At a time when warehouse operators are embracing new technologies, many also are adding employee quality-of-life initiatives to counteract labor shortages, according to a JLL report.
“Technology is transforming every aspect of the warehouse – from tracking inventory to product picking – to get goods in and out as quickly and cost effectively as possible,” says Rick Steger, JLL managing director and national industrial project management lead.
“As operators face rising costs and a shrinking inventory of prime land, the continued demand for space and labor is spurring innovation that now defines how warehouses are being built,” he adds.
With warehouse vacancy rates below 3% in the top logistics markets, industrial developers are rethinking warehouse design to help ecommerce distribution companies and other users shrink their supply chain footprints.
Despite the 239.1 million square feet of warehouse space under construction in the second quarter – a 3.7% increase from the previous quarter – development can’t always keep up with demand.
The absence of prime developable land, along with the growing demand for last-mile distribution facilities, is making small and mid-sized buildings the industry norm, JLL notes. Approximately 60% of new warehouse development comprises facilities in the 50,000- to 250,000-square-foot range.
Here are the most promising features JLL says will make the biggest impact on warehouse efficiency:
RFID tags attached to each inventory item can transmit real-time data to and from the warehouse floor and inventory management applications, allowing warehouse teams to use mobile devices to track inventory from the moment it arrives.
In a hyper-connected warehouse, operating systems are laid out in a highly advanced matrix to
accommodate the growing mix of technologies. Today’s warehouses hold bandwidth for technologies like barcoding, Internet of Things (IoT), RFID scanning, GPS, load optimization and future technology innovations that may emerge.
For forklifts, IoT can connect a warehouse operator’s lift trucks with their Enterprise Resource Planning system and with workers across the warehouse, saving time throughout an operation.
Yesterday’s 24- to 26-foot ceiling height is now in the 36- to 40-foot range today. Automated picking technology now can easily reach the highest shelves, today’s lighting systems efficiently illuminate tall spaces, and fire-suppression technologies can reach higher ceilings.
From multilingual voice-picking and augmented reality to specialized robots, these technologies can expand labor pools by overcoming language barriers and accommodating a range of skill sets.
Alternative energy and energy efficiency are no longer optional., JLL asserts. Solar panels, LED lighting, cool-roof systems, thermal glass, clerestory windows and other new green materials and innovations are leading warehouses into a new age.
Workers’ quality of life in the warehouse is of growing importance. New features such as effective lighting, air quality sensors and temperature control become more common as design becomes more human-centric. Improving the working environment benefits employee health and reduces employee turnover and facilities risks, JLL points out.
Industrial tenants are demanding more flexibility. They want the option to add land and space if the need arises, like a seasonal rush. The report says “Flex land” could meet needs such as additional truck storage or warehouse expansion.
Although many operators require exceptionally flat floors for precise robot picking and racking, JLL says sloped floors can accommodate technologies for moving inbound and outbound shipments.