The Future of Warehousing: Automation Propels Warehousing to New Heights
Explore the ways that technology is modernizing the warehouse in 2023
The world now knows how prone to disruptions global supply chain and logistics operations are. Over the past several years, businesses have made hefty investments in advanced technologies and infrastructural improvements to facilitate the supply chains of the future. Some of the most important investments have been directed towards the future of warehousing and warehouse operations.
In 2022, businesses saw continued growth in smart warehouses. From advancements in warehouse automation to expanded service offerings and new innovations, chief supply chain officers took advantage of new and advanced technologies. However, with the amount of transactions and technology in current warehouse operations, experts believe that there is still work to be done to capitalize on the large amount of data being collected each moment.
In 2023, experts feel that warehouses will continue to modernize and become smarter by deploying technologies that not only take advantage of internet connectivity and analytics, but also:
- New levels of visibility and transparency
- Advanced optimization techniques
- Enhanced decision-making ability
What’s In Store For 2023?
Businesses are actively adapting to fluctuating customer demand, shifting inventory, rising costs, and labor scarcity. Many supply chain experts feel that to accomplish this, their focus must be on the continued modernization of warehouses. In fact, a recent study by Zebra Technologies revealed that 87% of warehouse managers plan to accelerate modernization projects over the next three years. By updating processes, systems, and technologies used in the warehouse, warehouse operators can boost productivity, efficiency, and accuracy.
Datex Fast Fact
Over 35% of warehouse managers are targeting these areas for improvement in 2023:
Order fulfillment time
For years, traditional warehouses have operated on a top-down business model. This means that warehouse operators could only look at the products being ordered and the origin of the orders. Warehouse logistics managers had limited visibility. Today however, the modern warehouse model utilizes technologies that enable businesses to see the exact flow of inventory as it travels through a facility. In addition, businesses are also able to see the condition of their products and packages. With this model, warehouse leaders can see where their processes can be improved and where data may be inaccurate. As a result, problems can be corrected, and risks can be mitigated before they turn into costly issues.
In 2023, the warehousing industry will see the convergence of visibility technology with robotic systems. Tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), camera sensors, and radio frequency identification (RFID) will be utilized as key components of warehouse automation plans.
Warehousing Labor Shortage Will Fuel Adoption of Automation
Despite the claims that automation will lead to human workers becoming obsolete, human workers will continue to play a crucial role in the automation of the warehousing environment. Throughout the years, the warehousing industry has found that automation still requires human workers in order to maintain smooth operations.
Since human workers are still an essential element of the warehouse logistics system, the competition between businesses for warehouse workers continues to rise. Additionally, worker wages are increasing. To make matters more complicated, changes in customer demand and customer expectations are increasing the need for workers. This means that it is vital for businesses to not only attract but also retain quality workers at the lowest cost. To do so, businesses are utilizing digital technologies and software to make warehouse jobs more attractive, satisfying, and safe for workers.
One of the main benefits of automation technology such as robots is that they can perform tasks faster and more accurately than humans. By automating tasks and procedures that are time-consuming or prone to error, businesses can not only free employees to focus on value-added tasks, but also reduce the risk of injury to employees.
Many of today’s workers want better technologies to help them do their jobs. In fact, many are choosing to work for businesses that offer the latest and best warehouse solutions. A recent survey revealed that 92% of warehouse workers agree that advanced technology makes the warehouse environment more attractive to workers. Additionally, 82% say that their employer’s difficulty in hiring and retaining quality labor has led to investments in technology.
Datex Fast Fact
83% of warehouse managers plan to implement wearable devices, new warehouse management systems, and/or RFID technology as part of their modernization in the next three years.
A recent study revealed that 89% of warehouse workers agree that augmenting labor with software and robotic devices is the best way to introduce automation technology to workers. However, many experts feel that it is not enough to hand a worker a mobile computer with a mobile scanning and order fulfillment application and expect results. It is important for warehouse managers to keep the type of technology and software they implement in mind. That way, they can meet worker expectations, help make warehouse workers’ jobs easier and retain a sustainable workforce.
