TECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Wireless warehouse

posted on 4th April 2018

RFID and GPS technology looks set to be used more widely in warehouses in 2016, and processes perfected around it, believes Gautam Mandal, products head at Cargo Flash Infotech

Significant recent technological developments

The hardware specification of an average $200 phone today is the same as a desktop PC two years back, and this advance in mobile technology has affected what system to offer in the air cargo handling warehouse. The last couple of years have seen a lot of development in the mobile field by Cargo Flash as well as other service providers. Now the workflow management at the warehouse is completely managed through forklift-mounted or handheld terminals; this ensures optimal utilization of the workforce.

Acceptance staff no longer needs to fill out lengthy paper checklists; these are managed at the handheld terminal. Any deviations or imminent failures on SLAs are updated to the supervisor on his handheld before it is too late and corrective actions can be taken. The handheld is talking live to the server – thus there are no blackout zones and it does not require offline data upload.

Another field of development in the last couple of years is use of RFID. RFID tags are getting smaller and cheaper day by day – and in fact can now be inserted within the regular barcode label itself – and are gradually becoming a strategic tool in warehousing. This gives a huge improvement in terms of security and piece-level tracking of valuable and vulnerable consignments at the warehouse and a complete control on the lying cargo.

How do you see this developing this year and beyond?

I foresee RFID and GPS technology implemented by more warehouses in 2016 and processes perfected around it. RFID tags can be tracked through a handheld reader or a mounted reader, and these tags can also be fixed to a location in a warehouse, marking it to be read by the reader and linking it with the shipment, making the inventory control easier and visible.

Once a protocol definition (format) for the information transferred is agreed upon by the industry as a standard, it will no longer be just limited to a warehouse but can be used by all the stakeholders, like the 606 barcode label is today.

Potential breakthrough technologies

We are in the research phase of developing the loading optimization tool within our cargo handling system. The purpose of this is to create an auto load plan for a flight using the lying cargo for that flight and any previous offloads. The system will check the availability of ULDs, their compatibility, and then perform the calculations for best loading combinations, with the aim of achieving the highest chargeable weight combination per ULD (at the same time also checking all the other factors, like SHC compatibility, heavy pieces placed at the bottom, same destination to be loaded together, connection time, priorities defined, etc.

We expect this module to increase the revenues of an airline by 3-4% by achieving the optimal chargeable weight within the payload and volume restrictions.

Improvements in 2016

We are in the process of upgrading our current technology and bringing it to the latest HTML 5, which is compatible with all of the major web browsers and is optimized for the creation of mobile websites and applications. This new version will be more seamlessly connected with the mobile platforms and will have a built-in Business Intelligence module that works not only with operational data, but makes inferences, identifying trends, forecasts, and real-time productivity, also taking input from roster management, providing information on availability of staff and future rosters. This provides additional decision-making tools to the user in order to increase overall productivity.

Real-time availability of data and transparent visibility to all stakeholders is crucial today in order to take fast corrective actions.

Recent projects and successes

In 2015, Cargo Flash delivered its Slot and Doors management system for Swissport at Madrid Airport, and is in the process of delivering this for Swissport at Barcelona and Amsterdam airports. We also got the project to implement the complete cargo handling and warehouse management system for Sharjah Aviation Services at its Sharjah Airport facility.

With our Next Generation system (nGen Cargo), we expect 2016 to be even better in terms of acquiring new projects.

Involvement in IATA initiatives

We are a strategic partner with IATA on the XML taskforce and also deeply involved in making the e-AWB initiative a success, by conducting sessions with our existing handler and airline clients and discussing ways they can make it feasible and take it to market.

A network approach
Cloud communities at airports could lead to acompletely new way of exchanging information via amulti-user platform, says Nils Pries Knudsen, EVP for global cargo at Swissport International

Significant recent technological developments

Recent focus has been on developing new tools to automate certain business processes further and, additionally, we are about to introduce a machine learning algorithm to help us better plan future volumes based on different scenario dimensions and simulations.

Key focus area examples have been the Door and Slot Management process, and also the Customer Portal, enabling customers to access real time information on their shipments, adding a “peace of mind” dimension to the distribution cycle. It reports, amongst other aspects, on freight process, flight status, AWB tracking, cut-off times, and shipment status vs C2K targets.

The Door and Slot Management process is striving for a better service to the agents. Information about acceptance and delivery process quality, improved SLA compliance through better planning of truck acceptance, and ability to print delivery and loading notes per truck with bar codes, are some of the advantages to be achieved.

Developments this year and beyond

A few new solutions are planned in 2016, all of them with the same intentions: to minimize or eliminate paper-based tasks, using the industry standards to the full extent, and eliminating double entries. We will also focus on getting the maximum benefits from the information already available in the different cargo systems, reducing the non-value adding tasks.

