XPO speculates on Omnichannel warehouse of the future
25 January 2019
Richard Cawston, MD supply chain Europe of XPO Logistics asks: how do you build the warehouse of the future?
Since the eCommerce boom arrived a good 10 years ago, warehousing has been undergoing a significant evolution: the high-tech warehouses of today barely resemble the old storage-based warehouse model. Meanwhile, the on-demand economy is promising even more disruption to the logistics industry, particularly in the areas of stock management and fulfilment speed. So, what will the warehouse of the future look like? And how do we build it?
At XPO, we have partnered with Nestlé to build a next-generation distribution centre in East Midlands, in the UK, due for completion in 2020. The centre will feature predictive analytics, robotics and other intelligent machines, and act as an incubator for innovations developed in our on-site technology lab.
Automation has always been paramount to achieving speed and efficiency, but in the future the industry will see artificial intelligence – AI – add a new layer of sophistication to logistics processes
This will lead to increasing connectivity within the warehouse environment. Integrated, cloud-based programs will provide a real-time, birds-eye view across all of the disparate elements of supply chain management. Our proprietary warehouse management platform is designed for broad and deep connectivity to rapidly deploy robotics and advanced automation. The data this generates is used to manage labour and footprints effectively through digital tools, such as demand forecasting, and to handle returns in a seamless way to maximise the process for businesses and consumers.
The industry likely will always need human intelligence to effectively operate logistics facilities. As the labour market becomes increasingly competitive, technology can help attract and retain quality workers through the use of collaborative robotics that improve the worker experience. Some of our warehouses are using collaborative robots or co-bots that support human workers by handling the heavy lifting and carrying, moving stock to fulfilment stations to assist in picking and packing.
Warehouses provide an ideal setting for human-robot collaboration. The co-bots handle repetitive, labor-intensive tasks to help reduce walk-time and human error. They make working conditions safer for their human counterparts and give workers more time to focus their skills on critical areas of operation.
We also expect to see increasing use of warehouse drones to carry out inventory management at height, capturing photographs of stock to cross-check against system records with 100% accuracy. This also increases safety for workers.
Over time, the industry’s adoption of warehouse technology will see workers’ roles evolve toward competencies that make the most of integrating AI into daily operations. However, the premise of technology should be to enable humans to do their jobs better. And there are positive by-products of AI collaboration – for example, it has been shown that AI can improve morale because workers better understand the essential value of their own contributions.
The world has never asked more of warehouse management than it does right now. In pondering what the warehouse of the future will look like, it’s important to remember that tomorrow’s solutions must take current dynamics into account. As we focus on innovating future-proof logistics processes, our technology is also addressing what customers need today.