Robotic Process Automation for Warehouse Modernization
The warehouse of the future is one where automation technology is seamlessly integrated into all its processes to automate tasks that enhance efficiency, speed, accuracy, and safety. This is accomplished not only with the use of physical robots that replicate manual tasks, but also through robotic software applications and cognitive computing like artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML). One of the biggest warehousing trends for 2023 is the alignment of warehouse automation and robotic systems to automate processes.
Although the use of robots in warehouses is not a new phenomenon, their ability to become more efficient and intelligent over time is being used to redefine warehousing. With robotic process automation (RPA), warehouse modernization can be as simple as replacing manual and paper-based processes with digital workflows or it can be as sophisticated as moving from barcoding to radio frequency identification tags for real-time shipment location and inventory tracking.
In addition, one of the key benefits of RPA is its ability to enable programs to act like humans by making decisions on the fly. This can include automatically transporting raw materials and products from one location to another or automatically restocking inventory. In doing so, RPA enables warehouse workers to focus on tasks that bring more value to the company.
Robots are already used for a wide variety of warehouse functions from:
Picking and packing
Inspection and quality control
Here are a few examples of common automated robots used in the warehouse:
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS):
Automated storage and retrieval systems are robots that automate the storage and retrieval of products in a warehouse. These technologies use cranes or shuttles to transfer inventory across different storage areas and picking locations. They are useful in minimizing the need for manual labor.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs):
Automated guided vehicles are connected to Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and mapping technology to navigate warehouse environments. AGVs typically operate on tracks located on warehouse floors and require preset routing instructions as well as operators to direct their paths. These machines can be programmed to perform specific tasks such as:
Drones have quickly become important to the warehouse of the future. These small, unmanned aerial vehicles can fly around a warehouse to capture images and data with the use of optical systems. This helps with tasks such as inventory management, order fulfillment, and package delivery. Drones can also be used for inspections and maintenance by identifying issues more quickly.
Drones are extremely efficient because they cover large areas rapidly. This helps to reduce the time and labor for tasks like inventory counting and order picking. In addition, drones increase the occupational safety and health of workers by operating in areas too difficult or dangerous for humans, such as tall pallet racks.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs):
AMRs are like AGVs in their use of IoT-sensors for navigation. However, AMRs do not require preset route instructions or operator direction. Instead, these machines can move throughout warehouse space independently of humans with the help of AI, ML, and optical camera systems.
AMRs not only enhance the occupational safety and health of workers but also increase warehouse flexibility by automatically making decisions and adapting to changes. AMRs can detect unexpected obstacles such as workers or fallen boxes while navigating their environments and rerouting their paths to void collisions. They can also be used to clean and sanitize work areas as well as simplify the process of storing, picking, packing, sorting, and replenishing inventory.
Collaborative Robots (Cobots):
Cobots are beneficial to the future of warehousing because they work hand in hand with human workers and perform repetitive or physically demanding tasks. This enables human workers to focus on tasks that require problem-solving skills and value-added services.
Equipped with IoT-sensors that can detect human presence, cobots are able to stop or slow down when in close contact to a person. This makes them safer and more efficient than traditional warehouse robots.
Datex Fast Fact
It is estimated that there will be 50,000 robotic warehouses and over four million robot installations by 2025.
Cloud-Computing Will Enhance Inventory Management
Businesses are constantly looking for ways to improve their operations and gain advantages over competitors. To do so, businesses must be able to store and share data across their entire network. Given the importance of storing and communicating data, supply chain managers and information technology professionals are implementing cloud computing as a solution.
Many businesses now utilize a “just in case” supply chain model that ensures critical products and services are always available in the required quantities. To make this happen, businesses are automating their inventory management processes. Cloud computing ensures that this is possible by helping to power advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These technologies can be used to identify critically low inventory levels in warehouse and distribution center locations and automatically send updates for replenishment.
Utilized in conjunction with IoT, cloud computing enables modern warehouses to be more connected, coordinated, and seamless in their operations. This is because IoT devices generate a large amount of data, which needs to be stored somewhere. Cloud computing provides the storage and processing power needed to make use of this data. It also provides apps that can be used to analyze and visualize the data. This enables smart devices to communicate with other systems in real-time and share data with warehouse workers. In addition, with AI and ML this data can help devices and other warehouse systems automatically predict inventory levels and storage capacity.
