Warehouses Getting More Complex, Survey Says
New technologies are transforming warehouses, particularly those serving e-commerce, a Zebra Technologies survey of logistics professionals finds.
Technology is becoming more integral to warehouse operations to meet the needs of e-commerce customers.
Warehouses are undergoing massive changes in labor and technology to accommodate the needs of e-commerce, according to a new report.
Because of the increasing complexity of supply chain operations, it took 60.4 hours to train new staff to “full productivity” in 2015, up 26% from 2013, said a report by Zebra Technologies Co., which sells bar code scanners and other technologies to help companies track and manage their business operations. Some 72% of nearly 1,400 logistics professionals surveyed around the world expect to use voice-directed picking solutions by 2020, up from just 30% in 2015.
The changes, among others in the report, illustrate the rapid pace at which companies are already adjusting their supply chains to meet consumer demands for faster delivery speeds and more convenience.
Companies that previously asked warehouse workers to pick one large box full of shirts in four different sizes, with one bar code, to be shipped to a store are now picking individual shirts out of a box with four bar codes, said Dan Chamberlain, senior manager of marketing for Zebra’s transportation and logistics business. The need for speed and accuracy make those jobs far more complex, making training more difficult, he added. “It’s on a higher level of detail.”
The higher demand for speed and accuracy is underscored by the growing number of companies expecting to invest in voice-directed picking, or devices typically used in combination with hands-free scanners that give workers verbal instructions. Though there are an increasing number of providers competing in this space, voice picking solutions tend to be more expensive than traditional bar code scanners.
Companies are willing to pay the extra cost for such technology “because of productivity enhancement and accuracy enhancement as well,” Mr. Chamberlain said.
Meanwhile, companies increasingly expect to open new warehouses instead of expanding their old ones. The report said more than three-quarters of respondents expect to increase their number of warehouses by 2020, up from 48% in 2015. About 60% of respondents said they expect to expand their existing warehouse space in 2020, down from 64% who say they’re expanding now.
This is because competitive pressure to deliver goods to consumers faster is leading companies to invest in smaller facilities closer to population centers, instead of focusing their investment on larger facilities in traditional logistics hubs.
“As consumer demand changes, the demands of business providers [whether it’s] a retail company, a manufacturer, or their third party logistics provider changes,” Mr. Chamberlain said. “That’s how you end up with these changes in warehouse activity…The consumer drives everything.”