’t regard this IIOT development as a disruption, but rather as an accelerating technical evolution. Industry 4.0 is emerging almost as an interface between logic and mechanics. Interroll and others have been pursuing a successful strategy of modularity and quality across the entire product range for a long time. Making products "intelligent" should become a logical evolution of any plant’s overall philosophy to increase customer benefits by means of maximum quality and innovation. To ensure continued success with this approach, those with an eye toward the future will significantly increase research budgets, the majority of which should be used for specific projects related to materials-handling 4.0.

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