Automation and WMS trends in warehouse production

A popular subject in every business is to predict and describe trends about future technology and future challenges. Logistics is no exception, if you google, you will find many articles regarding future logistics.

This article is my contribution about future trends regarding automation and technology in warehouse.

When it comes to automation, I believe more and more companies will invest in different kind of automation solutions. Not that the prices in automation investments will decrease, the reason is rather that other costs will increase that make the ROI more attractive like labor costs and the costs of facilities. Therefore, you need volume effective solutions with a high efficiency like mini load or cranes. However, this will still in the future attract large or middle-sized warehouses first because of the size of investments.

Automation like Amazon robotics is a disruptor and very interesting, the problem in my opinion is the lack of volume efficiency compared to for example mini load. You still need many expensive square meters. Another interesting disruptor is Autostore’s solution, this solution is more volume effective than Amazon robotics solution and it is also based on autonomous robots. These both solutions are easy to scale up and is also suitable for small and medium warehouses. I think we will see more of these solutions because it is easy to scale up and the ROI is attractive for a broader range of warehouses than cranes or mini-load.

In fact many large global companies have started to decrease their level of “old school mechanical” solutions  in warehouse automation because of the high maintenance costs and the short life expectancy. The technology is rapidly outdated and there is a risk of being locked in an ineffective automation solution. Personally, I’m positive about automation, but it’s important not to build monuments that you call it in lean language. Solutions without flexibility and batch and que problems. There is also a breaking point when the automation cost more (including maintenance and expertise you have employed) than you gain in efficiency.

The most interesting thing in the near future of warehouse production in my opinion is not any hardware, it is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The use of AI in WMS have just begun. There is already WMS vendors that use AI for optimization and simulation. The interest in AI is growing fast, in a survey from SDCEXEC called “Future of Supply Chain” from 2014 they didn´t even ask the clients of AI´s importance. In the same survey from 2016, 47 percent said that AI is both disruptive and important of respect to supply chain strategies. On top of that, an Accenture report from 2016 suggests 85 percent of organizations have adopted or will adopt AI in their supply chain within a year!

In my opinion, AI is the big disruptor and the strongest trend of warehouse production in the near future. AI will automate processes, simulate and optimize in future WMS. I believe simulation with help of AI will be a standard feature in WMS in a near future. The technology is still in its infancy, we have just seen the beginning.

I believe smart glasses will be a great tool and have a big impact in the warehouse. I have written a separate article about that. See link below.

Could smart glasses be the wearable of future warehouse production?

Roberth Karlsson


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