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How to integrate modern technology with mobile shelving

14th May 2024

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From libraries to archives to parts storage facilities, a quiet revolution has been occurring. The switch from traditional static shelving to modern mobile shelving has gained pace, and the systems now inhabit many businesses where they would not traditionally have been seen. Yet a development in modern storage threatens to reverse this progress: the integration of technology with storage systems.

You would think that technologies such as RFID tracking, mobile scanning devices, and locational beacons would be more suited to warehouse racking, and difficult to implement in mobile shelving units. Yet these systems are increasingly being applied to mobile shelving – and only accentuate the benefits it offers in terms of efficiency and accessibility.


The business benefits of mobile shelving

Once the relatively niche preserve of libraries and doctor’s surgeries, mobile shelving systems are rapidly finding utility in a range of industries. The expense of expansion or moving to a new facility has created a demand for more space-efficient storage, something that mobile shelving delivers. By eliminating the need for multiple fixed aisles, mobile shelving can substantially increase storage capacity within the same footprint, or create additional space for other purposes.

Beyond spatial advantages, mobile shelving systems stand out for their efficiency and adaptability. The low-friction rollers provide quick access to the desired aisle, with less commuting often required than with a traditional shelving system. Mobile shelving also caters to changing business needs with the flexibility of easy reconfiguration, allowing it to adapt to varying inventory sizes and changing storage requirements. All of this ensures that businesses have a storage solution that can evolve in tandem with their growth.

Security, cost-efficiency, and ergonomics further solidify the case for mobile shelving. The integrated locking mechanisms in many mobile systems enhance security by restricting access to sensitive items, allowing them to be stored in public-facing areas. By optimising space, companies can also reduce their financial overheads, whether that’s from renting smaller spaces or greater energy savings. Mobile shelving designs also prioritise user comfort, ensuring items are stored at ergonomically suitable heights, and providing push-button control where manual separation presents an issue.


5 uses of new technology in mobile shelving

There’s a prevailing assumption that new inventory management technologies can’t be applied to mobile shelving systems because of their mobility or scale. But mobility doesn’t preclude most of these technologies being used, and the scale of systems is growing, with many often being used in tandem for areas and applications that benefit from mobile storage. Here are just five ways technology is enhancing the efficiency of mobile shelving:


Inventory management systems

The software applications traditionally used to track products, sales, deliveries, and orders in warehouses can also be paired with mobile shelving. Using an inventory management system (IMS) with mobile shelving allows organisations to harness the benefits of both, combining efficient storage and access of items with real-time information about their status.

While mobile shelving can be used for good storage, this can also apply to large collections, such as those housed by museums. Museums often have thousands or even millions of items in storage and not on display, which need to be carefully catalogued, and which are often shipped out and shared with other institutions. Inventory management is vital in these scenarios to effectively track and monitor these items.

Barcodes and QR codes are two simple and accessible methods to implement inventory management for mobile shelving systems. Placed on the ends of units and on the shelves themselves, these can be scanned using handheld devices such as phones, communicating to the IMS when you deposit or remove an item. RFID tags meanwhile can provide real-time tracking that is unimpeded by changing shelf locations as they are accessed by others – and even programmed to show when a shelving unit is in use based on this displacement.


Mobile devices

As mentioned above, smartphones and tablets equipped with the right apps can serve as portable inventory management tools. While dedicated portable devices exist for the sole purpose of inventory management, phones can also be utilised by installing apps that sync with the IMS, and use the camera to scan codes. These can then be synced either over a local wireless network to update data on-the-go.

The benefits of mobile devices go beyond inventory management, however. Apps now exist specifically to manage and organise mobile shelving layouts, allowing you to experiment with or plan your mobile shelving designs ahead of time. By planning and visualising the layout, you can see whether specific products or items will fit in a variety of shelving formats and accessories, and get an idea of how mobile shelving might benefit your business.


Automated shelving solutions

In some cases, it’s now possible for mobile shelving units to operate as part of an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). The ability to automatically part shelves using an electric motor means that it is possible to automate access, allowing robots or other autonomous vehicles to access the shelving.

The use of sensors and wireless beacons can help these robots to navigate the shelving in the same way as humans do using an advanced inventory management system. This  level of automation preserves the benefits of high density storage and adaptability, while also introducing the efficiency savings from automation, which can conduct repetitive tasks over longer time periods than human operatives.


Augmented Reality (AR) Systems

Another advanced technology being implemented together with mobile shelving is augmented reality (AR). AR uses glasses or a phone screen to overlay digital information onto the real world, such as graphics, sounds, or text. This can help to pinpoint where an item is in the physical world by using locational beacons and tags to triangulate its position, and relate it through the screen or eyewear.

AR provides benefits to all forms of storage and retrieval, as it allows for these processes to be completed much more quickly. When combined with an end-of-shelf tagging system, however,  it benefits from the shelves in a mobile shelving system being closer together, allowing the AR device to quickly scan and recognise each unit, and providing you with the precise location more quickly.


Cloud-based systems

A broader benefit of modern technology for mobile shelving is the use of cloud-based platforms, where data is stored and updated online, allowing for real-time updates and access from different devices and locations. This not only opens up new possibilities in terms of inventory management for staff, but also for visitors to facilities such as libraries or galleries.

Using a cloud-based system, it’s possible to make the location of items available to the public through a website, app, or terminal at the location. Visitors can search through a catalogue of items to find what they are looking for, then be provided with the precise location of that item using navigational aids, such as signage, colour-coding or even adaptive lighting. This improves accessibility while still retaining all of the benefits of a mobile shelving system, and allows for access requests and queries to be logged, providing valuable user data.

Modern technology offers a plethora of options to make the most of mobile shelving. By integrating these technological tools, businesses can enjoy faster retrieval times, more accurate inventory counts, and better optimised use of space. If it can be applied to static shelving, it can usually be applied to mobile shelving – and it’s often the more efficient choice.

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