Warehousing plays a vital role in manufacturing and logistics. In 2018, e-commerce is driving massive technological and operational changes in these industries. Many material handling companies are reworking their business models to remain competitive. Today’s warehouses are not just storage spaces. Many of them incorporate processes like just-in-time packaging, assembly, and product customization as digital technology continues to be incorporated into the warehousing industry.
Advanced Equipment Company’s team of experts knows how crucial it is for our clients to remain “cutting edge” with equipment and technology – so we keep on top of industry trends that will affect the future of matrial handling systems.
Here are some trends that will affect material handling in the next few years.
Autonomous Equipment – More than just Robots
Many people, when thinking about warehousing trends, first think robots*. In recent years flexible applications and lower costs have driven an upsurge in robotic implementation. For instance, semiautonomous warehouse systems (conveyor systems, conveyor scales, weighing and sorting systems, etc.) can carry out multiple tasks simultaneously while requiring minimum human intervention. But – many companies still consider this level of automation either too expensive to implement or are concerned about the length of time to ROI. For many material handling professionals (including many if not most of the people who are reading this article) these autonomous upgrades are inevitable if competitiveness is to be maintained.
Keep in mind that these future developments require ever-increasing amounts of information. That’s where data – and lots of it – comes in.
Big Data – Bazillions of Ones and Zeros
Thankfully, many software solutions offer a short-term return on investment, making them more affordable for smaller businesses. But as increasingly autonomous systems are introduced, these technologies must be integrated into existing IT systems. At some point, it may be necessary to use outside experts to efficiently integrate the mountains of data that tomorrow’s warehouses will require. A good place to start? An automation integrator, a person (or firm) that can make automation hardware and software work together as one large system.
AEC’s integration partners apply innovative thinking and advanced technologies to solve company’s greatest automation challenges to new or even older systems. Control systems retrofits and upgrades can provide a huge boost in productivity to systems which may not be ready for or necessarily need a complete upgrade saving companies money and a bit of time.
As the complexity of modern warehousing expands, the digital tools required will expand too.
The Internet of Things – An Odd Name for a Big Idea
Internet of Things (IoT): a network of physical devices embedded with electronics and software, enabling these devices to connect with each other.
How is IoT changing the material handling industry? To keep up with e-commerce, data-communication technology can be built into warehouse components like conveyors and scales. IoT connects assets, machinery, vehicles, embedded sensors and tags, and establishes an internet-enabled connection allowing data to be collected, analyzed and tracked, starting within a warehouse and continuing through the supply chain until the product reaches its destination.
Ongoing expansion of IoT functionality will require the continuous adoption of tools that enable these systems to be accessed. So far, these tools are familiar.
Mobile Devices – the IoT Tool of Choice
After a few years of investment in data-driven solutions, many companies are ready for mobile device integration, and tablets and smartphones are the tools of choice:
- Operations can be conducted remotely and efficiently
- Economies of scale make these devices cost-effective
- These devices are already familiar to employees
- Ability to remotely monitor and control systems
These factors will help lower implementation costs and enable rapid widespread adoption. But this does not mean that training needs will diminish. Far from it.
Employee Training – Because Tech is Changing Faster than Ever
As labor availability becomes tighter and labor costs rise, demand for specific types of automated equipment to increase productivity will increase. Workers who can follow protocols and understand warehouse technology are essential to avoiding disruptions in the system. Constantly changing technology will require constant employee education to take full advantage of the efficiencies this technology offers.
Tomorrow’s technology and training will require one more thing, something that might make a CFO stay awake at night:
Continuous Investment – Every Fiscal Year, Forever
Companies want investments that will bring them quick improvements. Some technology and training might not meet more aggressive ROI expectations. It might seem more prudent to “wait until next year.” The concern here is that if critical investments are NOT made in technology and training, competitors will soon be knocking at the door – especially in a growth economy. Tech and training investment should remain a constant presence in yearly spending plans, even if the total number of employees falls as a result of tech investment.
Tomorrow will be like Today – Times Ten
Efficient material handling has a huge impact on product price. Increasing this efficiency will require continuous investment to keep up with economic growth and operational challenges in this era of tighter cycle times. And in five years? Could technology impact the very concept of warehousing? What if today’s mega-warehouses devolve into multiple mini-warehouses, each utilized by several companies, all driven by the rapid turnaround required by today’s e-commerce marketplace? That’s one direction the industry could be going. One thing is certain: the warehousing changes of the past few years will be dwarfed by the changes coming in the next decade.
As you consider the future of your company and where you need to be in 2019+, we’re here for you to help you plan and design a system that will meet your material handling needs, now, and into the future as your business grows. Contact us or give us a call at 704-527-3141!
* For Trivia Fans:
The word ‘robot’ was the coined by Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Čapek, who introduced it in his 1920 hit play, R.U.R. It is based on the Czech word robota, which means ‘forced labor.’