New innovations in the warehouse will be driven by increasing supply chain velocity. Earlier this year Zebra Technologies released its “Future of Fulfillment” study, a survey of professionals in the logistics, retail and manufacturing segments. Responses indicate that pressure for faster shipping is going to fundamentally change the way most companies approach their logistics and warehouse operations.
According to the Zebra survey, e-commerce is driving demand for faster delivery. As a result, 78 percent of respondents expect to provide same-day delivery by 2023, and 40 percent will provide two-hour delivery by 2028. The need for speed when it comes to delivery is also changing the way retailers and distributors fulfill those orders. Among retailers, 76 percent already use in-store inventory to fill online orders, and 86 percent plan to implement buy online/pick up in store policies.
This shift is going to put even greater pressure on the warehouse to move inventory faster, increase accuracy, and reduce returns. Technology will be critical to ensure that warehouses can increase velocity while also accurately tracking inventory.
“We’re seeing more inventory being positioned closer to market, and even urban distribution centers being built in city centers,” says Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions at Zebra. “In the past that would have been though of as inefficient, but now it’s a necessity. All of this is driven by customer service expectations.”
Among the key innovation areas identified by industry analysts:
Warehouse Management Systems and Real-Time Tracking: Investment in warehouse management systems (WMS) will continue. Transparency Market Research estimates that the WMS market will expand at a CAGR of 14.1 percent through 2025. The global WMS market was valued at $1.447 billion in 2016.
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Those WMS solutions are also adding new layers of functionality. WMS vendor HighJump, for example, now offers integration with the Inconso warehouse control system (WCS) thanks to both companies now being owned by German logistics tech specialist Korber. That will allow warehouse automation systems to leverage the intelligence of the WMS to improve performance.
The Zebra survey found that current inventory accuracy stands at 74 percent, but will need to rise to at least 83 percent to handle omnichannel logistics requirements. In order to achieve this level of accuracy, companies will invest in barcode scanning solutions (adoption of mobile computers with barcode scanners will reach 94 percent by 2021, according to Zebra). Zebra also found that adoption of RFID technology and inventory management platforms will grow by 49 percent over the next few years.
“Accuracy has got to come up,” Wheeler says. “You do that by leveraging barcoding, and managing the inventory more accurately and in real time.”
Real-time tracking across the supply chain using GPS technology, geofences, and other technology will help enable visibility as well. “Real time information that allows shipments to be tracked, rerouted, delivered at night or off hours to attended or unattended locations,” says Frank Granieri, COO at logistics provider A. Duie Pyle. “As technology continues to shape the landscape of transportation and distribution, we employ several innovative offerings to boost the value of Pyle’s service.”