More companies are investing in technologies that can improve warehouse and distribution center (DC) operations, a trend that will accelerate over the next five years, according to research from supply chain tech provider Zebra Technologies, released today.
The company’s global Warehousing Vision Study surveyed 1,500 warehouse and DC decision-makers and associates from around the world to gauge trends and sentiments driving operational decisions and spending in the warehouse. They found that warehouse and DC operators are making considerable investments in technology and automation to meet customer and worker demands, and to more easily fill an ever-increasing number of jobs.
Ninety percent of warehouse operators said they “must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy,” and 80% said the pandemic prompted them to evolve and modernize more quickly. Primary goals include meeting accelerated fulfillment demands, improving decision-making, and creating a more enjoyable work experience, according to the report.
As a result, companies are investing in technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation, in particular. The authors said the use of wearables, mobile printers, and rugged tablets will increase in the next few years, along with mobile dimensioning software that automates parcel and carton measurements, for instance. The study also found that nearly 30% of warehouse operators have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) to address warehouse operations, a figure that is expected to grow to 90% within five years.
“We’re seeing a positive shift occurring in the supply chain and, specifically, within warehouses,” Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions at Zebra, said in a press release announcing the survey results. “Most decision-makers believe investments in automation far outweigh the risk of doing nothing, and they are becoming more comfortable integrating all sorts of new technologies into their current operations and infrastructure.”Zebra found that most decision-makers are satisfied with the tech investments they have made to date, especially when it comes to inventory, asset, and supply chain visibility. What’s more, they found that most managers agree they have optimized the use of technology devices in the warehouse to fit the task as well as meet safety and ergonomic goals.
But it’s not all good news.
“However, warehouse associates (84%) and decision-makers (79%) are concerned they will not meet their business objectives unless more technology investments are made to improve operations, with associates in the transportation (92%) and logistics (88%) sectors feeling most strongly about this need,” according to the release.As a result, 60% of decision-makers surveyed said they plan to invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and overall visibility throughout supply chains over the next five years. Ninety percent of respondents said they expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning, and machine vision systems to become more prevalent over the next five years, as well.
Among the greatest benefits expected from all this investment? Higher job satisfaction in the warehouse. Study respondents said that automation may help keep more people in their jobs as well as fill empty positions. Nearly 80% of warehouse associates said that walking fewer miles per day–a key benefit of warehouse automation, according to many tech firms– would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick or handle more items. Many respondents also said they strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful, according to the report.
“Automation is the great equalizer, especially when labor is constrained or during unexpected surge periods or seasonal peaks when it may be difficult to scale the workforce quickly,” Wheeler added.