An interesting article appeared in Raconteur this week focusing on the growth in automation in retail warehouse and logistics operations. These are early days in the development of warehouse automation but with e-commerce sales showing no sign of slow down retailers are under increasing pressures to improve the speed between click and delivery. What could this mean however for online retailers long term?
- the workforce: the make-up of employees on the warehouse floor is likely to change with an emphasis on technicians to ensure that automated robot shelves/pickers remain operational - this suggests some short term employment cost outlay to reflect this change in focus and/or investment in significant training to up-skill existing workforces;
- automation management software solutions: the development or procurement of more complex automation management solutions and/or analytics software to learn and optimise the quickest and most cost efficient way to pick/collect and deliver goods (i.e. swarm robotics or AI to provide maximum operational effectiveness). Does this suggest a rise in the need for robotics/drone management solution providers globally?
- operational resilience: the need to invest in the 'resilience cycle' (i.e. replacement parts/robots; improved cyber security detection and mitigation systems; compartmentalised robotic zones to ensure resilience; a robust support and maintenance programme; clear visibility as to the life of selected tech and supporting systems; adaptable and scaleable solutions);
- Spatial awareness! - a clear assessment as to the need/scale of development for the retailer's/operator's future robotic needs in terms of tangible space - what additional space might be required? are current warehouse facilities up to scratch? what investment is required to upgrade existing infrastructure/will change of location be required? Fundamentally will warehouse landlords need to adapt their premises in order to attract e-retailers/online operators of the future/are we looking at a number of e-retailers/online operators re-evaluating their warehouse space and looking to exit sooner than lease arrangements permit?
It is clear that the rapid development and intricacy of robotics and drone technology will have a far reaching impact on the way in which warehousing and logistics operations are managed and run. There are however concerns as to how much capital investment would be required (see issues above) to really give a retailer/operator a marked edge or differentiator to drive custom. It will therefore be interesting to see where businesses choose to invest in terms of technology and innovation over the coming months/years.
E-commerce retailers are ramping up automation in their warehouses as they race to deliver goods to shoppers ever faster.