Facility Manager Guide: Warehouse Of The Future
It’s not hard to imagine the warehouse of the future being like a scene from a sci-fi movie. But what’s really in store for the industry over the next decade?
It’s safe to say that all warehouses are in the midst of change. And if you’re a facility manager, it helps to know what your future will look like in 5, 10, even 20 years.
Tapping into our 30 years of experience, we took a long look at the warehouse industry and came up with some interesting results.
The Service Company, the leader in facility maintenance across Virginia, believes the future is bright for warehouse facility managers and others involved (directly or indirectly) with the warehouse industry.
Today, as companies across every industry face constant pressure to do more with less, efficiency is the name of the game. This is especially true in the warehousing industry, being a critical component of the supply chain. Fortunately, the technologies available to the modern warehouse are growing more sophisticated all the time.
The continued growth of e-commerce, last mile delivery, and warehousing as a whole are driving significant demand for industrial properties, and spurring innovation in how the assets are built and utilized.
Optimization is the prime focus of newer facility attributes today, with leading warehouses concentrated on improving storage, speed of picking and room for growth. We approached nine of the most promising technologies standing to make the largest impact.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from the warehouse of the future.
In this Facility Manager Guide, we’ll discuss:
- Wireless Warehouse Technology
- Hyper-connected Warehouse of the Future
- Future Forklifts
- Warehouse Clear Heights Going Up
- Picking Tech Is Picking Up Speed
- Sustainability Is The Future
- Warehouses Designed For Humans
- Flex Land For All
- Super Flat To Sloped Floors
Keep reading to find out how your company can shore up your warehouse operations using these up-and-coming technologies.
1. Wireless Warehouse Technology
Wireless technologies are allowing warehouse operators to build efficiencies into all aspects of modern warehousing.
The growth of connected technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and cloud-based services means applications are better able to share data than ever before. This connectivity is allowing applications to seamlessly collect data from disparate warehouse information systems.
The information silos that exist in today’s supply chain will vanish in the warehouse of the future thanks to completely integrated technologies.
One of the biggest impacts to warehouse operators using wireless technology is the ability to manage and track inventory levels in real time. This means retailers can keep track of their stock so they do not end up with excess inventory of certain products. Product information is uploaded into the system as soon as merchandise arrives at the warehouse, and that same information is used to track the products as they go out of the warehouse. All of the communication is completed through wireless technology, and retailers can access the information in real-time and across any device.
The key to your success with a warehouse wireless network is having the proper foundation to support your initiatives; it’s critical to have a fast, reliable and secure wireless network.
Looking at wireless platforms inside the warehouse environment, there are several Wi-Fi challenges facility managers are facing today:
- Deciding on the right infrastructure components
- Refreshing outdated existing networks
- Designing the network for the physical warehouse environment
- Scaling and capacity planning
- Troubleshooting and supporting the network
Where should you start?
Deploying a wireless warehouse does not need to be difficult or complex. There are many qualified Wi-Fi engineering vendors that provide these services to maximize your results.
2. Hyper-connected Warehouse of the Future
The warehouse of the future is hyper-connected in a way we’ve never seen before.
Operating systems are deployed in complex configurations to accommodate higher levels of technology, allowing for a variety of upgrades and advances.
Technologies like barcoding, IoT, RFID scanning, GPS, load optimization, and future technology innovations are opening a world of possibilities for producers and consumers of goods and everyone in between. With this tech in place, logistics managers can quickly make and execute decisions.
The hyper-connected warehouse is about to take another leap forward with the next generation of wireless technology called 5G.
Installing 5G-enabled IoT sensors on products could easily make large amounts of data available to stakeholders in the supply chain in real-time. The data may include location, temperature, moisture, pressure, and other information that can be crucial to properly managing products in a supply chain. Warehoused products with 5G IoT sensors could mean fewer losses due to manual inefficiency or misplaced goods. As 5G technologies introduce more intelligent supply chain management, there could be potential for increases in production, streamlined logistical processes, and reduced costs.
