A Glimpse of the Warehouse of the Future

Meagan Douglas
Fri, Jun 5, 2015
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What will a warehouse look like in the future?

The manufacturing and distribution industry is always changing. There is always some new thing - usually spurred by technology, but sometimes not - that is helping businesses grow and processes become easier. Industry 4.0, or the advent of the Internet of Things within the manufacturing industry, is the most recent big development affecting production and distribution strategies, but there are more innovations on the horizon that promise to have an impact on the way manufacturers and warehouses operate.

The Multichannel Factor
One big thing that impacts the manufacturing and distribution industry in the present day is multichannel sales, including online retail. Broadening sales channels have allowed companies to gather revenue from different sources than just the traditional physical retail counter. Just about anything can be purchased online, and for B2C merchants, this is a huge opportunity. Multiple sales channels offer companies the chance to compete and hopefully increase profits and change the way businesses operate. They provide more upsell opportunities and create a competitive advantage for solution providers and resellers, according to Merchant Warehouse.

These multiple sales channels will continue to be a factor moving forward in the industry. According to Manufacturing & Logistics IT, buying channels will continue to evolve with the development of Industry 4.0. Customers will want to pay less for products, but they will also want to receive them in less time. With the rise in popularity of online retail, it may be time to rethink the supply chain and streamline processes at the warehouse level as well.

Amazon's Innovations
Amazon is always at the forefront of the distribution industry. The online retail giant may help catapult the rest of the field into the future with innovations in warehouse design, drone technology and the availability of free shipping. Already it offers free two-day shipping with a $99 yearly subscription, and plans to offer same-day shipping to customers in 14 metropolitan areas, according to Forbes.

The company recently tested the use of robots in its warehouses, as well, according to TechTimes. Robots designed to pick up small items and difficult-to-grasp toys or utensils were showcased at the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which was held in Seattle in May. Since these devices are designed to be dexterous and precise, they could be used in the future for picking products off warehouse shelves and preparing items for shipment.

Amazon's commitment to moving the industry forward will inspire others to do the same. Walmart, even, is following suit with their model of free three-day shipping with a $50 yearly subscription, so it's safe to assume that online retailers will follow in Amazon's footsteps in warehouse innovation and supply chain tools, as well.

Look Toward the Future
The warehouse of the future is coming - and it's going to require better warehouse management processes and techniques in order to keep up with all the changes. An important thing to remember, in the face of innovation, is that with all this change and constant restructuring of business processes, the main goal of warehouses even in the future will be to function smoothly and fulfill customer expectations.

For warehouse managers to keep track of constantly transforming inventory and distribution strategies, mobile data collection and track and trace methods will both be instrumental. Workers and managers can collect data from the warehouse floor by utilizing barcode scanners or radio frequency identification devices to quickly assess where items are in the warehouse and track them through the supply chain. This can help companies stay ahead of business goals and meet minimums while keeping customers happy and engaged with the business.

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