Automation becomes the new normal for tomorrow’s warehouse
26 May 2021
Supply chain operations across the UK and EU are under pressure like never before, meaning automation is becoming the new normal for tomorrow’s warehouse.
The pandemic, Brexit and outdated fulfilment models have forced warehouse operators to question how fit-for-purpose their facilities are, and, in many cases, the answers have been far from comforting.
Many operators have been forced to admit that the unprecedented levels of demand imposed on them since the onset of lockdown have stretched their capabilities to near breaking point. Effective solutions to improve productivity and keep pace with demanding customer expectations have therefore been sought.
How businesses overcome these challenges will increasingly underline their viability in the new normal. Within the UK and European warehouse sector, the traditional model adopted by fulfilment centres for dealing with peak periods has been the subject of much debate - even before the pandemic.
Temporarily boosting the size of workforces with armies of labour was increasingly being seen as unsustainable. Rising labour costs and the availability of workers in a shrinking labour pool was forcing many companies to implement change; add to this the effects of the pandemic and the need to have socially distanced warehouses, then it has been no surprise that pressure on even the most robust of supply chains has been severely tested.
Complicating the picture for operators has been the UK’s split from the single market. Multi-national operators fearing disruption to supply chains in the wake of Brexit have been setting up satellite operations on mainland Europe to avoid problems, many tempted by relocation incentive schemes offered by the likes of the Belgian and Dutch governments.
Recognising the way the fulfilment industry is being transformed, savvy UK operators have planned ahead. In many cases this has meant accelerating investment decisions. Therefore, plans to automate processes which may previously have formed part of a five-year, even a ten-year business plan were brought forward so upgrades could be made straight away and the technology installed to enable productivity improvements that could keep pace with growing order volumes.
Automation is helping fulfilment warehouses maintain the efficiency of their operations, which has been crucially important in managing peak demand periods during the pandemic. The range of solutions varies from fixed infrastructure options such as conveyors, to alternatives such as robotics, which can be easier to scale and more flexible.
“Effective fulfilment methods such as Locus Robotics’ Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) solution is one of these alternatives. Businesses implementing the solution have seen their productivity double – even treble – with no disruption to their operations,” said Denis Niezgoda, Vice President – Europe, Locus Robotics.
“The solution removes the need for workers to haul heavy carts around a warehouse, enabling them instead to be located close to their picking area, instantly cutting out hours of unproductive walking time as the cobots convey picked items to the packing areas.
“Add to this the fact that the data fed into the LocusBot programme improves pick accuracy and eliminates costly and time-consuming errors, then it comes as little surprise that cost-effective automated processes such as the Locus AMR solution are increasingly being seen as the new normal for tomorrow’s fulfilment warehouse.”
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