What is the future of warehousing? It’s hard to predict the future, but there are several emerging trends that look like they aren’t going anywhere. For now, companies build distribution centers in major hubs, near the delivery services. Warehouses go up near railways, highways, and hubs for UPS and FedEx. Some retail giants like Wal-Mart and Amazon are continuing to change the way we do business and buy things. They continue to change the face of retail, how products are shipped, and how they are stored. Here are a few directions that the industry is heading and what may be on the horizon.
Autonomous Industrial Trucks
As of now, warehouses rely on manpower to bring products in, pick and pack them, and ship them out. Businesses utilize forklifts and other powered industrial trucks to do the work. They are trained and highly skilled, but those kinds of skills are not as in-demand as they once were. Autonomous, self-driving forklifts and trucks are popping up in distribution centers all over the country. The technology exists and is being put to work. A fully autonomous warehouse is a long way off, but the ground is being laid.
Expanding Up, Not Out
Most distribution centers are around 500,000 square feet and they take up a lot of real estate. For companies like Amazon that are constantly growing, that investment in land is costly. Now, companies are looking at building their facilities up, like a skyscraper. The same amount of building materials can go into making a 20 story DC that sits on two acres of land, instead of 20.
Smart Solutions and AI
In the past, the only concern in warehousing was, “how fast and accurate is it?” The speed and efficiency of equipment and systems was the number one priority. Now companies are looking toward increased automation from their software systems to streamline the operation. They want software that can orchestrate the picking of 15 different items from different parts of the warehouse and have them arrive at a packing station at the same time. Smart systems that can monitor parts on a conveyor belt to predict when they might break down are in demand now—and they still will be for years to come.
Along with autonomous forklifts and trucks in a warehouse, there will be an increase in robotics. Again, this is decades in the making, but it’s coming. There already are stationary piece picking robots that can pluck a specific item from a tote and place it in a box for shipping. Robots that roam the warehouse picking parts and items from shelves are in development.