Case in Point: Real Insights from an IoT Pilot in a Distribution Center

iot-dc-supply-chainIt’s one thing to rave about the benefits that IoT will deliver to a distribution center, but it’s another to get a look at how it really adds value and provides actionable insights. Let’s take a look at one experience I had recently.

Recently, I was at a prospect site for a pilot demonstrating our technology. Typically, we show up at the client site Monday morning and get things up and running in an hour. We connect our devices to the WIFI network, then to the Warehouse Management System (WMS). We put the devices in the hands of users, get them oriented with a mini training system and they start using them.

We stay at the location all week, to make sure they can work through any obstacles and test the devices in as many scenarios and with as many users as possible. We try to go across different departments and user demographics as possible.  We gather feedback and at the end of each day we run through some important questions (one’s I recommend to any organization evaluating new IoT technology):

  1. How easy is this technology to use?
  2. How well are younger millennial work force getting used to this technology?
  3. How will are the older veteran work force getting used to this new technology?
  4. What type of productivity improvements are they getting from this new technology?
  5. Compared to the existing technology, what are the benefits with this new IoT-enabled technology?
  6. Are there any measurable productivity improvements achieved this week using the technology?
  7. Have we identified any opportunities for improvement while using this technology?
  8. Have we gotten any extra visibility to new aspects of the business from using this technology?
  9. How reliable are these devices?
  10. How rugged are these devices?
  11. How well will these devices withstand typical warehouse use?
  12. How long do the batteries last?
  13. How often do users have to charge or change batteries?
  14. How much time are current users are spending changing batteries?

We have daily meetings to make sure the pilot is achieving its goals. We address roadblocks and ensure the devices are tested in all areas. We want to ensure that the company has a statistically meaningful sample to help them evaluate whether the technology is right for their organization. This pilot is equally important for us as a vendor because we want to ensure that we will be able to support the client in the long run, through a good understanding of the infrastructure, the users, the processes, and the associated system.

In the best moments, both parties gather new and never seen before insights. For example, during one of our tests, we saw WiFi connection drops as soon as we turned on our devices. We did what we usually did to address drops: we added a static IP address. That fixed the problem. They learned a good trick that increased their productivity, while we got better insight into a common issue and brought the learning to other pilots.

Every pilot is a learning experience. At another client, we connected our devices to a Labor Management System (LMS). The client got immediate data on units picked, boxes palletized, and lines picked.  It provided deep visibility. The client was excited to see the potential for proactively collecting real-time labor performance data. It was incredibly efficient. Then we saw a glitch: it appeared that the operators were constantly exiting the system while using the palletizing function.  We dug deeper and found that the operators were leaving the function in order to use another function to check if they had scanned the cartons correctly. It was a training issue, because the palletizing function could give them the same data. The palletizing function was built with all validations, checks, and balances. By changing the standard operating procedure of the workers, they were able to speed palletization and unclog shipping lanes.

What types of IoT deployments have you done in your distribution center? What type of insights have you gleaned from the data you collected? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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