But why is this technology needed now?
The connected warehouse could be called an “always-on” integrated system of data-based systems. It has the potential to create more efficient, cost effective, and reliable warehouse environments that are safer, more comfortable, more secure, and better poised to maximize customer satisfaction.
Without this elemental smart environment, warehouse operators will not only have limited participation in a fast-approaching future of connected supply chains, they may be left behind altogether.
3. Future Forklifts
Forklifts, the humble workhorse of the warehouse, are being modernized by changes in technology too. Alternative fuel systems, increased energy efficiency, automation and mobility are all redefining how we look at the machines.
Here are a few of the latest trends that are turning forklifts into ever more valuable tools:
- Forklift technology is going green.
- Automation is driving improvement.
- Smarter braking offers surprising results.
- Maneuverability is king.
Forklift technology is going green by replacing fuel cells with lithium-ion technology. A company’s ability to save money with lithium-ion packs comes primarily from the lower cost of maintaining and charging them. That means less money spent over their lifetime than with other power sources. It is hard to argue with a power source that is environmentally friendly and cost effective.
Automated forklift technology helps warehouse managers not only cut costs but gain higher productivity. Since automated forklifts can operate without a driver, less money is needed for labor. The savings can easily repay for the initial technology investment in the long-term. Higher productivity within the warehouse comes when operators are free to perform other tasks while the forklift automatically performs mundane or routine jobs.
Smart technology that allows forklifts to brake smarter, faster and smoother gives warehouse managers a big advantage. Use of hydraulic valves and smart sensors make braking easier while minimizing accidents. For example, by making it easier to take a turn at the right speed, or by preventing wear and tear that can lead to accidents, this technology lessens injury to forklift operators. In addition, they can save warehouse managers money by providing data that can be used to improve operator efficiency, and by reducing the number of forklift repairs that must be made.
Forklift technology that improves maneuverability allows lift trucks to operate more safely, and quickly move from place to place through the warehouse. With this improved ease of movement comes more efficient and safer operation that can improve the overall operation of the warehouse.
4. Warehouse Clear Heights Going Up
Efforts to optimize warehouse utilization have increased demand for higher building clear heights.
In the 1990’s, the average ceiling height for a new warehouse was 24 to 26 feet clear. Now newly constructed warehouses larger than 300,000 square feet are typically 31 – 33 feet clear. In big-box distribution facilities, 36 feet is common, with clear heights rising past 40 feet in some cases.
There are 3 main warehouse technologies that support growing clear heights:
- Advances in automated picking technology which easily reach the highest shelves
- Modern lighting systems that efficiently illuminate tall spaces
- Availability of fire suppression technologies that protect higher ceilings
But for warehouse developers, there is a tradeoff between the need for optimal clear height and the desire to minimize a building’s overall height-associated costs.
Three of the primary cost drivers for higher clear heights are: slab, structure and fire protection.
As clear height exceeds 32 feet, the flatness of the slab surface itself may require tighter specifications to ensure the stability of the rack. Column spacing often must be increased to accommodate the larger forklifts needed to reach the taller pallet positions. Load-bearing exterior walls will likely get thicker. Fire protection systems may need to be upgraded. And if storage height exceeds 40 feet, in-rack sprinklers might be required, which can increase costs during tenant rollover if they must be removed for the next occupant.
Additionally, there are increased operating costs, such as higher utility costs to heat and cool the extra cubic space.
In a market like Richmond’s where there is a sufficient amount of land to expand, 28’ – 32’ provides the optimal balance of cost and benefit.
5. Picking Tech Is Picking Up Speed
Revolutionary picking trends are significantly altering the warehouse of the future.
While we have our eyes on many innovations in this space, we believe there are three key developments in technology that will positively impact warehouse operations in the coming years:
- Robotics in the warehouse
- Uber-like truck shipping
- Augmented Reality and Wearables
Let’s take a quick peek into each one of these areas.
