Common warehouse problems and how to use technology to solve them
Warehouse operators face challenges on many fronts – from the pressure to expand, through evolving customer expectations to skills shortages.
While the disruptive impact of new technologies on the sector might make it onto this list of sectorial challenges, the strategic use of new technology also offers warehouse operators the potential to mitigate or even resolve some of these challenges.
Rising consumer expectations
Customers want their goods faster. Amazon Prime has reset consumer expectations around the delivery of goods – and the rest of the sector is rushing to keep pace. A survey for ParcelHero found that while 44 percent of Brits expected next-day delivery in 2020, by 2022 next day delivery was expected by 62 percent of us.
Now, expectations are rising for same-day delivery options. The ParcelHero survey found only 33 percent of Brits expected this in 2020 but, by 2022, this figure had risen to 56 percent.
These expectations impact heavily on sales. Sixty-eight percent of online shoppers surveyed by Digital Commerce 360 said that fast shipping capabilities are the determining factor when placing an online shopping order.
The need to fulfil orders quickly means that effective inventory management is essential. Poor inventory management – manifesting in stock outs, missed orders and long lead times are the bane of effective warehouse operations.
Warehouse operators must ensure that inventories are stocked and ready to be packed in order to meet this demand while guarding against overstocking which can eat into margins.
This requires advanced warehouse inventory management solutions. Clear visibility of existing stock and real-time picking and packing insights underpin these solutions. To achieve this, barcode and scanning technologies integrated with real time inventory management dashboards, AI and ML-powered predictive models, and automated stock ordering systems offer the best performance.
Furthermore, robotic picking and packing systems over further potential for efficiencies and, therefore, put warehouse operators in a better position to fulfil customer orders faster.
Managing spikes in demand
During the pandemic we witnessed a rapid shift to Internet shopping. The Office for National Statistics (ONS)reports that online shopping as a percentage of all UK retail sales peaked at nearly 38 percent in January 2021, having stood at 8 percent at the start of 2011 and 19 percent in February 2020. It has since fallen back but remained at around 28 percent in February 2022.
In addition to this long-term trend towards online sales, warehouse operators must also be ready to cope with seasonal spikes in demand.
A logistics sector survey by ProGlove, a vendor of wearable barcode scanners, found that only 39 percent of respondents felt they could accurately predict trends and activity for the 2022 Christmas holiday season. Fifty-one percent said that forecasting demand was their biggest inventory management concern.
This is where advanced data analytics can enormously aid warehouse operators. Advanced AI and ML-powered modelling can deal with different scenarios to offer more accurate predictive modelling and planning insights.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that hourly earnings in transport and storage were below the national average in 2021 (£14.76 compared with £15.65). This does not help with the recruitment and retention into the sector. Particular skill sets, such as HGV and fork lift truck drivers, have significant shortfalls.
Technology promises to bridge these gaps. Robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer opportunities to reduce human effort by using machines to fulfil manual and repetitive tasks. As well as reducing staffing pressures, these technologies offer great potential to drive efficiencies in operations. Human energies can then be diverted to more value-adding and rewarding tasks.
Achieving Net Zero operations
Moving to a net zero carbon world is the biggest challenge and priority that humanity faces. Action is required urgently from us all.
Ensuring greater energy efficiency in everything we do, of course, extends to warehousing and logistics. Here, again, technology offers solutions to help us make the journey to net zero.
It starts with sensors and metering integrated with smart building management solutions, so that we can understand resource and energy usage and take measures to reduce it. By assessing what works we can drive further improvement.
Technology will also be part of these efforts to reduce energy use. This will cover a multitude of different warehouse operations – from switching to electric vehicles, through implementing local green energy generation, to switching to green HVAC solutions such as ground-source heating and cooling systems.