Robots fit right in: Warehouse technologies have bright future

The market for automated technologies for the warehousing industry is growing rapidly around the world – the logistics robots niche alone will soon reach $ 22.4 bln. Market participants seem to be ready for innovation, according to Zebra Technologies Corporation: 60% of companies are planning to introduce warehouse automation over the course of five years. However, automation is far from the only innovation that fulfillment operators and companies owning warehouses and distribution centers will need. Check out the top five trends identified in Zebra’s 2024 Warehousing Vision Study, which will determine the development of the warehouse technology market in the next five years.

Credit: Vitaliy Belousov | RIAN

According to Zebra, robots will not oust human workers from the warehouses – at least not in the next five years. Employers will rather focus on worker augmentation, enhancing warehouse performance with various technology solutions – this is how 77% of respondents see the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse business. Interestingly, only one-third of them have a clear view of how to do this or even where to start. So another challenge for the industry players will be staffing – even today, recruitment is a major problem cited by 60% of companies.

Another noticeable trend on the warehouse market is to expand overall storage space: 87% of decision makers told Zebra Technologies they are in the process of or planning to expand the size of their warehouses. On the other hand, more than half of respondents cited capacity utilization as a significant expected challenge, as capacity can become redundant. Interestingly, along with the expansion of warehouse space, the volume of stock keeping units (SKUs) and the speed items needed to be shipped are also expected to grow.

By 2024, the industry will begin to focus on robotic solutions gradually replacing manual labor. Decision makers anticipate using robotics/bots for inbound inventory management (24%) and outbound packing (22%) by that time. After that companies will begin implementing solutions to create information environments that balance manual labor and automation. In general, three-quarters said human interaction is part of their optimal operational balance, while 39% cited partial automation (some human involvement).

According to authors of the study, investing in advanced technologies in the warehouse market will be a crucial condition not just for being competitive but for staying afloat in general. Over two thirds of the respondents agreed that warehouse operations clearly have to be modernized. In particular, 60% of those polled offered investing in such solutions as thermal or mobile printers for barcodes. 73% of companies are already working to modernize their warehouses by introducing or upgrading mobile computers, tablets and barcode scanners. By 2024, major innovations for warehouses will be Android-based computing solutions (cited by 83% of the respondents), Real-Time Location System (RTLS) technology (55%), and Warehouse Management System (54%).

Zebra Technologies’ study also revealed the most significant differences in the development of warehouse technologies in different world markets and in industry players’ willingness to invest in them. In particular, countries in the Asia-Pacific region will see 73% of its companies actively investing in smart watches and glasses, as well as wearable devices. As many as 87% of respondents in the region said they plan to implement a mobile order execution system by 2024. For European companies, expanding warehouse space will become particularly relevant: the respondents expect that it will increase by 26% within the next five years. Also, this particular market will make more active use of RFID-tags and location identification technologies. In Latin American countries, the key task will be boosting efficiency and productivity of warehouse staff’s work, while for US companies, the issues of packing, intermediate storage and outbound cargo loading will be much more relevant.

It cannot be said that warehouse logistics in Russia is following a unique path, head of a warehouse logistics service company Oleg Voronov said, adding that the country has no tendency of increasing storage space as in Europe, with space growth linked to individual companies’ development, but the situation is somewhat similar to that in the United States in terms of greater attention to packing of goods or seeking a multipurpose package. There are also similarities with Latin America, particularly as regards boosting employees’ labor productivity. Similar projects also exist in the Asia-Pacific region that involve introducing systems for monitoring employees’ work online to achieve most efficient redistribution of warehouse activities.

As regards forecasts, by 2024 the Russian market is not expected to abandon transportation of goods by motor vehicles, with the use of pallets, or by sea containers, with cargo is shipped in bulk.

A warehouse worker remains the key person to receive and dispatch cargo at the warehouse, perform operations with oversized load and return cargo procedures, and work with abnormal and potentially hazardous cargo, as well as with cargo that requires certain storage temperatures. Developing warehouse technologies today is advancing towards boosting warehouse workers’ individual labor productivity and standardization of processes to provide quality services.  

By Olga Blinova

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