The future of warehouses
The last few years have led many of us to think more in depth about processes and structures that we took for granted in the past. Where are our products coming from? Are the warehouse processes adaptable to a booming eCommerce landscape? Is the logistics network capable of dealing with a global pandemic? We could keep on listing questions, but that wouldn’t be a very good article.
Instead, let’s try to unpack and highlight some of the challenges, trends, and opportunities facing modern warehouses to try and make some sense of how companies can scale and continue to thrive in this brave new world.
“This used to be a people business”
Warehouses are facing challenges across the world due to staffing shortages; it’s a complicated problem with all manner of reasons and issues. Obviously, the constant looming presence of Covid-19 continues to plague warehouse staffing rotas – with a huge decline in manual labour positions across all industries after the advent of the furlough scheme. According to Material Handling World Magazine, warehouse managers reported that in 2020 this led to a swift halt to many delivery routes, gummed up logistics networks, and forced many warehouses across the UK to close.
On top of this, the practical effects of the Brexit vote are being realised. Regardless of how the future of the UK looks outside of the EU, there have been teething problems on the logistical side. The full ramifications of this are probably best left to a larger article from a political publication rather than an eCommerce software company but in essence, many EU workers are struggling to complete work and deliveries to the UK. According to Reuters, this is impacting staffing numbers and causing large numbers of vacancies previously held by overseas workers.
The knock on effects of these factors mean that many warehouses are advertising for similar roles at similar pay so potential workers have more choice than ever. Warehouse workers can be pickier than they were before, meaning competition for staff is even higher.
Modern warehouses need to be thinking more and more on the environmental side of things as well (get it, manufacturing PLANTS? Forget it…). Staffing issues aside, with the increase in eCommerce companies on the market, the need for more warehouses and warehouse management technology isn’t slowing down. Neither, on this score, is the pressure to manage carbon emissions. With the UK’s target to hit full carbon neutrality by 2050, new and existing warehouses need to operate with an increasing focus on reducing their environmental impact and operate sustainably.
New warehouses being built across Europe have an increased focus on sustainability, with a few achieving full carbon neutrality. From thousands of solar panels powering the entire operation, to a greater focus on natural light, large companies are slowly realising their part in fighting climate change.
While the costs of building with these factors in mind have put many developers off in the past, they’re proving to be worth the futureproofing. Consumers and regulators are putting greater stock in sustainability credentials and the costs can be offset by the savings made down the line from sourcing renewable energy.
Automation stations, people!
According to Forbes, who we’re reliably informed are quite familiar with these things, around 60% of warehouse executives surveyed said that significant investment in automation over the next three years was “very likely”. Automation, and a reliance on integrated systems throughout the eCommerce and logistics network, makes sense for warehouse managers and business owners, especially due to factors already mentioned above.
Investment in automation is becoming an increased priority for these executives, as not only is it scalable, it cuts down on labour costs and creates a more efficient process that can be adapted to more environmentally friendly practices in the future.
Warehouses are also investing more in automation to protect themselves from future labour shortages and to ensure they have a modern digital infrastructure that can adapt to the market. In fact, the warehouse automation market is valued at around $10 billion in annual spending and only shows signs of growing.
With eCommerce markets continuing to expand and logistics networks becoming further reaching, warehouse managers and companies are looking to minimise risk of mistakes and manage their warehouses more effectively by consolidating all the moving parts into smaller, more manageable tools.
The Internet of Things, albeit having an odd name, sits right at the forefront of the next generation of warehouses according to many experts. Particularly when it comes to automation, warehouses are making use of IoT in order to connect everything under the roof and beyond, from robots, drones, scanners, beacons, together into one happy family. Companies can connect their systems and devices together to collect, store, and use data from across the organisation more effectively for scalable growth.
This means that Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are becoming adopted by more and more managers. A WMS helps businesses manage inventory, automatically replenish stock, pick orders, manage manual labour schedules, sort shipping, and so much more. When utilised correctly, a WMS has been found to lower costs but raise general productivity.
Technology has made the running of businesses easier than ever before but every new piece of software installed means something else to keep an eye on. Consolidating everything into as few systems as possible is the future for scalable growth for warehouse managers across the globe. It means you can keep up with orders and maintain accurate, important data, no matter what happens.
What does it all mean?
Like every facet of a globalised economy, warehouses are changing around us and have to keep doing so to adapt to whatever the market, or indeed the world, throws at them. eCommerce has never been as powerful or healthy as it is now, so traditional warehousing and logistics aren’t going to cut it forever. That, along with new environmental pressures and heightened consumer awareness mean that the future of warehouses is set to be an exciting and dynamic landscape.
Like most things these days, a lot of the change will be driven by data and those who manage it best. Consolidated and accurate data aids automation, increases efficiency and productivity, futureproofs businesses, and prepares logistics processes to scale effectively.