As Brexit looms uncertainly ahead and the UK rushes to stockpile goods, as rent inflation soars and consumers’ preference for online shopping continues to gain momentum, the pressure on the UK’s warehouses is threatening to become all-encompassing. Demand is set to exceed supply by 25 million square feet by 2020, so the warehouse crisis is quickly becoming a problem that businesses can no longer afford to ignore. This mismatch between supply and demand for square footage persists even as new warehouses are being built to try to match the extraordinary demand. In fact, businesses will continue to struggle to keep up with these industry demands unless they take immediate action to increase the efficiency of the spaces they own, no matter what the size of these spaces may be.
Mega-Warehouses – pros and cons
More mega-warehouses are beginning to appear in the UK in order to alleviate the pressure on businesses created by the shortage of square footage. However, whilst such large expanses of space allow for the storage of more goods in bulk, the burden falls on warehouse employees to navigate colossal distances quickly in order to meet consumer demands. It is unsurprising that warehouse pickers and their equipment often fall short of the standard of efficiency necessary for such fast-paced fulfilment, since these mega-warehouses routinely exceed half a million square feet – and this is a problem that businesses don’t need magnifying as it isn’t uncommon for one of the largest causes of lost productivity to be moving around the warehouse. So, if retailers and their supply chain partners want to increase their productivity, it is imperative that they innovate by deploying new equipment in their warehouses.
Mobile screens and voice-assistance tech
Instead of wasting hours on end searching for items required for an order, warehouse pickers can be guided by mobile or voice-assisted devices to complete tasks in record time. Heads-up displays and other wearable, bionic technology give employees access to information on-the-go as they navigate the warehouse floor. Technological advancements have even allowed workers to pinpoint the specific item they are looking for on the virtual screen of smart glasses, right before their eyes. Through implementing such technology in warehouses, the margin of error in the overall fulfilment process can be cut, productivity can soar to new heights and businesses can place themselves in a unique position to manage consumer demand effectively.
Cobots as the next generation of employee
As their name suggests, collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’, work alongside employees to further increase warehouse efficiency and reduce the pressure they face every day. These robots are specially designed to take on the repetitive and frequently monotonous, physical tasks that are symbolic of warehouses. Whether it’s by picking orders, loading pallets, or moving stock, these machines can function unattended in close proximity to warehouse employees, without impacting their work or compromising their safety.
Making the most of smaller warehouse spaces
As a result of the steep price of square footage, acquiring huge warehouse spaces is often not a possibility for every supply chain company. However, technological advancements are set to ensure that such companies should not have to sacrifice productivity because of their smaller storage space. Ongoing developments like robotic shelving and vertical storage, which may soon be implemented in warehouses, will allow every inch of space to be used to its full capacity. This sort of technology will maximise the value of vertical space, allowing previously inaccessible areas to be reached without risking employees’ safety. As a result, more goods can be stocked and more orders processed by businesses seeking to gain an edge over their competition and meet consumer demands like never before.
Technology is among the most viable solutions to the multitude of challenges that the warehousing and logistics industries are currently facing. The picking techniques and spaces being used must be adapted to meet daunting levels of demand. Innovative technology is the most cost-efficient, productive tool to transform how even the most restrictive spaces can be used.
By Rob DeStefano, Senior Product Marketing Manager – Industries, Ivanti Supply Chain