A recent study by the ARC Advisory Group has lent support to our observation – demand for warehouse automation is spiraling up. ARC estimates global warehouse control and automation demand rose by around 10% in 2014. When compared with real global GDP growth of 3.4%, the increase is quite impressive.
The e-commerce boom is the biggest factor driving growth. E-commerce sales have spiked, whether it is Asia, America or Latin America, while same store sales have remained largely stagnant.
Warehousing and distribution are the heart of a successful e-retail operation. Get it right and the customer satisfaction quotient raises a few notches and the customer is more likely to return. But should the orders arrive late or damaged, confidence level in the company’s ability will take a beating.
Trying to achieve this without some degree of automation is difficult when handling large volumes of small, multi-line items, which can multiply many times over for major sales events like India’s Big Billion Sale or China’s Singles Day. Even companies operating in countries with low wage costs have seen it necessary to automate in the interest of improving operational reliability and order accuracy.
The study found increasing demand for warehouse control and automation is rapid and widespread, across vendors, regions and technologies, and the biggest growth is in Latin America and Asia.
What kind of systems are companies looking for?
Goods-to-man systems supported by miniloads, carousels, shuttles or AGV/robots, as well as pick-to-light and put-to-light systems come high on the list. As walking, searching and selecting is time consuming, reducing or eliminating them altogether will result in immediate productivity improvement.
As DCs are being upsized as companies respond to the relentless growth in e-commerce, the productivity increase can be significant. In Amazon warehouses, some of which are over 304,800 sq, meters (1 million sq. ft), employees are known to walk a lot, some over 20 kms a day over a 10-hr period. But Amazon, too, is changing, replacing its army of workers with robots.
Warehouse Management, Control and Material Flow Systems (WMS/WCS/MFS):
Also highly sought after is proper software needed to orchestrate the flow of activities within the warehouse. It coordinates all material handling sub-systems such as conveyors, sorters, carousels, AS/RS, RF, pick-to-light, A-frame and other technologies to provide a single point of control to direct and manage automated material handling and order processing efficiently within the warehouse.
What of the future?
The technology is continuing to evolve as manufacturers invest in R&D to create better systems which will deliver higher levels of efficiency to customers and differentiate them from the competition, like Schaefer’s Fulfilment Factory, a highly innovative solution for e-commerce and multi-channel distribution.