Improving agility and efficiency in SMB warehouses using technology
Change is nothing new for those in warehousing, distribution and fulfilment. In the past two decades alone, warehousing has undergone significant changes, driven by technological innovations and the growth of e-commerce. Due to the human impact of the recent pandemic, a number of the trends affecting the supply chain were accelerated and highlighted the need to make warehouse operations as agile, automated, and resilient as possible.
Today, in partnership with Zebra, we explore the evolution and modernisation of warehousing, exploring the impact of increasing ecommerce demand and the rise of automation to aid efficiency and productivity. We’ll round off by discussing some of the rising stars of technology that could help you achieve your operational and business goals.
What are the challenges of warehouse management?
In recent years, warehouse operators have had to adapt to changing consumer habits, the growth of recruitment and productivity challenges, and the increasing interconnectedness of supply chains. As market conditions fluctuate and new disruptors emerge, decision-makers are being forced to accelerate their plans to improve workforce productivity, responsiveness, and agility.
A shift in consumer behaviour with a bias towards e-commerce
In the 14th Annual Zebra Global Shopper study, 73% of shoppers said that they prefer to have items delivered to them rather than picking them up, with 58% of respondents stating that they have placed an online order to be delivered to them in the last three months leading up to the study.
During the pandemic, when brick and mortar retail was forced to close its doors, demand for ecommerce rose sharply, but even before this the growth of e-commerce has had a major impact on small and medium-sized businesses. Many have had to adapt their warehouses to meet the increased demand for online orders.
This has also forced focus on improving order fulfilment and shipping processes. Customers have come to expect fast, reliable shipping, and businesses need to be able to meet those expectations in order to compete.
How can technology be used to improve the agility of warehousing?
Technology has the potential to greatly improve the agility and efficiency of warehouses. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
Automation and robotics
Advanced storage systems
Real-time tracking and monitoring
Let’s explore how these technological advancements can help warehouses move towards a more agile and efficient way of working.
Warehouse automation technology for automated picking and packing
Retail decision-makers are responding with an increased focus on optimising their e-commerce order fulfilment operations. In the same study, 80% of retailers said they are under high pressure to offer a variety of delivery options and speeds, a 43% increase since 2019.
In order to meet this demand, many businesses have implemented more efficient methods for packing and shipping orders, such as using automated packing machines and working with multiple carriers to offer a range of delivery options.
In the past, most warehouses were operated manually, with workers picking and packing orders by hand, but automated systems, such as conveyor belts and robotic arms, can greatly increase the speed and accuracy of the warehousing process. This can help businesses to fulfil orders more quickly and efficiently, and to stay competitive in an increasingly fast-paced market.
Efficient storage systems for increased product capacity
Within the next year, decision-makers said they will have expanded the size of their warehouse facilities (72%), increase the number of warehouses (55%), or relocate their facilities (50%) to meet rising demand.
Ensuring that growth is warranted and will continue to be profitable is incredibly important. Optimising warehouse storage is a vital step in the process as this guarantees that all existing space is being used as effectively as possible. Traditional shelving and storage systems can be inefficient and difficult to manage. However, more advanced systems, such as pallet racking and automated storage and retrieval systems, can increase the amount of product that can be stored in a given space and make it easier to find and retrieve items. This can help businesses like yours make the most of existing warehouse space and improve inventory management.
Real-time tracking reduces downtime and increases productivity
Most decision-makers recognize the importance of technology in today's on-demand economy, with 87% saying that they need to implement new technology to stay competitive. In addition to providing workers with devices and automation, many businesses are using sensor or real-time location technology to speed up and improve visibility in their operations. This helps them to provide workers with the best next steps and enables more predictive capabilities. By 2027, almost six in 10 plan to use real-time visibility in their operations.
With the use of sensors and other technologies, warehouse managers can monitor the movement of products and inventory in real-time. This allows them to quickly identify and address any issues that may arise, such as delays or shortages, and to ensure that orders are fulfilled on time. From Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which can be used to provide irrefutable proof of carton contents at shipping through to Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) which can quickly locate material handling equipment, associated and inventory.
While a high percentage of decision-makers may be comfortable with integrating new technology into their warehouse ecosystems, 61% said they have some uncertainty about exactly where to start automating their warehouse operations. However, even those who are wary of the risks associated with implementing new technology can’t argue with the benefits.
In summary, the use of smart warehouse management solutions can greatly increase the speed and efficiency of the warehousing process, which is especially important for businesses that need to fulfil a large number of orders quickly. By implementing automation and robotics, more efficient storage systems, and improved order fulfilment and shipping processes, businesses can ensure that they are able to effectively meet the needs of their customers.
Want to discuss how your warehousing could become more efficient? Get in touch to discuss your needs today!
Alternatively, get instant access to our free guide Optimise and advance warehouse operations: a study for SMBs', sponsored by Zebra. Gain strategic and operational insights to optimise your operations, outpace your competition and increase your employee satisfaction.