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What will the warehouse of the future look like?

Industry views | 16 March 2018

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By Andrew Hoyle, Head of Automation

The warehouse of today is already a partnership of human and machine. Automation and robots have replaced some of the traditionally labour-intensive roles within this environment. This partnership, which removes a requirement for people to perform time-consuming and monotonous tasks, frees up time to complete other fulfilling and value-adding roles.

With the growth of eCommerce and the demands it places on the supply network, companies are seeing warehouse automation as a tool to efficiently meet these changing demands and facilitate growth, but also in some cases, as a necessary step to survive.

As the supply chain evolves to meet eCommerce expectations of speed and cost, new technologies will continue to be deployed within the warehouse. These new technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR), robots and drones, are designed to make people more efficient, not replace them.

So, if we already see automation within the warehouse, what can we expect to see from the warehouse of the future? In the near-term, a steady increase in automation can be expected. As new warehouses are built with eFulfilment front of mind, automation will play a pivotal role in optimising these operations. For example, loading and unloading, which was traditionally a highly labour-intensive task placing considerable physical demands on people, can now be completed by automation. And picking, which was once a slow paper-based process, can now be completed by pickers wearing AR devices directing them through the warehouse using the most efficient route.

The idea held by some, that humans will be entirely replaced by robots in the supply chain, is very unlikely. And for several reasons. Most notably, machines are fantastically efficient at doing the job their built for. But their limitation is that they can only perform this one role for which they are designed. Humans, on the other hand, are extremely versatile and can turn their hand to a vast number of roles with ease. Using technology to enhance the natural ability and versatility of people is a far more efficient way to optimise operations.

It is this partnership of people and technology which we are likely see grow and develop within optimise warehouse operations. In Chapter 6 of the Wincanton Guide to the Digitised Supply Chain we discuss how the role of automation and robotics has evolved. We also look at how this trend will continue and which technologies are most likely to be deployed and provide real added value in the warehouse environment.

Read chapter 6, ‘Optimising Inside’, here.