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Full speed ahead to becoming the flagship industry for automation

Tony Hague

The desire to automate warehouse operations was in full swing before the pandemic but covid has forced the situation from ‘good to have’ to ‘must have’ to allow OEMs to sustain long-term.

Online consumer demand has grown substantially and therefore so has the opportunity for manufacturers, as many of the largest warehouse & distribution centre players start to adopt new automation technologies. From micro-fulfilment centre implementation to improved material handling solutions, there is much to consider if they’re to be ready for any challenge.

As the industry faces increased pressure from supply chain transformation, rising consumer demands, and decreasing pools of available labour, many warehouse end-users are turning to automation to gain efficiencies, cut costs and scale operations.

From catch up to speed up

eGrocery is fast becoming the top attraction for warehouse automation. From a logistics perspective, the grocery industry is a challenging one, but an attractive challenge for manufacturers. Grocery distribution operations can be amongst the most labour-intensive of any industry, so warehouse end-users are seeking automated solutions to appease the demand for fresh goods, delivered as fast as possible.

The e-com sector in general, where demand is more susceptible to peaks and troughs are difficult to predict and can make operations even more challenging. Speed at the lowest delivery cost though will be the core facet for accelerating the push in warehouse automation in the mid- to long-term.

Full speed ahead to becoming the flagship industry for automation » AdobeStock 324628680 » PP Control & Automation

With relatively small amounts of experience in automation until very recently, the warehouse industry has adopted this technology through pilots, and gradual rollouts of robotic and automated solutions bit by bit. Compared to the automotive industry, which has been using pick-and-place robots for over 60 years, the utilisation period between the two is vastly different.

Warehousing has been playing catch-up, but the pandemic has forced it to speed up, to the point where they’ll soon be the flagship industry for automated operations. A recent report by Interact Analysis forecast that the global warehouse automation market will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.6% to reach $46 billion in 2023.

Beyond this, the next-gen supply chain includes technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, Augmented Reality, cloud computing, drones, 3D printing and wearables.

Companies are seeking to leverage the IoT in their supply chains to enable real-time asset tracking, inventory management and predictive analytics. The rollout of 5G will make this possible by powering high-speed mobile networks to cater for the increased number of smart devices in the supply chain.

A challenge suited to outsourcing specialists

This immense acceleration towards warehouse automation will put significant pressure on manufacturers in several different categories, namely:

  • Material Handling Equipment and System Integration
  • AGV (Automated Guided Vehicles) and AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots)
  • Robotics components (Motion Control, Drives, Grippers etc.)
  • Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC)
  • Micro-Fulfilment
  • Energy & Power Automation
  • Battery & Charging Systems
  • Machine Vision, Imaging and Wireless Technology
  • ASRS (Automated storage and retrieval systems) & Storage
  • 3rd Party Logistics
  • WMS (Warehouse Management Systems)
  • ASP (Autonomy Service Providers)
  • Piece Picking Robots
  • Last mile delivery
  • Warehouse drones

That’s an exhaustive list but important to note as it demonstrates the challenge involved. Warehouse automation is an all-encompassing project for any OEM and they’ll be looking to manufacturers playing in all of the categories above to be agile and responsive, innovative and able to hit time to market demands.

The challenge will likely stretch resources for these manufacturers including availability of people, space, cash, and process capability. The impact will be extended lead times and increased costs, two things the warehouse end-users can’t afford to disrupt their acceleration. Manufacturers of systems in the categories above will need to scale-up quickly enough to stay in the game.

A strategic outsourcing partnership is designed to alleviate these pressures. PP C&A’s experience in the discipline allows manufacturers to work collaboratively with the business to help minimise and eliminate constraints. Working together is also the key to unlocking growth revenue and profitability, not to mention keeping the end-user satisfied.

Partnering with a strategic outsourcing arm allows you to delegate non-core activities and win back the time you need to focus on your core business competencies. Product innovation in this case would be key, as warehouse automation will continue to push the boundaries for improved processes in material handling, asset tracking and logistics. A demand we know continues to expand with online consumer behaviours.

Approvals & certification for control & automation solutions are also a major consideration for the larger global players in the sector. It clearly makes sense to have a standardised approach to design whilst taking into consideration the legal requirements of specific geographies such as North America, where cUL and NFPA standards require careful attention. PPC&A has a vast amount of experience in this area and has been working with clients to ensure such requirements are met.

A case in point: Inventor-e

Inventor-e is accelerating disruption of inventory management with the help of PP C&A and several of its key partners. Their high-tech applications offer connectivity and data distribution solutions that provide remote inventory information services in real time and are used by a host of major global organisations, including Babcock, Boeing and Rexel.

The Inventor-e management team recognised early on that its core strength lay in the design and constant evolution of products and solutions and that the manufacture and assembly of its systems could be outsourced to a partner that shared its vision and values.

Repeatable quality, lead times and the ability to customise parts of the build have all been achieved by PP C&A, whilst production processes have been honed to ensure optimum efficiencies and the capacity put in place to ramp up volumes to thousands of units per annum.

Scale-up rapidly with outsourcing and meet the warehouse automation challenge

PP C&A’s job is to create supply chains and production lines to ensure the rapid scaling up for existing solutions in the field of warehouse automation and many other industry sectors. Manufacturers will reap the rewards of outsourcing almost immediately. Most notably in relation to the demands manufacturers in warehouse automation are currently finding, a partnership with PP C&A will:

  • Reduce financial risk and exposure as demands change quickly
  • Improve manufacturing lead times
  • Create flexibility and responsiveness in production to satisfy peaks and troughs in demand
  • Reduce the need for costly sub-contract labour
  • Improve time to market and scalability
  • Gain support in design, engineering, and compliance requirements, with particular focus on geographic needs.

For warehouse system manufacturers, tackling constant product innovation and keeping up with an industry speeding towards a fully connected and automated future, outsourcing the supply chain and the production of equipment will be one sure way to hurdle any barriers and unlock growth potential.

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