THE ANATOMY OF THE future warehouse

By Bruce Stubbs, director of supply chain marketing, Honeywell

It is the ‘goods to man’ operating

n the future, distribution centres (DCs) will almost certainly have a new look. The term ‘warehouse’ portrays an image of static products sitting in racks for extended periods of time. This is why the name distribution centre or fulfilment centre (FC) is more befitting, as products flow through them now at a faster pace. The extreme growth of Direct to Consumer (D2C) has meant that companies now rethink the large, regional DC format. Organisations will soon be locating smaller, more flexible and ‘connected’ DCs near large population hubs so orders can be fulfilled quicker and the delivery distance shortened to meet the growing demands of today’s consumers. These hub DCs will contain the fastest moving stock keeping units by demographics, and can be replenished directly from the vendor, or even from the larger regional DCs.


EFFICIENCY FROM AUTOMATION Currently, many DCs are already using automation to support the movement of goods, such as conveyor belts, sortation, and so on. However, volumes of shipments are continuing to rise and this is putting pressure on labour pools. It is becoming harder and harder for DC operators to meet the expected levels of demand, and future demand will only aggravate the issue. Automation can speed up the

movement of and capture vital data needed to maintain accuracy, transparency and efficiency. Without


automation, DCs would have to raise the labour force significantly to cope with increased future volume. Automation can support growth and allow companies to flourish without expanding the site and/or the labour force.

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION Capturing key information in real time to update supply chain execution systems will continue to be pivotal. The use of hands-free technologies, such as voice- directed software and wearable solutions, will also continue to rise as they offer even greater levels of accuracy and productivity. DCs will also operate within the supply network in a connected fashion using sensor technology. This collects information in an automated manner, which then allows smart systems to make automated decisions based upon business algorithms developed by the company. In the future, the DC will become part of a greater ecosystem within the company and within the supply chain, increasing automation levels for the movement of goods, along with improving visibility and the operating efficacy of equipment and the building itself. Driverless technology currently exists and has for some time, especially those handling primarily pallet-in and pallet- out quantities, but while some sites today use driverless technology, even more will turn to it in the future and this is particularly true in areas where labour pools are limited.

The use of hands-free technologies, such as wearable solutions, will continue to rise as they offer even greater levels of accuracy and productivity across the distribution centre floor

philosophy that reduces excessive travel associated with case and each picking. DC managers can assign workers to zones and driverless vehicles can circulate throughout the zones, bringing partially filled pallets to an area where a worker then adds cases to that pallet. The vehicle then moves on to the next zone to repeat the process. This can also be accomplished when a large bank of totes/cartons arrives and the worker needs to add eaches to multiple orders from their zone. Travel by a worker is the most inefficient use of their time and with the average pick assignment requiring about 40 per cent travel it is easy to see how moving the goods to stationary workers can drive efficiency. Of course, the order volumes need to be substantial enough to justify investing in this type of automation, but the benefits are clear once these quantities are achieved.

THE SHIFT FROM MAN TO MACHINE The obvious question here is what becomes of the jobs that were once performed by manpower. Many parts of the world are facing a shortage of manpower to perform the type of work needed in the supply chain to handle the increasing workload. There is a definite driver shortage in the trucking industry, as well as in numerous DC operations, with businesses struggling to find the manpower to effectively handle normal DC volumes, let alone the higher seasonal peak volumes. In these cases, automation is becoming a necessity. With more automated and connected

DCs, the main benefit for end users will ultimately be in meeting their needs, and satisfaction breeds success. There are three elements involved, including on- time arrival of the product, accurate fulfilment at the DC and then delivery within the expected timeframe. Automation and visibility across the whole supply chain is critical. Using advanced connected solutions, powered by the Internet of Things, will help to meet the ever-increasing demands across so many consumer markets.



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