If you are part of the distribution, retail, or e-commerce industries, chances are, you are quite accustomed to hearing the phrase “warehouses of the future.” Ever since automated systems have gained a stronghold in these industries, insiders and laypeople alike have speculated as to how these new technological advancements would affect the fulfillment of goods — as well as what other technologies are currently waiting in the wings, practically begging to be unveiled. While there certainly has been a lot of talk regarding smart warehouses, supported by fully-automated fleets and high-flying drones, logistics and safety issues have kept these from becoming realities in the near future.
But, just because the most buzzed-about warehouse trends in automation aren’t yet ripe for picking doesn’t mean that we are stuck with technologies from days past. As a matter of fact, a host of game-changing warehouse automation technologies have launched in the recent days, and many are already ready to optimize and streamline your warehouse’s operations.
Here’s a sneak peek of these new, and very groundbreaking, technologies:
- Collaborative Robots for Speedier Fulfillment
- Sophisticated On-demand Warehousing Options
- The Advancement of Scanning and Other Visual Tasks
- 3D Printing for Mass Customization
Collaborative Robots for Speedier Fulfillment
Last summer, Forbes gave smart cobots, otherwise known as ‘collaborative robots’, the illustrious title of “the future of work.” It’s a declaration that struck a chord with many, perhaps because the idea of warehouse associates working alongside robots is a simpler image to accept than a fully-automated operation in which robots replace living, breathing human workers. While cobots are quite flexible when it comes to application, the most talked-about are the picking and packing variety currently used by Amazon.
Within the past several years alone, cobot technology has been implemented in some of the biggest fulfillment centers in the world, including the trend-setting, Amazon. According to the piece, cobots are a no-brainer for large warehouses owned by multi-channel retailers who have the extra capital to invest in the technology. These ‘lightweight’ robots can be programmed quickly and controlled remotely, require just a few hours of set-up time, are often mobile, and, as far as we know, are safer than many of their stagnant, bolted-down competitors.
Sophisticated On-demand Warehousing Options
On-demand warehousing, sometimes referred to as the ‘uberization’ of warehousing, is a recent trend that looks like it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Broken down, on-demand warehousing is exactly what it sounds like: flexible warehouse space and supplier contracts that allow manufacturers to take advantage of the service as they scale and remove the services as they downsize.
So, where does the element of automation come in? Third-party firms are offering up smart warehouses to manufacturers and suppliers at a tiny fraction of the cost that it would take for the businesses to make the investments themselves. This means that even the most modest of startups can benefit from the use of the latest automated technologies, giving emerging businesses the opportunity to compete with the big guys on fulfillment time and accuracy.
The Advancement of Scanning and Other Visual Tasks
‘Lights-out’ warehouses – essentially, fully-automated warehouses – have, as mentioned, been a hot topic as of late. And, trail-blazing companies, like Aquifi, have already found a way to automate the task of bar code and label scanning, eliminating the need for hand-held scanning tools and the people who operate them. This technology is accomplished through a sophisticated smart dimensioning and 3D identification function that processes a warehouse’s items with more precision than ever before.
It’s big news for operations that take advantage of tried and true asset tagging and bar coding. While these materials will not be replaced, the very scanners – and the people who use them – may soon be deemed obsolete.
3D Printing for Mass Customization
In the old days, making a customized piece of footwear meant a disruption in the everyday processing of the manufacturer’s movements, as well as a much higher price tag for the customer. But, ever since sneaker behemoth, Adidas, invested in 3D printing powerhouse Carbon, the once-fabled affordable customized sneaker is now a reality. In fact, consumers are so completely on board with this 3D-printed footwear option, that Adidas is projected to sell millions of units in 2019 alone.
The launch has been a huge success for Adidas, but 3D printing is also a powerful tool for plenty of other manufacturers, particularly those who are in the positions to take advantage of additive manufacturing, in which normally wasted raw materials are 3D printed according to the operation’s precise needs. This is a big win for manufacturers, as it reduces material waste and shortens processing time in one fell swoop.
As technology continues to evolve, so does the variety found in the world’s smartest, most cutting-edge warehouses. Always pay attention to emerging automation technologies and the companies who are making them a reality – these are the very actors who will be dictating how we manufacture, distribute, and consume goods in the years to come.