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How W2 Labs is helping to build the warehouse of the future

Industry views | 15 January 2019

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By Nick Eades, Chief Marketing Officer

The warehouse as we know it is changing. The rise of eCommerce means the traditional bricks and mortar store has moved online, and with this the warehouse has taken on the additional responsibility of being the store room for these virtual shops.

In 2000, online commerce made up less than 1% of retail sales, but in August 2018 almost one-fifth of all purchases took place on the internet [1]. This shift shows no signs of slowing, with 21.5% of all retail transactions through November 2018 completed online. This activity totalled £1.3bn spent each week of the month [2].

Although retail warehouses have felt the impact to the largest extent, sites serving construction, defence and other industries have had to adapt to new demands. Challenges to the supply of labour, the rise of just-in-time deliveries and cost pressures mean warehouses need to be smarter, leaner and more agile than ever before.

Simply put, the warehouse must work differently.

Automation is widely seen as a viable response, but this technology must work with people instead of replacing them; think ‘man and machine’ rather than ‘man vs. machine’.

This is why ‘Warehouse of the Future’ is one of the categories in this year’s W2 Labs programme. We’re working with start-ups to find breakthrough technology, tools and working practices that will make warehouses smarter, happier places to be.

Two start-ups were shortlisted in this category this year, each looking at the challenges in different ways.

iFollow is working on robotic solutions that help pickers perform their duties more efficiently. As well as reducing time taken, the autonomous machines also help to reduce musculoskeletal injuries and other health and safety risks associated with the job.

Milvus Robotics has taken a similar approach, but their robots integrate into warehouses without the need for drastic changes to layout. This allows smaller scale sites to add automation in response to increases in demand and boost productivity.

Creating a smarter, better warehouse will impact all areas of logistics. Working with the start-ups involved in the W2 Labs programme this year means that the future may not be as far away as we think.

[1] Sky News - A £675m fund to help our struggling high streets
[2] The Telegraph - Shoppers welcome Christmas with record online spending but high street clothes shops struggle

 

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