There is a lot of information about future innovations in logistics, but it is still challenging to know what are the technologies that will have more impact on the evolution of this sector. But if we take a look at what are the ones impacting right now, we can more or less predict the “short-term” innovations. It is essential to understand that the Logistics sector is living a profound transformation; that’s why there are many advancements and changes happening.
Warehousing is a crucial step in the supply chain, and every innovation in the field helps to increase the efficiency and reduce the costs in a segment were margins are continually declining. Depending on the size and technology readiness of the company, the pace towards this digital transformation will be different, generating an important gap between large warehousing corporations and SMEs in terms of digitization level. So, if we focus on the large and leading warehousing companies, some of these innovations are already in place. But for many other warehouse operators, all this stuff still sounds like SciFi.
Robotics and Automation
Automation and robotics have been in warehouses for a while. But the evolution of these technologies resulted in significant improvements in how these technologies are benefiting warehouse efficiency.
Again, we are not going to talk about the cutting edge robotics that companies like Amazon or Alibaba are using in their warehouses. The real impact comes from the affordable robotics and automation solutions that warehouses are implementing little by little in their day-to-day operations. In that sense, two main types of robots are protagonists of future innovations in warehouses:
- Industrial Robots: all these robots, used to execute processes inside the warehouse, are increasing and will be growing during the next few years. These robots are the ones helping to automate repetitive tasks.
- Cobots: All robots used to assist in human tasks are also a growing trend in warehouses, as the mechanical arms.
In regards to robotics and automation, during the upcoming years, we expect to see a proliferation of pallet shuttles, conveyor belts, and stacker cranes, as well as more innovative aerial transportation systems and automated guided vehicles.
IoT and Sensors
Thanks to IoT technology now it is possible to monitor Warehouse operations at a never imagined level. Some of the most relevant IoT applications that will become part of the short term innovations in many warehouses are:
- Product information: thanks to IoT devices, we will be able to gather data in real-time related to the product itself as weight, dimension, location, etc.
- Energy consumption control: from simple heat sensors to complex smart-metering solutions, thanks to IoT warehouses will be able to be more efficient in their energy consumption.
- Error detection: IoT will be integrated into several risk prevention applications, as is one of the main focuses for innovation in this sector.
- Movement sensors: the warehouse flow is composed of thousands of movements of people and assets. Technologies helping warehouse managers to understand this flow will be one of the future innovations that we will see spreading around logistics companies.
The future will be data. And in warehouses, too. Like every other company in the world, data will be the core of all future innovations, digitization plans, and advanced intelligence projects. Warehouses generate enormous volume and variety of data, so the end-user applications for these data will continue evolving and growing to help warehouses to better understand and improve their operations.
Nowadays, for many warehouses leverage, this enormous quantity of data into decision making is still a considerable challenge. The expected proliferation of IoT devices inside warehouses will also create a new set of sources for data. So the quantity of data to be collected and analyzed by warehouse operators will increase, making the data gathering challenge even more significant.
Big Data applications, the exploration of Dark Data sources, and Data Integration will be some of the future innovations that warehouses will implement during the next years. Most of them addressed to optimize processes and increase efficiency. By collecting warehouse operators will understand how people and assets are moving inside the warehouses, how the stock is moving, how to better plan stock, etc. In the end, the goal is to increase operational intelligence in the warehouse to streamline processes. This innovation can be an enabler for the decentralization of warehouses; allowing to concentrate products with more rotation in warehouses closer to the end-client. With decentralized warehouses, the collapse in logistic areas will be reduced, the last-mile process will be more efficient, and the supply chain, in general, will be more sustainable.
The crescent needs to improve sustainability on the logistics industry, for freight but also warehousing will help to develop several future innovations addressed to reduce CO2 emissions, lower resource consumption, improve waste management, etc. Sustainability is one of the drivers towards Logistics 4.0
It’s expected that in the upcoming years 3D printing will revolutionize the logistics sector, simplifying the supply chain. Some of the applications will be the printing in movement on at the warehouse to streamline production, reduce cost, and allow hyper-personalization. The truth is that 3D printing will create a significant swift in the logistics industry. Logistic operators will become manufacturers, producing pieces in the warehouses and bringing the production step closer to the end-point, the customer. This phenomenon, besides, will help to reduce contamination effects of logistics, by strengthening the supply chain.
Apart from all these near-future innovations, during the following years, some other technologies such as autonomous vehicles, blockchain, drones, etc. will be impacting logistics sector and helping to solve some of the challenges the industry is facing. But some of those technologies will start generating impact in 10 years. If we analyze what the innovations that will shape warehousing operations during the upcoming years are, indeed the exposed above lists show almost all the relevant ones.