Special Guest Column: The Machine Economy & Intelligent Warehousing

By Nikhil Chauhan, Digital Transformation Officer at Wind River

By 2030, $7 trillion of the U.S. economy will be driven by the machine economy. Fueling this future is the growth of 5G, AI, automation, and cloud native technologies, as well as an increasing intersection between IoT and the edge. This is particularly notable in the realm of intelligent warehousing.

According to a new market research report titled Smart Warehousing Market the global Smart Warehousing Market size is projected to grow from USD 14.8 billion in 2021 to USD 25.4 billion by 2026. By any measure, this is set to be a tremendous machine economy success story.

At Amazon and Alibaba, robots already carry out an incredible 70% of tasks. And this includes many different types of robots, such as exoskeleton robotic suits that can increase a human’s capacity to lift items by 20x or more or automated guided vehicles (AGVs).  And I believe this is just a taste of what’s to come, because the use cases for automation and robotics are limitless.

And the outcome is that the role of the warehouse is becoming elevated to far more than just a logistics center to a more intelligent and core business innovation environment for some key reasons that follow.

The Need for Speed

According to Accenture, two thirds of consumers have chosen an e-commerce vendor based on delivery options, and 54% consider fast shipping to be two days or less. These sorts of expectations necessitate efficiency.

The level of efficiency needed in today’s warehouse means they need to be smart, and that can only happen when you work with the data that sits behind the moving of things. This includes big data, machine learning optimization for robots and routes, package weights and different shapes and sizes and more because all of this affects the interactions of shelving, carrying systems, robots as co-pilots and more.

And this goes both ways, meaning it’s equally important when products are shipped and also when products are returned.

Robotics for Personalization

Warehouses and robots can be used for customization or late personalization. The manufacturer can ship its products, or product components, in bulk and the warehouse can provide customized configuration or assembly that is best suited to a customer’s needs. It could be a matter of combining the desired set of flavors for a selection of consumer goods going to different retail chains, or perhaps combining different components such as power adapters as required for the region the product is being shipped. This provides an opportunity for a warehouse to contribute value that didn’t exist before.

Enhanced Package Design

Packaging has become a key component of the supply chain. Obviously, packaging needs to protect items during storage and shipping, and also is an opportunity for branding. Other elements to consider include being optimized for weight, durability, size, storage, and environmental impact. Then there is the issue of keeping track of these packages. Modern packaging has options for identification and tracking with technologies such as barcodes and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags so you can know where your items are at all times. Again, this is an opportunity for warehousing to be more intelligent in this area of the modern supply chain.

Edge Computing for the Modern Warehouse

At the core of smart warehousing and related technologies is the infrastructure foundation of edge computing. Edge computing is the necessary component for enabling automated, real-time control of the technologies mentioned above. Warehouses have become their own ecosystems within a supply chain that serves our modern world.

While the pandemic has put a spotlight on supply chain weaknesses, I predict creative use of the intelligent edge is going to not only strengthen the supply chain, but spur innovations that we haven’t even yet dreamed of.

About Special Guest Columnist:

Nikhil Chauhan is a Digital Transformation Officer who leads digital strategies and partners with Industrial, Energy and Health Tech companies to maximize their transformation. Nikhil has yielded $4B+ value and modernized Product, Marketing, BD/GTM & Technology in PE & Public companies including GE, Cisco, Hitachi, Wind River, Ericsson, NXP & Teradata.

After two and a half decades in technology, Nikhil understands how to accelerate growth and strategic renewal through digital offerings, governance, and operating model. In worldwide executive roles, he incubated, delivered, marketed, and sold 50+ modern products and platforms including Intelligent Systems lifecycle management platforms, edge/IoT PaaS, cloud XaaS, connectivity/device/data/analytics/AI/ML/DevSecOps services, and marketplaces.

For example, Nikhil incubated and launched industry’s first modern Industrial IoT edge-cloud platform and defined “software-defined machines” at GE Digital, increased Cisco IoT Cloud business revenue by 25% through connected car and mobility management SaaS, architected 50+ offering portfolio go-to-market at Hitachi Vantara, pivoted Teradata to a cloud-first data/analytics SaaS company by establishing product CoE, and seeded Wind River’s IoT strategy and platform.

Nikhil is a digital evangelist and frequent speaker. He holds an MBA from Henley Management College and a Bachelors in Electronics & Telecommunication engineering.

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