Local & Highly-Flexible warehouses take over the market

News Warehousing

The warehousing market is transforming rapidly as more companies are looking into ways to get closer to their customers. Automation will take over the industry and more flexible solutions are attracting the attention of companies. We spoke to Russell Holmes, Business Development Manager- UK & Ireland at AutoStore, about what the year holds for the warehousing sector. Here are his predictions.

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Where do you see the biggest uptake of warehouse automation? 

In light of COP26, many businesses will be looking to accelerate their sustainability efforts to meet green targets. With this in mind, we can expect organisations across apparel, grocery, and construction to assess the ways they can improve to attain these targets. The biggest uptake in warehouse automation will continue to be in material handling, with a focus on those offering greener solutions. 

Investing in robust supply chain automation systems that are low maintenance, low power, and adaptable will lead to greener operations as well as more productive and cost-effective teams. For example, 10 AutoStore robots can operate on the energy equivalent of one vacuum cleaner. 

Will we start to see more urban/mirco-fulfillment in the UK? 

We’re seeing a shift away from the larger, traditional, centralised distribution centres to a more local, highly-flexible, often smaller-scale operation. Where you may have had one large centre serving the territory in the past, these are now being dissipated into multiple smaller hubs to fulfill last-mile deliveries. This enables retailers to get much closer to customers, minimise wait times, reduce the use of fuel, and ultimately lower energy costs. 

This lack of dependence on one central location is creating the emergence of co-location in the form of hybrid stores, which house an automated ultra-high density distribution centre in the back of the store. Performing as store replenishment, supporting click and collect and the same day e-commerce home delivery expectation consumers demand today. This ultra-high density also enables the retailer to free up space in the front of the store, creating opportunity for more engaging customer experiences- leading to better retention going forward. 

What innovations can we expect to see within this space? 

Productivity gains are already being realised by deploying forklift trucks, conveyors, sorters and large automated storage and retrieval systems. We will continue to see innovation in this area by combining piece picking systems with the introduction of more advanced algorithms, as well as the mechanical elements. 

Major gains will be made by innovation relieving the stresses caused by the complexity of a sustainable, lower power, omni-channel operation. As well as retail store supply combined with e-commerce small picking, and a reverse logistics operation to cope with the increase in returns. 

Innovation will come from automated solutions that simplify these complex operations, offering robust, reliable, flexible and scalable solutions with a reduced carbon footprint, without the need for standalone power supply. 

What will be the biggest trends for logistics and 3PL robotics in 2022? 

We’re seeing the accessibility of automation being adopted not only by large multinational organisations that have driven developments and application areas to date, but also by smaller startups- adapting the existing solutions to suit their current needs. Startups and SMEs are increasingly looking to invest in adaptable technology at an early stage to take advantage of automation for scaling their business. With more affordable automation technology coming to the market, they can scale up effortlessly as the business grows. 

How can the grocery industry evolve with the support of automation? 

The deployment of automated storage and retrieval systems will help the industry to evolve. Automation supports store replenishment, click & collect as well as e-commerce operations, by way of rapid introduction to varied spaces that grow in tandem with increasing demand. Combining this technology with end-to-end WMS platforms will enable grocery businesses to connect their operation at every level. This will improve stock holding, increase picking accuracy, reduce delivery times, free up valuable retail floor space, improve in-store customer experience and ultimately lead to better customer retention. 

What are the anticipated pain points for the logistics industry in 2022? 

Labour and skills shortages alongside Brexit-inflicted supply chain challenges are being intensified by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. A focus on employee safety and wellbeing is requiring tighter social distancing guidelines, combining this with a heavy reliance on manual operations in a very fast paced, complex omni-channel environment. 

An answer to this is investing in automation that removes complexity and can be easily adopted into both existing and new operations. Investing in automation that is flexible enough to enable fast deployment in varied conditions, whilst being able to scale quickly to meet increasing operational demands, can assist and relieve pressure on manual operations. This will result in a less stressful working environment, increased job satisfaction, higher employee retention and a more efficient operation. 

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