Login



For PLUS+ subscription assistance, contact customer service.

Not a PLUS+ Subscriber?

Become a PLUS+ Subscriber today and you'll get access to all Supply Chain Management Review premium content including:

  • Full Web Access
  • 7 Magazine Issues per Year
  • Companion Digital Editions
  • Digital Edition Archives
  • Bonus Email Newsletters

Subscribe Today!

Premium access to exclusive online content, companion digital editions, magazine issues and email newsletters.

Subscribe Now.


Become a PLUS+ subscriber and you'll get access to all Supply Chain Management Review premium content including:

  • Full Web Access. All feature articles, bonus reports and industry research through scmr.com.

  • 7 Magazine Issues per year of Supply Chain Management Review magazine.

  • Companion Digital Editions. Searchable replicas of each magazine issue. Read them in any web browser. Delivered by email faster than printed issues.

  • Digital Editions Archives. Every article, every chart and every table as it appeared in the magazine for all archive issues back to 2009.

  • Bonus email newsletters. Add convenient weekly and monthly email newsletters to your subscription to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry.

PLUS+ subscriptions start as low as $109/year*. Begin yours now.
That's less than $0.36 per day for access to information that you can use year-round to better manage your entire global supply chain.

For assistance with your PLUS+ subscription, contact customer service.

* Prices higher for subscriptions outside the USA.

PLUS+ Customer Service Support


Customer service for all PLUS+ subscribers is available Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm Eastern time.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 1-800-598-6067 (1-508-663-1500 x294 outside USA)
Mail: PO Box 1496, Framingham MA 01701-1496, USA



You have been logged out of PLUS+


For PLUS+ subscription assistance, contact customer service.

Need to access our premium PLUS+ Content?
Upgrade your subscription now.


Our records show that you are currently receiving a free subscription to Supply Chain Management Review magazine, or your subscription has expired. To access our premium content, you need to upgrade your subscription to our PLUS+ status.

To upgrade your subscription account, please contact customer service at:

Email: [email protected] Phone: 1-800-598-6067 (1-508-663-1500 x294 outside USA)

Become a PLUS+ subscriber and you'll get access to all Supply Chain Management Review premium content including:

  • Full Web Access. All feature articles, bonus reports and industry research through scmr.com.

  • 7 Magazine Issues per year of Supply Chain Management Review magazine.

  • Companion Digital Editions. Searchable replicas of each magazine issue. Read them in any web browser. Delivered by email faster than printed issues.

  • Digital Editions Archives. Every article, every chart and every table as it appeared in the magazine for all archive issues back to 2010.

  • Bonus email newsletters. Add convenient weekly and monthly email newsletters to your subscription to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry.

PLUS+ subscriptions start as low as $129/year*. Start yours now.
That's less than $0.36 per day for access to information that you can use year-round to better manage your entire global supply chain.

This content is available for PLUS+ subscribers.


Already a PLUS+ subscriber?


To begin or upgrade your subscription, Become a PLUS+ subscriber now.

For assistance with your PLUS+ subscription, contact customer service.

Sorry, but your login to PLUS+ has failed.


Please recheck your login information and resubmit below.



For PLUS+ subscription assistance, contact customer service.

The Warehouse of the Future

While fully-automated warehouses remain a pipe dream for many e-tailers, many are now using software, automation and sensors to get closer to their customers.

By ·
{scmr_abstract}
By ·

What will the warehouse of the future look like? According to an article in The Electrical Distributor by my colleague Bridget McCrea, it might include warehouses that extend vertically into the sky, rely on drones for delivery and utilize robots for lights-out order fulfillment.

The future isn’t as far off as you might think. Google “JD.com fully automated warehouse,” and you’ll find a video of the Chinese e-tail giant’s lights-out e-commerce distribution center in Shanghai. There, people are mostly for show. Robots and automated materials handling systems do virtually all of the warehousing and order fulfillment work. It’s remarkable to behold, even to someone who has seen a lot of warehouse automation.

While fully automated facilities like JD.com’s are still the exceptions to the rule, there are some significant trends and market changes that are shaping how the warehouse of the future might operate. Here are a few.

Fulfillment

The warehouse of the past was a place to store finished goods that moved in and out on pallets. Corporate considered them a necessary evil and a cost center. Today, warehouses are promise keepers: Their job is to enable a company’s go-to-market strategy and make good on the promises made by the marketing and sales departments. Order turnaround — the time it takes to pick and pack an order so it is ready for pickup by a delivery company before the cutoff time — is measured in hours rather than days.

