Advances in warehouse technology solutions are reshaping traditional supply chains, and businesses stand to benefit immensely from the hyper efficiency this new technology promises. Very soon, warehouses as we know them could be gone—but what will they be replaced with? What will the warehouse of tomorrow look like? Here are a few predictions on how distribution centers could change and what they could look like in the very near future.
#1 Full automation
You might be thinking, I’ve seen videos of warehouses with robots doing things. Aren’t warehouses already using automation?
Yes, but it’s only partial automation. Automated warehouse technology allows facilities to be fully automated, meaning they will have an advanced automatic storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), which includes a crane system connected to the warehouse management system (WMS). This will allow anything and everything within the warehouse to be retrieved, processed or shipped with little to no human involvement. So why isn’t full automation widely in use already? Because it’s expensive—a fully automated environment typically requires a completely custom warehouse design. So while highly efficient, at the moment the startup costs are potentially prohibitive for most smaller companies.
#2 Smarter robots
While using robots in warehouses might seem like part of a fully automated environment, you’d be half right. You see, while warehouses of the future will undoubtedly rely on robots more than today, robots can already function in existing warehouse spaces. This is great news for businesses who don’t need to (or can’t afford to) build a custom environment to support full automation. The future though will see robots in warehouses taking on more complex tasks that have traditionally required a human touchpoint, e.g., making dresses. Future robots will also be more mobile and able to multitask, which means less hardware will be required to do the same work. This technology should also become more affordable over time, allowing smaller businesses to potentially deploy robotic systems that can boost overall efficiency.
#3 Goodbye, creature comforts
The warehouse of the future will be unrecognizable to humans, thanks in part to the fact we won’t be able to see it—literally. Tomorrow’s warehouse will be built around automation and designed with robots (not humans) in mind. That means warehouses will operate in low light or even no light, except in case of specific circumstances. The temperature, too, will be greatly different than what humans might find comfortable—whatever the ideal temperature is for a warehouse’s automation infrastructure is what you can expect. Spacing will be different as well since only the amount of space necessary for the infrastructure to function is what will be considered during the design phase. Tomorrow’s warehouse could very well be a cramped, dark, cold environment that never stops whizzing with the noise of hyper efficiency.
#4 Less warehouses?
If warehousing is undergoing a reinvention via automation, robotics and big data, how will there be less warehouses in the future instead of more? The answer is that in the future there may be less, but the ones built will be enormous. Imagine distribution centers the size of a small city that act as a shared environment for thousands of businesses. This sort of warehouse-as-a-service concept would allow even small businesses to have access to state-of-the-art, fully automated facilities to store, ship and process their goods, and only for a reasonable monthly retainer fee. The future could also see mini warehouses spring up near you, allowing businesses to store high-demand products right next to where consumers live to expedite order times. So the future could see less medium-size warehouses and more huge and mini warehouses.
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