Relentless e-commerce trends continue to put tremendous strain on distribution and fulfillment operations worldwide. A new Honeywell report reveals that once-predictable consumer demand cycles centered around holidays and “peak seasons” have given way to a model where any month, week or day can see holiday-style throughput demand.
The report, Warehouse Automation: Future-Proofing the Global Economy, produced by Futurum Research, examines the importance of automation as an increasingly critical part in helping warehouse and distribution center (DC) operators meet new escalation in consumer demand.
“One of the biggest predictors of how a business will thrive in the hypercompetitive e-commerce and omnichannel marketplace is how well it improves its decision making in real time to make deliveries faster and more accurate,” said Keith Fisher, president of Honeywell Intelligrated.
“With rising service level agreements dictating order fulfillment process improvements, automation can help bring stability, predictability and potentially unlock greater efficiency to their operations.”
The analysts at Futurum Research developed the report after sitting down with a group of industry leaders with global experience in warehouse operations, automation technologies and systems implementation to hear first-hand of their experiences and thoughts on the future of warehouse automation.
Three recommendations emerged from the interviews as businesses navigate challenges both present and future along their automation journey:
Focus on augmenting and securing, not replacing the worker. While the concept of a dark warehouse exists on the horizon, the reality today is that the future of warehouse and DC operations for the foreseeable future is one where workers and automation technologies are both needed and must co-exist.
Constantly challenge assumptions and technologies. The value of automation should not be limited to just automating existing takes or processes, it should be part of an overall strategy that addresses the issues of what tasks can be automated today while also asking what new tasks or processes might be possible tomorrow.
Invest with a long-term focus for both technologies and partners. In a static or slow growth market, the application of automation technologies to address specific short-term needs may make sense. However, the rapidly growing and evolving market of today requires a much longer focus and a more rigorous framework.
“While warehouses have historically had a sense of predictability in demand cycles, we found that in today’s warehouses and DCs, every day is as busy as peak,” said Shelly Kramer, principal analyst and founding partner of Futurum Research.
“While we can assume the level of strain this has placed on supply chain and fulfillment operations, we were able to get a better grasp of how businesses are approaching this shift in consumer expectations and adopting the right automation to meet their long-term business goals.”
The report also explores how the ongoing pandemic, global trade issues and regional conflicts have created long-term disruptions to the historically predictable throughput and capacity of warehouses and DCs.