Study sheds light on how automation will affect warehouse ops

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

Study sheds light on how automation will affect warehouse ops

By Dan Berthiaume - 06/19/2019
Automation is coming to the warehouse, but may not work the way some experts have predicted.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents in a new study by Zebra Technologies are currently in the process of expanding, or planning to expand, the size of their warehouses by 2024, with 82% anticipating an increase in the number of warehouses during this timeframe.

One of the biggest findings of Zebra’s “2024 Warehousing Vision Study” is that 77% of respondents agree that augmenting workers with technology is the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse. However, only 35% have a clear understanding of where to start automating.

Sixty-one percent of respondents plan 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.

Respondents anticipate using robotics/bots for inbound inventory management (24%), outbound packing (22%), and goods in/receiving (20%) by 2024.

Other interesting results include:

• 59% of respondents cited capacity utilization as a significant expected challenge and plan to address it by expanding the size of their warehouses.

• 60% of respondents cited labor recruitment and/or labor efficiency and productivity among their top challenges, with 63% noting an immediate focus on individual or team productivity outcomes.

• IT/technology utilization was identified both as 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.

• As warehouses expand, so will the volume of stock keeping units (SKUs) and the speed items need to be shipped. Decision-makers will seek increased visibility and productivity by implementing more robust returns management operations (81%), task interleaving (80%), value-added services (80%) and third-party logistics (83%).

• Almost half (46%) of respondents cited faster delivery to end-customers as the primary factor driving their warehouse growth plans.

• More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents agree that they need to modernize operations across the warehouse to remain competitive in the on-demand economy but are slow to implement new mobile devices and technology.

• 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%), real-time location systems (RTLS) (55%) and full-featured warehouse management systems (WMS) (54%).

• 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.

Among North American respondents, 49% identified outbound packing, staging and loading as a challenge. Ninety-four percent will have implemented or plan to implement trailer load optimization and/or load compliance solutions by 2024.

The Zebra study surveyed 1,403 IT and operational decision makers in the manufacturing, transportation & logistics, retail, post and parcel delivery, and wholesale distribution industries in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.