In much the same way hoists (a rope or chain and pulley system) in the late 1800s and forklifts in the early 1900s revolutionised warehousing, artificial intelligence is doing so today. For example, one manufacturer in the US equips its warehouse staff with Google Glasses. When an order is placed, a computer calculates the quickest possible route for the employee to fill the order and then gives live directions in the glasses. The system has greatly improved warehouse efficiency and inventory turnover.
While “upgraded people” have been the trend in warehousing over the past decade, in years to come we can expect a shift to completely automated or smart warehousing. For more on that, we asked a group of industry experts…
What’s The Future Of Warehousing?
They had some very interesting answers…
Brian C. Neuwirth, VP of Marketing & Sales at UNEX Manufacturing
“With the volume of e-commerce orders increasing and consumers’ demand for quicker deliveries, companies are building more and more smaller warehouses located closer to the customer. Getting products closer to the customer facilitates same-day and next-day shipping, along with cutting transportation costs.
The ability to find an item online, research prices, select a vendor, pay for the item and schedule delivery – from a single device has swept the warehousing world. This trend will continue to grow as mobile devices are deployed in the warehouse for checking order status, equipment throughput, labor usage and more – all with the goal of improving customer service.
As picking is one of the biggest consumers of labor in the warehouse, managers will focus on improving picking operations with FIFO (First in, First out) methods that keep products with expiration dates from going out of date.”
Dave Williams, Director of Software & Solutions Delivery at Westfalia Technologies, Inc.
“While the physical characteristics of a warehouse will likely change in the future, the purpose of the facility will remain the same – to provide an inventory buffer between the manufacturer and the consumer. Warehouses will continue to see an increase in SKU proliferation and increased complexity in the orders that they need to fulfill. The warehouse of the future will need to become more tightly integrated with the manufacturing processes and distribution networks, and flexibility will be a key measure of success for companies, as consumers will demand that they receive products more quickly. Warehouses will also become more automated, enabling companies to make their order fulfillment processes more efficient and accurate, while warehouse execution systems, such as Savanna.NET, will play an increasingly vital role in the coordination of all of these activities to streamline processes and provide useful, accurate data to decision makers.”
Toby Baran, General Manager at Action Wholesale Products
“Warehouses provide the mission-critical link to the supply chain. Increased and advanced technology in warehouses satisfies the need-for-speed that businesses and consumers demand. The huge increase of ecommerce has required warehouses to be better, flow faster, run cleaner with less product loss all while maintaining supply relationships healthy. Enhanced tracking ability, thanks to vastly improved software, has more and more warehouses keeping pace with ecommerce development.”
Eric Allais, CEO of PathGuide Technologies
“Over the next 15 years we can expect significant advances in physical automation within the warehouse and distribution center environments, dramatically reducing the movement required by pickers. The ones most likely to proliferate include carousels, vertical lifts, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), mini-loads, and automated material-carrying vehicles, as well as conveyors that move and direct picked material to the next station.
For automated material handling to be most useful, software control systems need to provide the flexibility to quickly adapt to changing product mix and picking volumes. Return on investment gains are enjoyed when automated system configurations are optimized for efficiencies between man and machine. While humans have the judgement, machines take their lunch hour only when down for maintenance. Because supply chains are critical in delivering the service that customers have come to expect, we are seeing more colleges add practical supply chain curricula to introduce the science and engineering in logistics, both in human process and equipment.”
Evan Garber, CEO of Escape Velocity Systems & Co-Founder of Mobe3
“Industrial” or “enterprise” technology will be long gone. Instead, consumer tech (devices, platforms, user interfaces, etc.) will have permeated the warehouse so that the new, younger workforce is comfortable. More people will be employed in warehouses than are today and artificial intelligence will allow them to get more done, more accurately than ever before. Warehouses will balance between integrating technologies that optimize workflows and having programs that gather and analyze data for them. Utilizing artificial intelligence to enhance accuracy while allowing workers to focus on areas that benefit from the human element means a more productive and nimble operation. Warehouses will have no blind spots thanks to full traceability and accountability, meaning the balance sheet of overhead and income will tip towards higher profitability.”
Carrie Wood, CMO of Lease Ref
“Warehouses will still be around 10-15 years from now but demand will drop for three simple reasons.
- 3D printing will allow companies to produce and ship products directly from their plant, instead of ordering product from overseas and those products sit in a warehouse.
- Pick and pack robots will also reduce the timeline from production to shipping.
- Driverless trucks will streamline the distribution channel, making the roads more safe and saving transportation costs for distributors. Truck drivers need sleep. Driverless trucks do not.
- Smaller items can be delivered by drone, and the drones in 10-15 years likely will be robust enough to deliver very heavy packages directly to consumers.
All of this will produce downwards pressure on warehouse rental rates because tenants will require smaller buildings, but warehouses will not go away as those landlords will simply lower rents to keep their buildings leased.”