The arrival of coronavirus has directly impacted warehousing as we know it. There are new challenges to overcome due to the rise of eCommerce, larger stock holdings and the need to process a higher number of orders. Many sectors that rely on warehousing are now looking to introduce technology and practices to meet customer demand. We have identified 11 warehouse trends that are on the rise in 2022 and beyond.
1. Conveyors are being Replaced by Mobile Robots
Conveyors have an established role in the movement of materials within warehouses and distribution centres. Once seen as innovative and essential, conveyors are being replaced with new technology to meet customer demands.
Fixed warehouse conveyor systems are being replaced with cheaper, portable plug and play mobile robots. These robots have evolved through the need for more effective use of space. Where a box that larger conveyor belt systems cannot tick, the smaller logistic operations are gravitating towards mobile robots, RaaS (Robots-as-a-Service) systems, as a more efficient alternative.
2. Cobots Becoming an Increased Integration with People
Cobots work in a collaborative manner with people instead of replacing them. Cobots are typically put to use to complete tasks such as the handling of goods, picking, packing and packaging. With the need to reduce the time it takes to complete certain tasks, the cobot is ideal.
Some warehouses are utilising cobots as an alternative to robots, as they identify the need to retain some human labour. The other benefit of cobots is they are extremely easy to install, and the programming is uncomplicated.
3. Seeking Greater Resilience & Agility
The repercussions in the supply chain experienced by many large retailers and manufacturers in 2020-2021 have forced them to source from a wider pool of suppliers. In many instances, those suppliers will be more localised, increasing demand for their businesses. The new suppliers will be required to introduce agile systems to meet the high expectations of large retail clients and manufacturers.
To meet those demands requires them to upgrade their warehouse management systems and utilise scalable warehouse automation systems for greater agility. Compounding this is the need to hold more stock, which also requires more warehousing. The combination of COVID and eCommerce growth ensures warehouse space is a major issue in 2022 and beyond.
4. Data-Driven Warehousing
For many operations, the use of data is already central to their supply chain function, from monitoring goods to tracking shipments and collating customer preferences. The ability to share data can be used to create more efficient processes, and companies are now seeing the value in shifting to being a data-driven warehouse.
An increased number of operators are adopting the data-driven warehouse through systems like warehouse labour management systems (WLM). This provides a platform to monitor metrics in real-time and can highlight inefficiencies, identify potential technical issues for action to be taken. For agile businesses focused on keeping ahead of competitors and reducing costs, this is a long-term investment that will prove invaluable.
5. Flexible Working on the Increase
Flexible working is not something that immediately is associated with warehouse operations. After two years of rethinking how companies operate, the hybrid staffing model will remain the norm, such as working from home if applicable. The use of cobots and automation provides more flexibility and reliability in managing goods and reduces the exposure to staff shortages due to pandemic restrictions.
There is a rise in using video feeds to conduct remote real-time monitoring and, where reliable connectivity is in place for cloud-based systems, the remote operation of complex machinery. With more flexible working options, it will most likely create more physical space within warehouses and distribution centres. This immediately increases warehouse capacity without any additional investment required.
6. The Rise of Micro-Fulfilment Centres
Delivery timelines have changed, and those offering a two-day delivery are already languishing behind. The customer demands the next day (or same day in some cases), and companies need to shift their fulfilment to meet customer demand. The solution is the rise of micro-fulfilment centres, especially for the large, centralised hubs traditionally operated by warehouses.
The micro centres can be deployed in more localised areas to customers, making their last-mile deliveries faster and more efficient. The centres can be either added onto an existing location to create more capacity or built as standalone operations like a hub and spoke operation. The compactness of the centres makes them cost-effective and flexible solutions. These warehouse trends for inventory management will define many suppliers’ competitiveness in the coming years.
7. Flexible Pick & Sort Methods
Methods such as batch picking and sorting will rise in the near future as the process provides a more cost-effective system for dealing quickly with high volumes of small orders. In batch picking and sorting, multiple shipments can be completed simultaneously before being separated into individual orders. This initiative increases throughput rates as travel times inside the warehouse are reduced. Additionally, this solution accommodates eCommerce or social media orders enabling them to be released at a low cost and in a short time frame.
When warehouses are very busy, batch or as it is also known as wave picking can also be an excellent option for companies with teams of pickers and multiple product SKUs. It assists in reducing congestion between locations as orders are grouped into zones.
8. Inventory Forecasting
With the dynamics of warehousing changing, being able to predict the future for inventory management enables you to be able to plan for the peaks and troughs of your business. Inventory forecasting is becoming increasingly important to meet customer supply demands and overcome delays in the supply chain. Smart technology such as BI solutions enables smarter purchasing decisions. Having forward sight of where spikes are likely to occur, companies can pre-emptively order the right stock or materials to ensure they meet demand without stocking out. In addition, where troughs are identified, you can avoid over-purchasing inventory, particularly goods that might spoil, to trim costs and reduce wastage.
9. More Resilient Supply Chains
The resilient supply chain will be core to warehouse operations. In the last two years, companies have become aware their supply chain is not as resilient as once thought. The restrictions experienced on the movement of people and global trade have created a high risk to meeting customer demand. Getting the right products, to the right place, at the right time, has proven to be a major challenge.
Supply chain resilience is a continuing theme in 2022 and beyond, as companies look to prevent the same damage from happening again.
10. The Rising of Reverse Logistics
Reverse logistics is a warehouse trend that is growing exponentially. With the rise of what researchers refer to as the ‘Instagram effect’, it is considered that a third of shoppers make impulse online buys, and this is a statistic that is most likely to rise higher as it becomes easier to purchase products through social media and online platforms. Impulse shoppers are returning their purchases or buying multiple sizes and returning those that don’t fit.
For many warehouses, reverse logistics will be one of the greatest challenges they will need to overcome in 2022 and beyond and the warehouse trends that needs to be monitored closely.
11. Warehousing Going Green
The motivation for many warehouses in going green is to address the challenge that heating and lighting are always two of the biggest expenses for operations. Therefore, going green is not only a positive step for the environment; it is also a cost-effective solution to cutting down these overheads.
Already, warehouses are underway in implementing initiatives like LED lighting, skylights, solar panels, cool-roof systems and green building materials for extensions or new constructions. The inclusion of IoT sensors to monitor the warehouse environment is a growing trend for improved efficiencies. Today, it is also commonplace for green practices to be designed into modern warehouse layouts.
These 11 warehouse trends will affect your operations in some way in the coming years. The key is to identify which trends need to be prioritised and how your warehouse operations can be adjusted to incorporate the necessary warehouse technology, pallet racking and systems to remain competitive.
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