Industry 4.0 will revolutionize and protect your warehouse and therefore your entire business. It will allow you to understand what is happening in real-time and know that any necessary changes will take place in real-time

Industry 4.0 Is Heading to the Warehouse. Are You Ready?

Megan Ray Nichols | Schooled By Science

Eight out of 10 warehouses are still manually operated. And yes — this statistic is indeed surprising. Given the exceptional technological advances we’ve seen in recent years in the automation world, the material handling sector is obviously taking some time to catch up! However, given that Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the sector, that is all changing.

If we take a look at the previous industrial revolutions, we can further understand the magnitude of potential change possible and the significance that comes with Industry 4.0. The first industrial revolution was driven by mechanization — the ability to use machines to do work. The second was the implementation of the assembly line and was sparked by Henry Ford’s desire to mass-produce an entire automobile.

The third was automation and computerization, which has so far entirely transformed the ease with which we carry out daily tasks not only in industry, but from within our homes, too.

All three revolutions have been the catalyst for major improvements in productivity. Now, with the unique convergence of five major disruptors, we are entering the age of Industry 4.0.


How Does Industry 4.0 Affect Material Handling?

The major disruptors which have converged to allow Industry 4.0 have been isolated to five unique points:

  • Big data and its never-ending volume or capacity

  • Connectivity and its increasing availability

  • Real-time analytics

  • Cost-effective sensors, meaning the emergence of human-machine interaction via touch interfaces, etc.

  • Advanced robotics and the general advances in instructing the physical world via digitized commands

This all means computer intelligence is spreading and allowing more devices to connect and communicate, meaning more big data. Of course, this perfectly fits the needs of a warehouse. In a warehouse, SKUs (stock keeping units) communicate with machines, machines connect to and communicate with other machines and then, in turn, these connect and communicate with ERP devices and warehouse management systems.

This mini ecosystem in itself drives the distribution operations for your warehouse. It can respond to any updates in the task sheet and the robotics involved can reconfigure themselves to react in real-time without involving human “colleagues.” These technologies are not only more reliable and more cost-effective than ever before, but they’re also more widely available for a range of applications. This means warehouses can incorporate them, thereby automating their operations and reducing the logistics industry’s dependence on labor.

America’s industry output is 85 percent greater than in 1987, meaning automation of every part of a product’s lifecycle is imperative. Warehouses experience issues with labor — especially during the busier seasons. Labor remains limited and the competition for this decreasing employee pool is high, particularly when trends are moving people away from manufacturing and supply chain work.

Therefore, Industry 4.0 will provide a much-needed solution for this productivity hindrance through system-integrated and intelligent, collaborative robots who are able to work next to humans in a warehouse.


How to Prepare for Industry 4.0

Material handling organizations do need to prepare themselves in order to handle the data produced by Industry 4.0 and develop the infrastructure which will enable them to make the most of this data:

  1. You will need to consult a data scientist or work with a consultant to help you develop this infrastructure.

  2. At the same time, you will need to create a repository with the capacity to consolidate information from a variety of points, including ERP and WMS.

  3. Incorporate audit devices to help understand where cost-effective sensors can be installed in your warehouse to collect meaningful data.

  4. Understand how you can interpret your data so insights can be gleaned in a timely fashion.


Industry 4.0 will revolutionize and protect your warehouse and therefore your entire business. It will allow you to understand what is happening in real-time and know that any necessary changes will take place in real-time by an efficient, intelligent, reliable and accurate integrated system. You will also be able to glean other insights from your data that can help predict the future needs of the business from a logistics perspective and further protect your company from productivity challenges such as labor shortages.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow
Megan Ray Nichols - Contributing Author

Megan Ray Nichols - Contributing Author

Megan Ray Nichols is a blogger and freelance science writer. She posts weekly on her blog, Schooled By Science, about the latest news in science and technology. When she isn't writing, Megan enjoys reading and hiking.

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