Improved Automation with Cloud-Based Warehouse Management Systems
Cloud-based warehouse management systems (WMS) are software platforms that utilize cloud computing to store and manage data related to warehouse operations. This can include data corresponding to inventory levels, shipping schedules, employee productivity and even customer orders. With a cloud-based system, businesses can digitize their processes and access data from anywhere at any time from any internet-connected device. This makes it easier for warehouse managers to operate their facilities as well as make informed decisions faster. Cloud-based WMS also help businesses avoid mistakes that can affect customer satisfaction like slow shipments, poor inventory management, and incorrect product details.
Although there are several types of cloud-based WMS, some leverage Microsoft Azure or the Amazon cloud, AWS. Cloud WMS solutions are advantageous to businesses because they enable clients to pay for and utilize only the services that are necessary. This means that a SaaS cloud-based WMS removes the need for companies to purchase and maintain expensive legacy hardware and software.
In addition, cloud-based WMSs are more flexible and scalable than on-premises legacy systems. This enables businesses to be more agile and responsive to changing business needs without making major changes to their internet technology (IT) infrastructure.
Predictive Maintenance Technology
Regularly scheduled maintenance of machines and equipment is vital for stable warehouse operations. An entire warehousing and distribution operation can come to a halt if one machine fails or malfunctions. This is why predictive maintenance is one of the hottest trends for 2023 to move warehousing into the future.
Predictive maintenance technology is currently in use in all types of warehouses, from storage and fulfillment centers to manufacturing facilities. This technology utilizes IoT-sensors and data analytics to monitor warehouse equipment and predict when maintenance is required. This enables businesses to service equipment and machinery before a breakdown occurs. Predictive maintenance technology is not only effective at reducing downtime and maintenance costs, but also at improving overall efficiency and productivity of warehouse operations.
Although predictive maintenance systems vary, they typically have three main steps:
Machine sensors send performance data to the central warehouse management system
Data is analyzed to determine the likelihood and future time of equipment failures
Maintenance is scheduled to replace parts or extend the life of equipment
Datex Fast Fact
According to Deloitte, predictive maintenance increases productivity by 25%, reduces breakdowns by 70% and lowers maintenance costs by 25%
3D Printing Will Revolutionize Manufacturing, Warehousing, and Logistics
Many manufacturers utilize warehouses to store large quantities of raw materials for later production. In many cases, spare parts and components sit in warehousing and storage facilities for years and are never used in the production process. This use of warehouse space can not only be costly, but also runs the risk of raw materials becoming obsolete.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has had a major impact on global supply chains and the logistics industry. With 3D printing, businesses can optimize manufacturing processes by instantly customizing and printing raw materials based on customer preference. In addition, the speed and efficiency of 3D printing can increase product output without losing quality or material properties.
By using 3D printing, large portions of the manufacturing process become automated. 3D printing is beneficial because it digitalizes inventory, reducing the need for storage capacity and subsequently storage costs. This has become beneficial to many businesses as supply chains move towards regionalization to shorten their supply chain fulfillment networks. With 3D printing, products and raw materials can be manufactured nearer to customers. Thus, businesses can reduce transportation and shipping costs.
Datex Fast Fact
The 3D printing market is projected to reach a value of $94 billion by 2030.
The future of warehousing hinges on successful implementation of automation, making it one of the most important functions of warehousing, distribution, fulfillment, and logistics. However, warehouse modernization begins with the focus on workers and workflow optimization and then moves to the adoption of new technologies.
One of the main benefits of automation is that it enables enhanced inventory control for a smoother distribution and fulfillment process by getting products stored, picked, packed, and shipped efficiently. Automation technology used in the warehouse can boost warehousing operations by helping workers complete their tasks. This is important because it plays a role in satisfying and retaining the warehouse labor force, as well as increasing warehouse safety.
This is accomplished when new technologies are integrated with warehouse management systems to produce a full optimized warehouse logistics system.
What Makes Datex Different?
1. Revolutionary low code/no code flexible workflow-driven warehouse management software
2. Most configurable, user-friendly WMS on the market today
3. End-to-end solution provider: software, hardware, EDI, and managed services
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5. Executive-level attention and oversight
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