In this article, we talk about the 7 technological trends that leading companies are incorporating to have the warehouse of the future.
Proper management of warehouses and logistics centres is key for the supply chain to deliver the expected quality of service at the lowest possible costs. Warehouse operations have a direct impact on customer experience and profitability.
Today the vast majority of logistics companies with warehouses or distribution centres have a Warehouse Management System or WMS in place to monitor what has been done during the picking, storage and packing of goods, but very few have taken the next step toward real optimisation and automation.
Logistics leaders are already taking the next step and incorporating new technology trends that are bringing significant improvements in the efficiency of their processes. Let’s take a look at the 7 most notable trends that will lead the way to the warehouse of the future:
1. Analytical Intelligence Solutions
Some companies are implementing advanced data analytics techniques to know not only what happened in the past in warehouse operations, but to be able to anticipate the future. The manager who implements this type of solution knows what to expect from his warehouse, when he will need which resources, and knows what his productivity and profitability will be. The power of analysis and simulation of this type of solution provides better decision support than an expert can do with a spreadsheet, especially if the expert has the advanced analytical tools at his service.
For example, by simply adding advanced analytical capabilities and techniques to an existing EMS, it is able to:
- Function as a predictive and prescriptive analytics tool: For example, by containing all historical information on dock planning and usage, an optimised WMS can help logistics managers efficiently manage inbound and outbound order processes in real time.
- Serve as a mobile information tool. Warehouse managers can act on real-time information as needed, and directly from their mobile devices or tablets.
- Perform targeted warehousing and replenishment. Companies may be reluctant to have their WMS do direct storage because they feel the system doesn’t know the size of their products or their locations. But if the parameters are defined correctly, optimal directed storage can be achieved.
- Improve warehouse automation. Driven by the growth of omnichannel, warehouses are increasingly automated. Fulfilling e-commerce orders require different operating models within the distribution centre, and that’s driving carriers to increase their levels of automation and gain greater capacity from their facilities.
2. Process Mining
This new technological trend aimed at analysing data from different business systems and applications to discover, monitor and improve business processes can also be applied to warehouse operations.
By implementing a Process Mining tool, it is possible to know the real performance of the critical processes within the warehouse, from the reception and unloading of the goods to their location in the logistics centre, picking and packing, and their dispatch.
- Identifying bottlenecks, rework or other inefficiencies that are affecting delivery performance.
- Detecting workloads of employees and equipment, and their under- or under-utilisation in the processes.
- Identifying opportunities for improvement, such as the replanning of the warehouse layout based on the analysis of hot zones and types of goods, optimisation of picking routes to reduce operator travel times and empty runs, etc.
Another of the innovations that large companies are studying the most is robotics. Warehouse automation solutions such as autonomous robotic forklifts, carousels, collaborative robots or autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) within the warehouse, among others. These systems increase the productivity and efficiency of operations while freeing the workforce from repetitive tasks so they can focus on more complex and higher-value customer experience tasks.
Floating AMRs for example are able to move around the warehouse and directly access shelves at the appropriate height to place or retrieve goods. They are able to access picking stations and support systems such as pick to light, or put-to-wall devices for batch picking in order picking.
According to an eMarketer report, 42% of medium and large warehouse operators in the US will use robotics in some area by the end of 2022, up from 34% in 2020.
4. WaaS: Warehouse as a Service
This new collaborative approach is about linking supply chains or parts of them, such as warehouses, without the mediation of third parties. We are not talking about the subcontracting of services, but rather a collaborative approach that allows for a multitude of scenarios, such as a company giving up its infrastructures at times when it is not using them.
This new trend is advancing little by little due to the need for a minimum level of digital transformation of companies and the cultural and mentality change it requires, its greatest impediment.
5. Digital Twins
When we talk about Digital Twins, we refer to the technical discipline that is based on generating an exact and detailed digital replica of the operation of a product, process or system, in this case, the operation of the warehouse.
Thanks to this technological trend, it is possible to simulate changes in demand, modifications in the layout of the warehouse, the movements of forklifts or AGVs, the complete picking and packing process, the unloading of trucks or even simulate the robotisation of a traditional warehouse. Often only with this digital representation of the warehouse is it possible to evaluate the impact of the different decisions that can be made, and thus improve the efficiency of operations and reduce order management and delivery times.
In this sense, the digital twin provides a testing ground to explore the possibilities for warehouse improvement, and to evaluate alternative ways of operating and their impact.
6. Micro fulfilment
This trend of micro fulfilment or micro centres uses first of all the most advanced techniques based on Artificial Intelligence to know the future needs of consumers and predict the demand for these products in different areas of the city. The stock of these products that will be demanded by nearby consumers would be in small dark stores in the different neighbourhoods or districts of the cities, supplied by large storage areas in the periphery. In this way, localised areas of high demand can be reached more quickly and cheaply to meet customer needs.
This new approach is gaining momentum as same-day or even less than two-hour delivery becomes more popular. Warehouses must adapt to new e-commerce models and the new, increasingly demanding, educated and technologically savvy consumer.
7. Solutions for sustainability
One of the biggest challenges facing supply chains today is sustainability. While sustainability practices typically focus on reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact in the areas of manufacturing and distribution (logistics and transport operations), sustainability can also be advocated in logistics centres and warehouses.
Sustainability practices such as investing in energy-efficient lighting, using clean energy, improving warehouse insulation, or switching to packaging made of biodegradable materials often bring benefits to companies in the short, medium and long term. The cost savings in energy costs for electricity, heating or cooling, in minimising incidents or reducing waste, are truly remarkable when it comes to large warehouses and infrastructures.
All these technological trends will form part of the warehouse ecosystem of the future, an efficient, changing, flexible and scalable warehouse. Industry leaders are already betting and investing in many of these technologies, reinventing logistics centres and managing to adapt to the current paradigm of rapid change and uncertainty.
Only companies that move away from manual planning, SGAs without optimisation capabilities and unsupported manpower to advanced analytics-based solutions will be able to ensure that they meet deadlines and the level of service expected by customers.
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