How supply chain companies choose to cope with changing market pressures and shifting customer demands will define their success in 2019.
Big decisions made now may impact growth in the years to come, especially for warehouses and distribution centers who will be updating major software systems. In a world where little is ever sure, one safe bet in the shipping and fulfillment world is that things are on the move — and fast! Nowhere is that more true than warehousing.
From labor shortages and the growth of omnichannel to increasing demand for automation, here’s our warehouse technology outlook for 2019.
E-commerce growth and staffing shortages were a big story in 2018. Barring a major economic slowdown, that’s all-but-certain to continue.
BHS estimates that growth projections will necessitate more than 450,000 new hires along the supply chain by the end of this year. Unfortunately, the industry only adds around 180,000 new workers annually. This mirrors current hiring trends in other heavy labor sectors, and in shipping, where a shortage of truckers is creating problems.
How will companies deal with labor shortage in 2019? A number will fall back on technology designed to improve efficiency and automate processes, while others may onboard less skilled team members to grow capacity in the short term.
Sustainable supply chains
Businesses across industries increasingly report pressure coming from consumers to operate sustainably. For a lot of major brands, sustainability is becoming a brand reputation driver. In the near future, more demand for eco-friendly packaging, shipping, and fulfillment will impact companies all along the supply chain.
Companies who get ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting sustainable practices can secure a name in that emerging space. In addition, adopting sustainable practices will allow companies to get ahead of any future government programs to decarbonize heavy industry.
The bots are here
Buzz surrounding autonomous delivery vehicles, drones, and AR will likely continue throughout 2019 and in the years to come.
However, most experts agree that a noteworthy trend in next year will be the widespread adoption of proven automation technologies that can deliver a strong return on investment.
In the warehouse, automated material handling solutions are seeing a major uptick in implementation. Automated picking systems should see more widespread adoption in 2019. Autonomous shuttle systems, automated truck loaders, and robotic de-palletizers are taking on much more heavy labor — and delivering ROI in the process.
Growing demand for new WMS
2019 will be a major buy-in year for companies who run their warehouses or DCs on legacy warehouse management software that isn’t up to speed with new technology.
Changes to customer expectations are leading to major changes in warehousing — many that require advanced WMS functionality in order processing, inventory management, and shipping that software designed only a few years ago can’t handle.
Goods-to-person fulfillment systems are emerging as a long-sought-after solution for the new omnichannel warehouse paradigm. With it, a new picking landscape that can maintain faster speeds by incorporating big data collection and advanced optimization is on the way.
Advanced IoT tracking and tech-enabled processes designed to reduce worker travel time and minimize errors will become more commonplace. In addition, automated picking robots modeled after technology in Amazon warehouses will likely see more widespread adoption.
To enable advanced tracking, big data collection, and optimization, warehouse execution software (WES) is growing in popularity. WES technology helps run highly automated warehouses and DCs fluidly by connecting different legacy systems and functions in one platform, enabling communication across a whole facility. A custom WES may pull some commands from a traditional WMS — order release, waving, order diverting — and use it to communicate directly with the warehouse control system, which manages equipment, automation, and routing.
Finally, warehousing pros can expect to see more about on-demand warehousing in the year to come.
Customers are no longer willing to wait a week or more for product to arrive. For many, predicting stock and reordering cycles using big data analytics offers a solution. Many more are turning to third-party 3PL warehouses to increase their short term warehouse capacity. In concert with freight forwarding services, on-demand warehouses store additional stock at the port of entry, and allow for easy resupply or direct-to-consumer shipping.
For e-commerce retailers who will be expanding into online furniture and appliance sales this year, on-demand provides warehouse capacity and fulfillment technology without major infrastructural investment.
2019 will be a big year for new tech adoption, especially among the warehouses connected to ecommerce. From new warehouse software solutions to autonomous shuttle systems, the decisions made in warehouse management in 2019 will help define fulfillment capabilities in the years to come.