Potential breakthrough technologies

Here I would mention the new trend on developing cloud communities in airports. First steps have been taken to try to coordinate and connect those individual and local clouds into a potentially bigger future network. This would mean a completely new way of exchanging information with a move from a transactional approach towards connecting to a wider network, where information is uploaded once and made available to a multi-user platform.

The next level

The everyday use of technology and the desire for more and more development signifies the greatest change within this industry in recent years, believes Hermes’ chief operating officer, Simon Elmore

Significant recent technological developments

The cargo industry is an extremely competitive one. It’s constantly evolving. IATA regularly introduces new, higher standards and today’s ground handlers have found that they need to invest in state-of-the-art cargo management systems (CMS) to ensure they meet their ever-increasing customer demands. The everyday use of technology and the desire for more and more development signifies the greatest change within this industry in recent years. There is now a real desire to automate and simplify processes and the ability for management to measure and analyse the work inside the warehouse in real time has become the key to successfully managing GHA and hub operations.

At Hermes we always look at what else can be connected to the main system in order to smooth processes and avoid human error. We have recently finished our new ‘Work Orders’ innovation, which aims to fully replace the paperwork order still prevalent in today’s cargo handling warehouses. By using pre-set building blocks, this tool allows customers to create bespoke process flows without the need for technical support. Users are able to define and configure tasks like replacing a ULD battery to doing a temperature check as part of an integrated process, or like any warehouse work order, they can choose a flight, AWB, ULD or customer and assign units of service directly into the system.

Hermes cargo management systems include a new Business Information system for analytics as well as our Rides functionality to control forklift movement in line with defined priorities. Hermes also has the ability for a driver to sign documents using a stylus, eliminating the need for a printed document and a pen, saving both time and paper and all information is kept within the system and can be printed on demand.

Industry developments this year – and beyond

GHAs would like to be 100% efficient and error free. In order to achieve that, more processes will need to be automated. More and more of our customers are requesting mobile technology and the introduction of Apps to make communicating with agents and airlines quicker and easier.

Hermes will continue to implement the new standards of IATA, e-CSD, slots management, etc. – and continue to integrate with all peripheral devices that are in the warehouse.

Support for IATA initiatives such as e-AWB, Cargo 2000, or operational ICHC (COAG) initiatives

We are not directly involved with IATA on these initiatives. However, the Hermes system is always one of the first systems to introduce IATA-driven innovation or functionality, for example Cargo 2000 and e-Freight.

Breakthrough technologies

At Hermes we are looking at how we can incorporate latest technology trends like mobile, HTML5 and a new Windows user interface into a new-generation product, which will include the latest industry standards like Cargo eXtensible Markup Language, cold chain, and e-freight management, as well as being fully aligned with new technology. This will enable us to simplify complex processes and allow more efficient warehouse handling.

RFID with a combination of the internet of things will definitely change the industry and the way data is read and transferred. This revolution will not happen overnight, but it is easy to imagine a shipment being able to transmit its data directly to a reader and into the system without the need to scan it.

We expect to see the ability to control different areas within the warehouse areas remotely when information is gathered automatically, while moving shipments from one place to another. We also expect to see unique identifiers (UI) being introduced for each shipment.

Planned improvements in 2016

Hermes is now planning the next generation air cargo management system that will include a significant facelift and use the latest technologies available. It’s likely to be cloud-based, with extras like built-in archiving and business information solutions. We are also looking at how new industry standards can be automatically updated and at mobile apps for managing both inbound and outbound.

Hermes is about to leverage the underlying technology with the latest .NET framework, and by that allow a better and modern UI. Hermes is also looking into optimizing the processes and the database structure by accumulating years of experience on the current processes and enhancing them in the new version.

Recent projects and successes

Cairo Airport Cargo Company (CACC) went live with the Hermes air cargo management system in December (see Middle East & Africa report, pages 36-42). And Perishable Center Frankfurt (PCF), Europe’s largest air freight perishables centre, went live with a Hermes CMS in November. PCF now has a cargo management system specifically tailored to its needs, with built-in temperature checks, warehouse picking lists providing prioritised loading, and hand-held Work Orders (Arbeitsaufträge), with the aim of supporting a completely paperless warehouse. The nature of the shipments PCF handles means it is vital it can accept, break down, and store shipments in the correct location quickly and efficiently. Hermes’ real-time system is designed to easily support and drive this type of quick turnaround, making it ideally suited to PCF’s operation.

Throughout last year we managed to get almost all customers on the latest version of Hermes – some of which were multi-station, done in one big push – and with very little operational disruption; a big success. We expanded our customer base in Asia and are in the process of signing a few new customers, for which implementation should start in the coming months.

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