From radio-frequency identification tagging of products to automated control of HVAC systems, many distribution centers (DCs) are being built with some form of smart technology or Internet of things to optimize performance.
As the ability to gather and process data expands, integrated platforms may soon enable DCs to automate more of their building management and maintenance. With the right sensors and data, self-learning facilities may be able to improve facility performance, drive efficiencies and reduce downtime by spotting potential maintenance issues before they arise.
A recent report by JDA said DCs are integrating more technology and undergoing tremendous change as shippers strive to be responsive and agile. Sandy Stephens, managing principal at Johnson Stephens Consulting Group, expects further growth in the use of RFID within facilities to gather comprehensive real-time information on the location of inventory and individual orders. More DCs will also use predictive analytics to improve labor planning and more effectively adapt to changes in volumes and orders.
Yet while many DCs are using IoT to optimize their processes and equipment, new opportunities are emerging to improve the performance of the buildings themselves. As distribution centers can span hundreds of thousands or even millions of square feet, these technologies can have a big impact.
Many buildings already generate volumes of data through cameras, thermostats, alarms and monitors, but much of it is not being used in an integrated fashion, says Dave Hopping, president of Siemens’ Building Technologies (BT) Division – Americas.
A report by Deloitte noted Industry 4.0 applications are finding many new applications in DC facility management. Sensors and intelligent management systems can now be remotely controlled to monitor HVAC systems or humidity and gather data about operating conditions. And with intelligent systems, data can then be analyzed to ensure greater efficiency and better performance of the entire facility.
“Those technologies also enable the identification of different layers of the building to analyze possible interdependence between systems, services and operations. IoT applications and cloud-based devices are expected to ease building management,” Deloitte said.
Data helps build smart DCs from the ground up
Siemens, along with other companies such as Honeywell, are developing integrated building solutions that will bring together data from disparate systems to create a unified platform to optimize building performance. “The costs of these electronic systems are coming down. The payback and financial return is getting better … It’s about how can we derive more value from [the data],” Hopping says.