We doubt people will ever be completely replaced in the warehouse—and that’s a good thing! But there are many opportunities for robotic solutions to pick up the more routine, repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more valuable activities with a higher number of variables.
Robotic picking technology is developing quickly and a new generation of “follow me” robots is poised to do away with much unnecessary human motion. For example, an autonomous mobile robot allows a human picker to fill bins on the robot with stock; once filled, the robot finds its way to the packing station, with another robot sweeping in to take its place.
Some of the biggest shippers, such as Walmart, have their own fleets of trucks driven by their employees. But for everyone else, trucking is done by contractors. And the number one goal of a freight operation is to keep their rigs full to cover the costs on those trucks.
The newest trend among trucking companies is to use Uber-like apps, hoping what’s worked so well for consumer ride-sharing will translate to large-scale commercial shipping. Apps such as DashHaul, Transfix, LaneHoney and Cargomatic are helping shippers see available trucks nearby and book directly with a click instead of through a broker.
These on-demand trucking platforms are poised to bring convenience, automation and price transparency to warehouse customers, while revolutionizing an aging industry ripe for disruption.
Augmented reality or AR, are wearable digital systems that promise to reinvent the costly and cumbersome picking process in warehouses.
Although augmented reality hype has been fueled by consumer fads such as Google Glass and, more recently, Snapchat’s Spectacles, augmented reality is arguably the next big advance in logistics. Workers wearing AR can instantly see what to pick next, follow arrows directing how to get there and compare pictures to ensure the right item is picked.
Industries that will benefit from “the next big thing” are medical, mobile, consumer, automotive, manufacturing, and logistics.
6. Sustainability Is The Future
While much of the focus on energy efficiency in the supply chain falls on the transportation side, warehouse facilities are often overlooked as energy hogs. But new technology means cleaner, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly industrial buildings are in the future.
These are just a few trends with the greatest potential for significantly reducing emissions:
- Solar panels
- LED lighting
- Cool-roof systems
- Thermal glass
- Clerestory windows
- Packing efficiencies
7. Future Warehouses Designed For Humans
As labor shortages rise in Virginia and surrounding areas, there is an increasing importance on quality of life for warehouse workers. New distribution center developments such as effective lighting, air quality sensors, and temperature control are taking the lead in human-centric design. Improving the working environment not only benefits employee health, but also reduces employee turnover and facilities risks.
A new research report issued by JLL features a Top 10 list of innovations being adopted to address the labor challenge and to become more competitive, including:
- A trend toward more goods-to-person and, in some cases, advanced robotics;
- High-quality common areas, multiple break rooms and cafeterias are a must;
- Exercise amenities like gyms, locker facilities, walking paths, jogging tracks, among other offerings, are well received by employees;
- Locating core warehousing elements i.e. restrooms, break rooms, battery charging stations within proximity to employee workflow areas;
- Ample and convenient parking should be located in areas that minimize walking time into the building and avoid heavily trafficked areas for both trucks and passenger cars;
- Locate facilities in proximity to public transportation;
- Flexible scheduling provides extra value, especially by millennials;
- Improved wireless connectivity inside buildings;
- Provide better lighting and increased natural light by designing additional glass line and skylights at an above the dock window line, as well as mounted lights on equipment; and
- Improved ventilation and air circulation through improved ridged insulation, as well as fans mounted on various warehousing equipment and efficient HVAC where appropriate.
8. Flex Land For All
Warehouse tenants of the future will demand more flexibility to add land and space if additional business needs arise. Fortunately, that’s exactly what “flex land” can offer. Whether it’s adding more room for products, additional truck storage, an office space for customer service, or additional loading areas, flex spaces allow businesses to use areas exactly as they need.
9. Super Flat To Sloped Floors
The standard for commercial warehouse flooring has long been super flat. This has helped picking and racking machinery to operate with higher precision and reduce the chances for accidents. But the new trend is to install purposefully sloped floors. When Facility Managers take advantage of a slope + gravity, inbound and outbound shipments can be moved easier and more efficiently.