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09 Jun 2021 | 10:49

COVID-19: a catalyst for change in warehousing

How COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change in warehousing.jpg

COVID-19 has had an adverse impact on all of our lives and thankfully between the vaccination programme and the lifting of lockdown restrictions the end is now in sight. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a return to normal procedure within warehouses.

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technological improvements within this sector, and these practices are expected to remain in place - not only because they have proven to maximise efficiency and profits, but because they’ll better protect businesses in uncertain times.  

Technology’s role in maintaining social distancing 

Even once the threat of COVID has subsided, social distancing will most likely remain standard practice in warehouses and distribution centres. You may be wondering, how does tech play a role in social distancing? Well, artificial intelligence and machine learning can use data from cameras and network them into a central hub. This central hub can then monitor employees, not only to ensure social distancing, but to better direct them through the facility to improve efficiency. This way distribution centres can prevent ‘traffic’ within isles and better manage who obtains which items. In addition, by improving efficiency facilities can ‘lean out’ staffing, which has been proven to help reduce operating costs by 15% (p.12). 

It is also expected that COVID measures, such as one-way traffic aisles, sanitation stations and designated work areas will also remain. This will not only help safeguard the warehouse against any future pandemics, but help to reduce transmission of common colds and flus that can hinder productivity. In addition, many mobile devices can be purchased with disinfectant ready housings (DRHs), which are able to endure frequent sanitization procedures to further reduce transmissions. 

The rise in eCommerce 

eCommerce has grown rapidly in recent years, however the pandemic has accelerated this growth by 4 to 6 years. This surge in demand for online retail has left many warehouses and distribution centres struggling to keep up. And, while some consumers will be eager to return to instore shopping, according to Prosper’s Insights and Analytics Survey 47% of adults will continue to shop online due to public health concerns. As such, the sustained increase in ecommerce will necessitate a change in the order profile of warehouses. Warehouses should be prepared to switch focus, or at the very least have portion of their operation focused entirely on fulfilling orders direct to consumer. 

In order to cope with spikes in demand, warehouses will most likely pack individual pieces into boxes to be shipped directly rather than case picking to pallets destined for retail locations. This shift in warehouse operations will have an impact on material flow, processes and storage technologies, and it is this shift that further warrants the need for technology in the warehouse. 

Inventory management 

The rise in eCommerce, as well as a shift towards decentralising operations, have created a need for increased inventory visibility throughout the supply chain. If you have an accurate account of inventory and its whereabouts, you have the ability to efficiently assign and file orders. And this is proven by those companies that had robust digital capabilities pre-pandemic, who have been better equipped to cope, as their technology has allowed them to trace cargo and meet online demands.  

Forbes found that 96% of survey respondents indicated that they expect warehouse automation to increase over the next three years. As such, those that haven’t yet digitised their operations should now be looking to invest in technology. The Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, mobile computers and data analytics are all central in this shift towards warehouse automation, and if your business is to succeed these technological improvements are a must. 

Mobile computers - a requisite for efficiency and productivity

Having noted the increased need for inventory visibility and traceability, you may be questioning how best to make this need tangible. And it is simple - mobile computers, such as the Honeywell Dolphin CK65 Android Computer. The Dolphin CK65 enables you to put the power of accuracy and productivity in the hands of your workforce. This integrated system offers a reliable and secure way to manage inventory and orders in real-time, so that both you and your staff are better equipped to cope with the ongoing pressures of COVID and rapid eCommerce growth.  

A key factor of both efficiency and productivity is communication, and with 80% of today’s workforce now being deskless, you need a unified method of communication with high-level level security for all your staff. In short, you need Honeywell Smart Talk. Smart Talk supports voice calling, messaging (text and media), and user preferences across a range of devices, so that you can scale it to your needs with ease. And with seamless connectivity between wifi and cellular, it’s a system you can have confidence in no matter what the future brings.  

Honeywell unites advanced material handling equipment and innovative software, in a scalable, automated system. By creating e-commerce and omnichannel solutions for your specific needs, we can help propel your operational productivity and build the foundations needed for increased automation.  


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