The Next Technology to Increase Warehouse Labor Efficiency?

blue magnetElectromagnetics. Did any of you have to take that course in college? I didn’t, and I’m glad. When my college roommates came home and immediately threw their books against the wall, I knew they had just finished an “E-mag” exam. In full disclosure, I certainly don’t fully understand magnetics. But I do appreciate an interesting application of technology to improve logistics processes. A start-up technology company named Reckon Point recently briefed me on its technology solution and how it can be applied in a warehouse. I found this company’s location system to be novel and potentially beneficial for use in warehouse operations.

Location-Based Technologies
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in conjunction with contextual information, such as maps or simply complementary data, is widely utilized in commercial and enterprise applications. These include cpmmercial uses such as location based services on your smart phone and in logistics applications such as TMS and even in yard management systems such as the yard management system offered by PINC Solutions and in the YMS deployed at Ashley Furniture. But GPS is generally suitable for large spatial areas as it uses longitude and latitude coordinates determined from satellites and cell phone towers. These qualities make it less suitable for use in buildings such as warehouses. In these environments, RF tags or Blue Tooth beacons are more commonly utilized. However, these technology options have their uses (such as RF tags for AGV guidance) as well as limiting factors.

Reckon Point’s Indoor Location Based Service
Reckon Point doesn’t use GPS, cell towers, or Blue Tooth beacons. I view their approach as something that can be explained as “location by association.” Reckon uses an abstract representation of the facility (such as a laser point cloud), Wi-Fi signatures, and signatures derived from the Earth’s magnetic field. These data sets are combined to establish a 3D representation of the facility along with the distinct signatures associated with locations. Once the facility representation is established, mobile magnetic sensors, such as those in a smart phone compass, are used to capture magnetic data that is transmitted to the back-end system. The cloud-based back-end application hosts the calculation algorithms and database that turn magnetic readings into location data. Reckon Point claims that its system provides sub-meter location accuracy, 5 second ping frequency, and precise navigation capabilities.

Use in the Warehouse
The development of engineered labor standards in a warehouse is a strong fit for this technology. The use of a location based service such as Reckon Point’s can enhance labor time studies with other valuable data including visual representation of travel paths, warehouse foot traffic, and other real-life constraint data. Clearly tasks are likely to take longer in a dynamic environment than in a static “one off” measurement of an isolated task. Also, the analysis of the interaction of concurrent workers as well as warehouse transporters can provide useful context for determining scenarios where bottlenecks will likely occur.

I can also see Reckon Point’s technology being used on an ongoing, operational basis to supplement warehouse analytics on product flow from a warehouse control system, labor utilization from labor management systems, and inventory and work order data from a WMS. This has potential to enable a warehouse manager to conduct a time phased analysis of order volumes, product flow, task completions, and employee travel paths during process improvement initiatives. I foresee the technology initially gaining traction with industrial consulting companies that develop engineered labor standards and engage in facility design projects. These consulting engagements can then serve as a technology introduction to warehouse operators where it has potential to be integrated with warehouse labor management to enhance periodic facility performance analysis.