News & Blogs

Harnessing new opportunity - Intralogistics and the IoT


I was interested to read a recent article in Warehouse News, about the impact that the Internet of Things (IoT) is having on the intralogistics sector. The IoT is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. We have all seen the movies where the fridge re-stocks items running low without any human intervention, and briefly considered the efficiencies that this could bring to many of our lives. But to most of us it has remained a distant and intangible concept.  It might be surprising then to know that the number of IoT devices increased 31% year-over-year to 8.4 billion in 2017 and it is estimated that there will be 30 billion devices by 2020. This rapid innovation is opening up opportunities for many manufacturing businesses looking to streamline operations and create efficiencies in the supply chain.

A recent survey by GT Nexus and Capgemini found that 70% of retail and manufacturing companies have already started a digital transformation project in their supply chain and logistics operations. This move labelled ‘industry 4.0’ could be the biggest change that manufacturing business has seen in modern times. In the old days, pickers would receive a list of items and locations, and would have to walk around the warehouse to locate the goods and load them up, which would take a long time. This process begins to look very different, and much more efficient, when companies take advantage of IoT technology. A list of items is automatically sent to a robot, which retrieves the products, places them in bins, and delivers them to a worker. The worker then loads the material onto a truck in the correct order. Sensors detect everything from a robot’s location to whether pallets are on their way to the shipping dock and then wirelessly transmit that information to a remote monitoring team. The system knows where anything within the warehouse is at all times.

In the future, IoT technology will see complete end to end connected supply chains, from suppliers to retailers, and for warehouse operations, there are a number of benefits, from reduced damage and errors to increased productivity. For intralogistics, this means the ability to keep up with consumer demand for faster deliveries and a more streamlined service. Swisslog, a client of Newman Stewart’s, is seeing increased productivity, using sensors and RFID tags attached to robots, conveyors and other locations throughout a warehouse, to immediately detect when a robot moves from the place it’s supposed to be. Inaccuracies are reduced through the system’s ability to detect products and parts, outfitted with an RFID tag and a sensor, and communicate information about them in real-time. As a result, a distribution manager in a produce warehouse could identify not only an item’s precise location, but where it came from and number of days until expiration. Interestingly, this process still requires some human intervention, but helps that person to work smarter by allowing them to always know the status of an item and also whether or not it’s still usable. Swisslog’s article ‘Envisioning the warehouse of 2030’ is well worth a read. Another Newman Stewart client operating in the intralogistics space, Dematic, offers walk-pick-to-conveyor modules with pallet and case flow racks incorporating voice, fully automated case picking solutions and robotic picking systems, and promises very high productivity rates.

For an executive search firm, the obvious question is what will the impact of this be on human resources? In our article ‘Leadership and the rise of automation in supply chain’ we talk about the importance of leadership to see supply chain businesses through this period of change and to manage the re-deployment and upskilling that will be required if businesses are going to meet customer demand and remain competitive.

If you need help finding the right skills for your intralogistics business, take a look at our specialisms and get in touch.