Both automation and worker augmentation warehouse solutions will be a key focus for global decision makers’ plans over the next five years, according to a study released by IT consultants Zebra Technologies Corp.
Its 2024 Warehousing Vision Study also found that more than three- quarters (77%) of distribution executives who responded to a survey agree that augmenting workers with technology is the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse, but only 35% have a clear understanding of where to start automating.
The survey also found that 87% of decision makers are currently in the process of or planning to expand the size of their warehouses by 2024, with 82% anticipating an increase in the number of warehouses during this timeframe.
In addition, 61% of decision makers said they have plans in place to enable partial automation or labor augmentation with technology in the warehouse.
Three-quarters of respondents believe human interaction is part of their optimal operational balance, with 39% citing partial automation (some human involvement) and 34% citing augmentation (equipping workers with devices) as their preference.
The decision makers also said they anticipate using robotics/bots for inbound inventory management (24%), outbound packing (22%) and goods in/receiving (20%) by 2024.
Rethinking Fulfillment Strategies
Rethinking fulfillment strategies and operations to meet emerging challenges across the warehouse remains a top priority, Zebra found. It pointed to the 59% of respondents who anticipate that capacity utilization is a significant challenge and said the way they plan to address it is by expanding the size of their warehouses.
When it comes to human resources management, 60% of organizations cited labor recruitment and/or labor efficiency and productivity as their top challenges, with 63% of respondents emphasizing an immediate focus on individual or team productivity outcomes.
The respondents also identified IT technology utilization as both the most anticipated operational challenge (61%) of the next five years and a desired long-term outcome for increased asset visibility, real-time guidance and data- driven performance.
Almost half (46%) of surveyed respondents cited faster delivery to end-customers as the primary factor driving their warehouse growth plans.
More than three-quarters (77%) agree that they need to modernize operations across the warehouse to remain competitive in the on-demand economy, but they are slow in implementing new mobile devices and technology.
The global poll also found that 73% of companies are currently modernizing their warehouses by implementing or refreshing mobile computers, tablets and barcode scanners.
By 2024, modernization will be driven by Android- based mobile computing solutions (83%), followed by real-time location systems (RTLS) (55%) and full-featured Warehouse Management Systems (54%), Zebra reported.
Targeting peripherals, 60% of respondents cited mobile barcode label or thermal printers as a key area of investment as part of their plans to add, expand or upgrade devices in the next three years.
Almost half (49%) of North American decision makers surveyed identified outbound packing, staging and loading as challenges. However, 94% said they will have implemented or plan to implement trailer load optimization or load compliance solutions by 2024.