Big data, artificial intelligence, 3D printing or augmented reality – we’ll see all this technology in the warehouse business quite soon.
“It was amazing to see how dynamic and full of opportunities the CEE region is, with a lot of well educated, skilled young people, hungry for success. The focus on the adoption of new, digital technologies and their development at an affordable cost is particularly worth noticing,“ says Thomas Herr, Head of Digital Innovation at the global real estate services company CBRE when talking about a digital technology conference held in Bratislava a few weeks ago.
Are warehouses as we know them, and the way they operate today, a thing of the past? How will this business change and what role will smart technologies play in this transformation – those are just a few topic we’ve discussed.
Is this segment on its way from an industrial past to a digital future? How is it changing? Do companies realise the need to deal with new technologies in warehouses?
There is definitely a need to digitise the logistics sector, which is crucial for both its position in the value creation chain of manufacturing as well as the retail sector. Seamless workflows across the globally distributed partners of modern production, the link to freight logistics and to the ordering process of retailers are key for user satisfaction and cost efficiency. We can already see that companies are changing and that new competitors like the Stowga platform are entering the arena with technologically advanced solutions.
How will warehouses make use of big data and the internet of things?
This is already happening with the big online retailers. Theses guys ‘know’ today what their clients will order tomorrow and prepare their stock, transport capacity and pricing accordingly. Based on analysis of global trade patterns you can plan your capacity better and come up with flexible pricing solutions or reduce your space while maintaining or increasing your income. The internet of things, on the other hand, will help save operational costs and optimise transport processes in warehouses.
How about augmented reality and 3D printing?
AR can help find ways to identify goods in the storage bays and receive orders for pickers. It will also be a great help in maintenance processes – the equipment will have a built-in self-repair guide that helps the human machine operator to fix problems in the most efficient way.
3D printing has the potential to replace the traditional chain of factory manufacturing, distribution and retail over time and for selected goods. We can expect part of the production to move back in the city, close to consumers and to reduce the need for traditional supply chains. This will change but not disrupt logistics in the foreseeable future, however.
Autonomous vehicles are the future of our roads. Is it the same in warehouses?
We are seeing more and more autonomous robots in warehouses. They’re getting more affordable, flexible and used to working hand-in-hand with their human colleagues. The latter is the key to success – the collaboration between humans and machines, each contributing their unique skills to the common goal, will be the game changer. There won’t be a completely “machine only” work environment. And for a quite a long period of time it will simply be cheaper to continue working in today’s traditional low-tech settings.
If you look further into the future, what awaits warehouses in terms of technologies, smart machines or data processing? What trends are there for the far future? What can happen?
Customers will demand more and more individualised products. And they will have to be available instantly for a competitive price. This has changed and will continue to change how a product is designed, produced and delivered.
Production will move closer to the customer and the number of identical end products will shrink – storage of end products is shrinking, but the demand for components to be assembled to make an end-product will rise, as will the demand for assembly lines close to the customer.
Traditional warehouses could develop more and more into fully automated workshops and delivery centres (including batteries of 3D printers, for example) – potentially bypassing retailers and delivering the individual product on demand directly to the end customer via drones or autonomous delivery vehicles.