Evolution of warehousing

Just like the forklift revolutionised warehousing in the 1900s, smart automation is dictating warehousing of the future. Ryan Rundle, Leasing Broker at JLL, unpacks some of the technologies and working methodologies gearing to make an impact in the warehousing space in years to come.

July 16, 2018

Supply chain and spatial optimisation remain ongoing refinement strategies for warehousing and distribution sectors with outcomes focused on improved productivity, flexibility, reliability and environmental impacts. With concurrent advancements in the tech and robotics sectors, it should come as no surprise that the influence has spilled over into the warehousing and distribution sectors.

Below we look at some exciting developments in the warehousing and distribution sectors and how the influence of technology, robotics and spatial optimisation have changed traditional approaches and operational methods within the relevant sectors.

Spatial solutions

With app-driven, on-demand e-commerce orders the way of the future, companies need to locate warehousing closer to the customer to meet consumer demand for quicker delivery. In densely urbanised geographical areas such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Tokyo, multi-storey high-rise warehousing is adopted as a solution to land availability limitations. Multi-storey warehousing improves the efficiency of land utilisation through increasing the usable floor space per square metre of land. Access to respective storeys is achieved through adjoining circular two-way ring ramps or cargo-lifts.

Taking the space issue one step further, Microsoft have recently submerged one of its data centres 30m below the surface of the North Sea near the UK’s Orkney islands. The data centre is fully powered by renewable energy and offers significant operational cost savings through ambient cooling provided by the ocean. Then Amazon have just filed for a patent on an aquatic warehousing solution that uses acoustic waves to activate the retrieval of submerged watertight containers fitted with inflatable cartridges.

Intelligent robotics

There is a big drive to invest in automated solutions for operation, with the adoption of robotics technology a big part of this. Robots are successfully used in sortation exercises as well as in goods-to-person picking where the robot brings the item to the employee for packing and shipping. Amazon Robotics (formerly Kiva) has around 45’00 robots in operation in over 320 warehoused across the U.S. Collaborative automated picking is specifically designed to work safely with and around people, while assisting with physical work, increasing efficiencies and reducing costs. This new era of advanced robotics is only one element of the automation revolution in logistics.

Certain American manufacturers are making use of Google Glasses for their warehousing staff to receive live directions as the most efficient way to fill an order, which is greatly improving inventory turnover and control, highlighting the benefit of a human-virtual interface. Drones, equipped with radio frequency identification (RFD), can significantly enhance the accuracy and speed of inventory reviews. They can assist warehouse personnel to locate individual items and update inventory records, in a perfect example of machines collaborating with humans to promote reliability and efficiency.

Today’s next-generation warehouse is an automated hive of advanced productivity and increased output. Warehousing innovation and automation trends are designed to work in conjunction with a labour force to alleviate repetitive tasks in an e-commerce world. It is about matching distribution to customer needs in the smartest way possible while staying at the forefront of big-data trends and analytics.

Contextualising the above into South Africa’s market seems an unlikely adoption for many years to come, given our availability of underutilised land, relatively cheap construction costs and high unemployment rate.  JLL’s industrial and logistics professionals understand the current South African business environment and are fully capable of providing the business intelligence you need to make the most profitable and value adding industrial real estate decisions.

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