Manufacturing staff setting up automation on a laptop

The future of warehouse automation - opportunities for a growing industry


We discuss two areas of opportunity for warehouse automation and their challenges.

Time: 2 minute read

Warehouse automation continues to become an increasingly desirable option for those wanting to modernize manufacturing and supply chain processes.

Fortunately, the technologies available to assist with warehouse modernization are expanding, and new opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity are growing more sophisticated. Advances in sensors, computing, and AI have made automation a much stronger business prospect for organizations looking to keep up with the competition.

Here are a couple areas of opportunity...

Automated forklifts

Forklifts are critical and necessary in factories, warehouses, and distribution centers. The movement of goods requires significant labor from workers and worker-operated vehicles like forklifts and pallet stackers.

As labor markets tighten, solutions to help reduce the dependency on manual work will be critical. One solutions? Autonomous forklifts. These devices are gaining newfound traction due to their high payloads, lift capability, and flexibility.

Many businesses are just now realizing the full potential of autonomous forklifts. The room for scaling these solutions is enormous as current forklift vendors have just begun introducing automation to their fleets. 

The existing manual forklift market is vast, with over 800,000 forklifts sold in 2019. However, the forklift market is less than one percent automated. This means the opportunity for automated forklifts could be worth billions of dollars if automation companies can scale their offerings. 

Looking at the current trends, we can expect by 2030 that the automation penetration rate could extend to 30 percent. The present forces restricting the growth of the autonomous forklift market are on the supply side, emphasizing additional maintenance costs, autonomy expectations, integrating with IT and OT infrastructure, and employee training.

Autonomous mobile robots

One of the pandemic’s key challenges for automation players was meeting excess demand, particularly with the rise in e-commerce. As online shopping boomed, major logistics vendors continued to increase investment in warehouse automation solutions to help meet rising demand. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021 customers migrated to a dependence on e-commerce, and it’s expected that many will not revert to their old habits once the pandemic is over.

According to ShipMatrix, a shipment data tracking company, more than 3 billion packages were shipped in the United States between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2020, up 36% from 2.2. billion in 2019. 

This uptick accelerated the degree to which supply chain stakeholders plan to deploy automation. 

E-commerce is here to stay, and retailers must scale to keep up with demand turning. Automation solutions are the key to keep up. 

This expected growth, however, is conditional on the ability of automation companies to scale and deliver solutions.

Addressing autonomy exceptions

Demand for automation within the warehouse is on the rise.

The challenge companies are discovering is that more deployed robots need more roboticists to look after them.

Autonomy exceptions, or interruptions in the robot’s autonomous operation, are a recurrent problem for vendors and end-users alike. These exceptions require prompt handling, often by 24/7 customer service, which many vendors find difficult to provide while maintaining regular operations.

To help alleviate this foreseeable burden, companies have begun to see immense value in partnerships for ongoing Service Lifecycle Management (SLM).

These third-party partners can assist automation vendors from being overloaded with the routine service or maintenance calls that a technician can solve quickly. A strategic service partner enables automation and robotics OEM’s to focus resources on innovation and core business activities while continuing to offer their warehouse customers a full complement of professional service support functions.

Read more about Service Lifecycle Management in part three of this series, "Scale Faster with Service Lifecycle Management."

Miss part one? You can view "The Rapid Acceleration of Automation" here.

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