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Warehouse automation trends today are being driven by the need to increase efficiency and productivity, reduce labor costs, and improve inventory management.  

Macroeconomic forces, like the growth of e-commerce, have imposed increased pressure on warehouses to handle a larger volume of orders and deliver goods faster. Other macro trends driving warehouse automation include reshoring/nearshoring, supply chain disruptions, and the overall push to drive digital transformation within the supply chain. Read more about how automation can help mitigate those specific trends here.

Micro factors are also pressuring warehouses to push for more automation. The obvious one is persistent labor shortages and increased wages that continue to plague warehouse operations around the world. Another major driver of warehouse automation is the need to reduce errors and improve accuracy. Automation can help to reduce errors by eliminating human error and ensuring that tasks are completed correctly and on time. This is particularly important in warehouses where there is a high volume of SKUs and it can be difficult to keep track of inventory levels. 

A photo of a warehouse with stats showing job openings and warehouse size increases

The need for real-time data and analytics is another driver for warehouse automation. IoT devices and other technologies can be used to gather data about warehouse operations and provide real-time information about inventory levels, order status, and other key metrics. And advances in technology, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, are also driving warehouse automation. The increasing capabilities of these technologies, combined with the decreasing costs, are making it more feasible for warehouses to implement automation solutions. 

Amidst all of these factors pushing warehouses to innovate, here are the top 10 warehouse automation trends we see shaping 2023: 

  1. Robotics and automation: Robotics and automation are becoming increasingly popular in warehouses, as they can help to increase efficiency and productivity. The Robotics Industries Association (RIA) reported that North American companies ordered 9,972 robots valued at $485 million for non-automotive purposes in the first quarter of 2021, representing a 19.6% increase in units ordered and a 3.5% increase in value compared to the same period in 2020. Robotics can be used for tasks such as picking and packing, and automation can be used to control and monitor various warehouse processes. 
  2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning: AI and ML are being integrated into warehouse operations to improve efficiency, accuracy, and overall performance. AI and ML algorithms can be applied to a wide range of warehouse tasks, including inventory management, order fulfillment, and predictive maintenance. For example, AI-powered robots can use visual recognition and natural language processing to locate and pick items from shelves, while ML algorithms can analyze data from sensors and IoT devices to optimize inventory levels and prevent equipment downtime. 
  3. Internet of Things (IoT): IoT is playing an increasingly important role in warehouse operations by enabling real-time monitoring and analysis of data from sensors and connected devices. IoT devices can be used to track inventory levels, monitor equipment performance, and optimize energy usage. By collecting and analyzing data from these devices, warehouse managers can gain valuable insights into their operations, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions. To put it into context, IoT sensors can alert managers to potential equipment failures before they occur, minimizing downtime and reducing maintenance costs. 
  4. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): The AGV market is expected to grow from USD 2.2 billion in 2021 to USD 3.2 billion in 2026, and its role in warehouse operations, automating the movement of goods and materials within a warehouse or distribution center, is on the rise. AGVs can be used to transport materials between different areas of the warehouse, pick and place products, and load and unload trucks. AGVs are typically equipped with sensors and navigation systems that enable them to move safely and efficiently around the warehouse, avoiding obstacles and other hazards. The use of AGVs can help to reduce labor costs, increase throughput, and improve safety in warehouse operations. AGVs are particularly well-suited to repetitive and routine tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on higher-value tasks. 
  5. Voice picking: Voice picking is a technology that allows warehouse workers to receive picking instructions through a wireless headset and respond with voice commands, eliminating the need for paper-based picking lists or handheld devices. The system uses speech recognition software to understand and interpret the worker’s voice commands and can provide real-time feedback and confirmations. It’s shown to increase picking accuracy, reduce errors, and improve overall productivity and because it allows workers to keep their hands free, voice picking reduces the risk of repetitive stress injuries. Additionally, the system can be integrated with warehouse management systems (WMS) to provide real-time inventory updates and improve order fulfillment accuracy. 
  6. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): AMRs are becoming more popular in warehouses, as they can be used to transport goods and materials around the warehouse. They can also be programmed to navigate around obstacles and avoid collisions while adhering to rigorous safety standards. AMRs are also typically cloud-enabled, which vastly facilitates continued performance improvements, software maintenance and performance analytics.  
  7. Blockchain: Blockchain technology is increasingly being explored as a way to improve transparency, traceability, and security in warehouse operations. Blockchain can be used to create a distributed ledger of all transactions and movements within a warehouse, providing a secure and tamper-proof record of all activity—improving visibility across the supply chain and reducing the risk of fraud or errors. It also improves inventory management by creating a shared record of inventory levels across all stakeholders, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. While the technology is still in its early stages of adoption, its potential benefits are significant and could have a transformative impact on the future of warehouse management. 
  8. Augmented reality (AR): AR provides warehouse workers with real-time information and guidance tasks, like the location of products, the quantity to be picked, and the optimal picking sequence–reducing errors, increasing productivity, and improving overall picking accuracy. AR can also be used to train new workers and improve the efficiency of training programs by providing immersive and interactive training experiences. Additionally, AR can be used to improve maintenance and repair activities by providing workers with visual overlays of equipment components and instructions on how to perform repairs. 
  9. Cloud computing: Cloud computing allows businesses to access computing resources and applications over the internet rather than relying on local hardware and software—helping reduce IT costs, increase flexibility, and improve scalability. It also provides real-time visibility into inventory levels, order fulfillment status, and shipping information which improves inventory management, order accuracy, and customer service. Cloud computing also makes it easy to store and manage data from various sources, such as sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, to provide insights into warehouse operations and improve decision-making. 
  10. 3D printing: 3D printing quickly and easily produces spare parts, tools, and other items that are needed for maintenance or repair activities in a warehouse. This can help to reduce downtime, improve equipment uptime, and save on inventory costs. 3D printing also produces customized products or parts that are not readily available in the market, improving product differentiation and reducing lead times. Though it’s still a nascent technology, it has the potential to reduce waste, increase flexibility, and improve efficiency in the supply chain. 

Overall, these trends are aimed at increasing efficiency, reducing human error, and automating repetitive tasks. Warehouses are looking to improve their operations by using technology such as IoT and AI, which enables them to gather data, analyze it, and make decisions that improve the overall warehouse performance. Additionally, the rise of autonomous mobile robots, voice picking, and AGVs are reducing the need for human labor in warehouses and increasing productivity. And on the other hand, technologies like AR, blockchain, and 3D printing are being used to increase the level of customization and flexibility in warehouse operations. 

Vecna Robotics has a wide range of pallet handling solutions that can guide your warehouse automation transformation journey right away. For more information about how you can get started, go to our From No bot to Robot page, or contact us today to schedule a consultation with a factory automation expert.