Strong demand in a global economy introduces operational pressures all around the world. Across the Atlantic, the UK is currently facing a warehouse crisis, with demand set to exceed supply by 25 million square feet by 2020. This can be attributed to inflated rents, Brexit stockpiling and, of course, the phenomenal demand for online shopping. That is not to say that new warehouses aren’t being built, but simply that the current rate of construction can’t keep up with what the industry requires. In light of this issue, retailers and their supply chain partners need to find ways to be efficient in whatever space they have.

One of the ways this problem is being mitigated is through the construction of mega-warehouses. However, working within these impressively large spaces prompts new requirements from warehouse pickers and their equipment. In order to satisfy consumers’ demands for goods delivered within very short windows, businesses need to find ways to ensure pickers remain efficient and on-target in buildings that routinely exceed half a million square feet. It’s no secret that time spent navigating the warehouse is one of the largest causes of lost productivity, but businesses can implement technology into the warehouse, in the form of mobile devices and bionic technology or autonomous robots that can complete tasks independently when instructed, to enable workers to make better use of this time.

When used effectively, technology in the warehouse can save countless hours that otherwise would have been wasted moving around the building searching for the correct item to complete an order. Mobile devices or voice-assisted software, such as Ivanti Speakeasy, can assist pickers by making it clearer to see exactly what they have to pick and where it can be found. As technology continues to evolve, heads-up displays and other wearable technology such as smart glasses may further enhance warehouse productivity, showing workers where an item is on a virtual screen, right in front of their eyes. 

Alternatively, businesses can introduce collaborative robots (cobots) into their warehouses to take some of the pressure away from employees. These machines are highly effective at repetitive, physical tasks and are able to pick orders or load pallets unattended in close proximity to human employees, without affecting their work or impacting safety.  

On the opposite end of the spectrum, those supply chain companies working in far smaller spaces, often due to the high price of square footage or simply the lack of a viable alternative, can also employ technology to fully utilize the space they already have. While not widely available as yet, developments such as robotic shelving and vertical storage can ensure that every inch of a warehouse is used to its full capacity, meaning that companies can do more with the space they have. Robotic shelving can transport items from vertical shelves too high for employees to reach, without them having to strain or use machinery to retrieve goods. Getting to an inaccessible pick location with a forklift is a complex process, so robotic shelving will offer time savings while also maximizing the value of vertical space.

The warehousing and logistics industries are facing a plethora of potential challenges (and some can be viewed as “good problems to have”), from a lack of available square footage and spaces that make it hard to work efficiently, to constantly increasing demand and fulfilment expectations that are higher than ever. Technology is the future of warehousing and if businesses use new innovations to the best of their ability the effects of warehousing issues can be mitigated through a mix of more efficient picking techniques and economical use of space.