An example: One industrial distributor promises to have your order an outbound truck the same day you order it, or they’ll cut you a check. They can’t make good on that promise without a distribution center designed around fulfilling that promise. That’s an entirely different problem than figuring out how to store more pallets in an existing space.

Selection and velocity

Distribution centers (DCs) are tasked with carrying more items, or SKUs, than ever in order to keep customers on a site. At the same time, that inventory is spending less time than ever in the DC. In the most recent survey of Modern Materials Handling’s readers, one of the magazines I edit, the number of SKUs was up by 6 percent, while the number of inventory turns was up by 10 percent.

More automation

The labor shortage that’s making the news today is old news to warehouse managers. They’ve been battling a war for talent for years. Thanks to the growth of e-commerce, it’s more acute than ever. As a result, the distribution industry is in the middle of an automation boom, driven by the need to take as much labor out of the process as possible. Technologies like high-density automated storage, shuttle systems, pouch sorters, put walls and automated packaging systems are ideal for handling items. While not in wide use yet, automated lift trucks are on the horizon. Some leading retailers are even taking inventory in their warehouses using drones.

Robotics

While adoption of robotics in distribution centers has been slow, they’re coming. We’re seeing the emergence of mobile collaborative robots that travel to a picking location where a warehouse associate drops an item into a tote. Stationary piece-picking robots then pick items from a storage tote and place them in a shipping container. We’re even seeing autonomous mobile piece-picking robots that can travel to a location, pick an item and travel to the next location until the order is complete. Right now, the market is limited to some brave early adopters who are piloting robotic technologies or going live with small implementations. But, as those early adopters learn how to get value from robotics, the space will grow.

Software and sensors

Warehouse automation used to be about “speeds and feeds,” or how fast a piece of equipment did its job. Today, it’s about how smart the system operates. Can the system orchestrate activities in the facility so that items picked in three different locations arrive at the packing station at the same time to close out an order? Can the system predict when a motor, a bearing or a conveyor is about to fail so you can address the problem before it shuts down your line? Solving problems like these is the result of sensors that monitor conditions and collect data and software that optimizes operations, and not mechanics. That’s why I like to say that in today’s warehouse, it’s all about the software.

Rethinking the warehouse

The typical warehouse is about 500,000 square feet and located in a distribution hub near a major parcel shipper, like Columbus, Memphis or Louisville, Kentucky. In the future, expect to see more, smaller facilities located near major urban areas as e-tailers try to get closer to their customers for same-day delivery. Expect those facilities to be two, three or four floors tall to get more storage space on an available footprint. And, expect to see more order fulfillment technologies going into retail store backrooms or empty stores in strip plazas and downtowns as retailers and the grocery industry utilize all the assets at their disposal to fill orders.

As someone who has covered this industry for more than 30 years, it really is an exciting time to work in warehousing and distribution. The future for the industry looks great.

(Article was originally published for Future of Business and Tech here).


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

Subscribe to Supply Chain Management Review Magazine!

Subscribe today. Don't Miss Out!
Get in-depth coverage from industry experts with proven techniques for cutting supply chain costs and case studies in supply chain best practices.
Start Your Subscription Today!

Latest Whitepaper
2019 Top 5 Trends of Enterprise Labeling
This year’s sixth annual Top 5 Trends in Enterprise Labeling report outlines significant shifts in labeling that are impacting businesses and global supply chains at an unprecedented level.
Download Today!
From the January-February 2019
If history is our guide, economies take a turn every nine years. Yet time and again, a strong business cycle and fading memories convince us the good times will go on forever. Ten years after the great recession, we surveyed 100 manufacturing firms to find out if businesses are ready to fight through the next recession.
Truck Driver Shortage: No one behind the wheel
Intermodal to the rescue
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!


Latest Webcast
Leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) in Manufacturing
Is Digital Transformation a risk or an opportunity? This webinar will detail Manufacturing industry challenges and how using IoT can address these challenges through optimizing logistics, improving processes and gaining meaningful insights.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
Supply Chain Management Issues Confronting Us This Year
A variety of fresh challenges will surface for global traders in January and beyond
Global Supply Chain Pricing May Face New Pressures in 2019
The global economy started 2018 with strong, synchronized growth, but the momentum faded as the year...

IHS Markit’s New Economic “Predictions” for 2019 and Impact on Global Supply Chains
The U.S. will remain “above trend,” while other key economies will experience further...
Global Kuehne + Nagel Indicators Signal Global Supply Chain Resilience
So far this year, international merchandise trade has risen by 10.6%. Emerging markets and North...