There has been unprecedented pressure placed on global supply chains in recent years due to the global economy shifting, some prolonged consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as multiple political conflicts that have profoundly changed global markets and decreased the global race for more warehousing space.
Today, in-person shopping and e-commerce coexist seamlessly, according to the customer’s preferences, where warehousing is servicing orders day and night, to keep up with delivery promises as short as “next hour”. Despite all these challenges, as customers' demand rises, companies are currently looking for ways to build supply chains that can match the pace of their business, in a way that is automated, predictable, customised, and speedy!
Now, looking ahead as businesses explore ways to plan, here are the ways in which they can take care of their end-to-end warehousing, storage facilities, and inventory management to tackle 2024 and fulfil their customers’ wishes.
What will be the upcoming warehousing trends in 2024?
- Automation: In recent years, automation has transformed the warehousing industry by revolutionising operations and redefining how goods are handled, stored, and distributed. The most used automation technologies that will still take centre stage in 2024 will include Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) to manage automated fulfilment activities and enhance the efficiency of order picking. Autonomous robotic arms will be increasingly used for example to unload containers, minimising workplace injuries connected to depalletisation and support with repetitive tasks. These smart machines can empower businesses by efficiently moving products throughout the distribution centre and packing orders with precision and speed by using advanced localisation algorithms, computer or machine vision and digital interfaces with existing systems. In the rapidly evolving omnichannel landscape, speed will be paramount, and integrating multiple automation technologies in a fast way could present itself as challenging for companies. However, when executed right, warehouse automation will yield substantial long-term rewards and will be essential to address the escalating demands of e-commerce, continuing to boost the deployment and use of robotic and autonomous solutions throughout the next year (and beyond).
- Stock merging: 2024 will see more businesses asking warehouses to structure themselves to allow for businesses to keep their products in one stock. While today businesses usually ask warehouses to keep the stock for physical shops separated (at times in different buildings) from the online shopping one, “the trend now seems to be to merge stocks, allowing brands to pull orders and returns from the same stockpile servicing all the different ways in which they manage their omnichannel offering” says Charlotte Petersen, Global Head of Business Product Warehousing at Maersk. This trend, giving brands flexibility, can also be helpful in the management of buffer stock (the extra amount stored just in case orders exceed predicted amounts) which in turn supports the reduction of extra production, impacting the environment.
- Visibility: Has it been packed? Has it been shipped? Today, the amount of information a brand needs to provide to its end-consumer is augmented, as people get more experienced in ordering online and they also expect more transparency on their orders. 2024 will see visibility being offered as a “need to have” and not a “nice to have”. This information will be necessary for warehouses to gather and distribute to their partners, also on product returns, reducing the number of calls to customer service which can be of help to both consumers and businesses.
- Sustainability: As most businesses are currently focused on creating strategies to lower the environmental impact of their facilities, they will lean more on their integrated logistics service providers to reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions from warehousing operations. This is done by improving building new warehousing infrastructure using sustainable materials and servicing it with sustainable energy sources. Next year, we will see integrated logistics service providers making increased use of emissions visibility tools to help reduce GHG emissions within supply chains. These tools are already in use by fourth-party logistics (4PL) providers to overall increase the visibility of logistics but will be directed as well to have a better view of emissions. This would be a great asset for businesses that have set ambitious decarbonisation targets which can be achieved via continuous improvement. Customers are actively embracing circular economy principles to minimise waste. Improving Circularity with the help of reusable pallets, and disposable and/or reusable packaging can drastically help reduce carbon footprint within a warehouse. So far recyclability has been pursued by LSPs at the behest of customer requests but going forward waste management will become an important criterion for customers to ;.
- Data optimisation: “In the dynamic world of warehousing, digitalisation plays a crucial role as the enabler of automation and speed, for future growth” confirms Nitesh Mandal, Global Head of Growth, Strategy and Solution Design for Fulfilment at Maersk. 2024 will see more businesses adapt to digital processes and modern warehousing operating systems. The upcoming advancements will include optimisation platforms that allow for simulations of both existing and potential environments to enhance business operations. A prime example of these is the Internet of Things (IoT) devices mounted on various pieces of machinery as well as other artificial intelligence (AI) operated tools that through the use of data, will enable forklift operators to work safely, by providing real-time safety alerts (e.g.: if people are in the path or when forklifts are in no machine zones). Data-led digitalisation will also enable equipment such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), conveyor systems, and robotic pickers to speed up precision and movements. The result will be a seamless flow of goods from arrival to shipment, minimising the risk of human error, and significantly increasing the overall productivity and capacity of distribution centres. Finally, data-driven decision-making, using analytics and predictive maintenance for machinery and equipment, is expected to increase in 2024 for warehouses to reduce downtime.
- Restoring and customising: Warehouses that are deemed “old” by today’s standards will be retrofitted to meet the needs of modern logistics e-commerce operations. The new year will also bring a deeper level of industry-specific customisation, based on the needs of targeted markets such as e.g., pharmaceuticals or automotive. This customisation trend will be one that will keep evolving in the years to come.
What is in sight for warehousing?
For businesses worldwide, keeping up with the rapid evolution of technologies is no easy task, and a careful analysis of each option is necessary before committing to large investments. As the economy is not picking up yet, and businesses keep a focus on costs, looking into optimisation makes sense. In order to keep up with faster fulfilment needs, 2024 will see the warehousing world speed up its innovations for quicker supply chain management, particularly focused on automation, better data management, and decarbonisation. On par, this will be done while implementing the latest safety measures and refurbishing older facilities so that brands can keep their integrated logistics flow smooth and resilient for what is to come. And such re-thinking and re-assessing can be done through strategic partnerships with integrated logistics providers that can support a fast flow – powered by innovation and digitalisation - whilst keeping in mind sustainability and safety.