The warehouse of the future
In the next five years, your average warehouse employee could be working side by side with robots. It sounds absurd if you say it out loud, but a combination of technological development and a rapidly changing global economy has made it a very real possibility.
To understand the near future, however, it’s first necessary to understand the present. The world’s total human population has grown continuously for centuries. Across Europe, however, the birth rate appears to be in decline. This will very likely impact the size of our workforce in the future, which in turn will affect organisational processes as there will be less labour available to hire.
While the size of our future workforce may diminish, the global economy continues to grow, with new competitors vying for a piece of the pie daily. The cost of doing business is increasing and thus raising expectations in quality, efficiency and speed of delivery across markets. These challenges are particularly important to consider when managing logistics and production on sites, such as warehouses and factories. Here’s why:
The changing face of logistics
The average weight of each shipment is on the rise: more goods – and heavier goods – must be handled and processed. In dealing with this, companies are faced with a choice. One option is to raise costs and reduce service, but this will be unpopular because customers typically aren’t too happy to pay more for less. The other option is to invest in technology. Using robots and automation, is fast becoming a way to boost productivity while keeping costs down.
Collaborative automated solutions
The “Digital Industry” provides the advantage of digital processes: machines monitored via computer receive their instructions automatically, increasing productivity, accuracy, consistency and predictability of quality. Amongst other benefits, automated machines can now replace humans in tasks that involve hard, physical or monotonous work, or work that occurs in dangerous environments. Thanks to automated machinery, warehouses now have access to conveying systems, mini-load cranes, commissioners and shuttle systems. With innovations developing at a rapid pace the future should see increasingly sophisticated telescopic conveyor belts, navigation systems, cameras and far more.
The advantages of these technological solutions are many and varied. Automation technologies could enable zero-defect logistics processes and substantially boost output, performance and sensing capabilities. Manual handling will be a thing of the past, and the role of your warehouse operatives will change to accommodate it. They may take on positions where they coordinate and take greater responsibility within the warehouse: in many respects, machines and robots will be part of everyday work.
Robots for example will take on increasingly human qualities in order to react to their environment: they may, for all intents and purposes, have “eyes”, “hands”, and “feet” – even if they look more like monitors and pincers. Using highly sensitive sensors, these machines will be able to load and unload trailers and containers. Stationary and mobile robots may even be able to take over picking and packing duties, selecting and depositing items and assembling and customising each package for delivery.
Robots are an important feature of automation but there is so much more potential to automated machinery, as seen by the fast-paced developments of the last thirty years with modern systems doing far more than simply storing and retrieving unit loads.
Bumps in the road
It’s an exciting time to be in logistics. Robots and automated machines will be able to operate more efficiently, more effectively, and for longer: they don’t get tired, they don’t get sick, they don’t get hungry, they don’t draw a salary, they don’t require breaks, and they have no other commitments. But highly developed equipment, robots and machines need maintenance. They need to be kept clean to protect, for example, their sensors. When sensors malfunction, it is often an immediate indication of dirt which has a direct impact on their ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently.
Robots and other automated developments will not develop respiratory difficulties, but an abundance of dust will lead to substandard performance, which will affect productivity and damage margins. They may not require rest, but an unclean environment will cause occasional malfunctions: they may bump into your human workers causing accidents and possible injuries or pick or pack the wrong stock thereby causing delivery delays. All of these things can lead to dissatisfied customers and a reduction in profits. To combat this, it’s necessary to make sure that your warehouse environment is calibrated to ensure your human workers are healthy, and your machine workers are operating at maximum efficiency.
The benefits of investing in an automated workflow are many, however it’s important to consider how its efficacy and productivity could be affected by possible interruptions caused by a lack of clean air in your warehouse. Any malfunction can result in reduced profits and customer satisfaction – expenses you can’t afford in the short or long-term.
The future is always just over the horizon, and when it comes to robots and automation, those in the logistics industry – and, in fact, anyone running a warehouse – should be happy. Where they are concerned, the future is a rather bright one. But while potential gains in efficacy and profitability are right around the corner, you still need to make the appropriate preparations.
Zehnder Clean Air Solutions is an excellent way of doing exactly that.