Planning the warehouse of the future

Swisslog warehouseThe pace of change has never been as fast as it is today, with social and technology trends shaping the warehouse of the future. Alain Kaddoum, general manager at Swisslog Middle East, provides his insights to Technical Review Middle East about some of these trends that include the role of e-commerce in creating higher delivery expectations among consumers (e-retail revenues are projected to grow to US$4.88 trillion in 2021 according to one study by Statista), the growth of anticipatory logistics, 3D printing and customers using multiple channels for their shopping

The goods that make their way through supply chains ultimately end up with consumers, and consumers are not only driving demand but also setting expectations for delivery. Going forward, we will see newer and newer technologies coming into play to support all of the above trends and further disrupt the logistics industry.

The question then, which comes to mind, is – what will the urban distribution centre (DC) of 2030 look like?

We envision the urban distribution centre of the future as follows:

• We will see the rise of numerous urban DCS that bring key logistics capabilities close to consumers. Urban DCs will likely be shared-service facilities that optimise all logistics flows for the area or community they serve, including the following core functions such as inventory and order picking, 3D printing and parcel consolidation.

• For the DCs of 2030 to be successful, they will require advanced technologies that support them. Some examples are intelligent robots with advanced grippers that can pick not only individual products, but also assemble products from several parts produced inside the warehouse, and consolidate orders from multiple sellers, including 3D printed products, into one shipping carton, the deep use of big data and smart, self-learning analytics to predict what consumers will be ordering, self-driving trucks and robotic loading and unloading systems to minimise the costs of logistics and fast, long-distance transportation solutions, such as Hyperloop to connect large, central warehouses with urban DCs in major cities.

• There will be an increased focus on last mile delivery. As a share of the total cost of shipping, last mile delivery costs are substantial – comprising 53 per cent overall – according to a 2018 report by Business Insider Intelligence. We will see the rise of many different solutions and the urban DC will need to interact with all of these. One such solution is electric, and potentially driverless, version of the familiar delivery van. The urban DC will also need to support customer pickup and a network of mobile pickup points. Some parcels may need even more individualised transport methods that could be accomplished by parcel-drones or small autonomous vehicles similar to Starship. Another potential scenario is that consumers will send their self-driving vehicles to collect their packages. For that, DC could use mobile robots to place the goods in the trunk of the car. It is not difficult to imagine the next generation of KUKA’s Mobile Robot (KMR) doing this.

• We will see a much higher level of automation inside the DCs of the future. Systems based on small AGVs or mobile robots will be more adaptable to smaller spaces and more flexible in dealing with volatility. They will also make it easy to change routing or logic to adapt to changing demands. Some of this is already possible today with solutions like Swisslog’s CarryPick system. Self-learning software and peer-to-peer communication would make these vehicles “plug and play,” eliminating much of the fixed, front-end costs required for traditional automation systems.

• Last but not least, warehouse management software is already evolving in this direction, with platforms integrating multiple functions, including automation control, into a modular architecture that more easily adapts to changing technology while also providing the business intelligence that will be required to support predictive logistics.

Supply chain managers are already dealing with a myriad of technology and market changes as they implement modular, automated solutions to increase productivity and throughput in their warehouses.

However, the changes occurring in society, with more disposable income and higher consumer expectations, may stretch existing distribution networks beyond their ability to adapt.

The future of the warehouse lies in moving products closer to consumers, supporting individualised production and providing same-day delivery through multiple channels. And the solutions emerging to support these core capabilities will continue to evolve to meet the demands of the future.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W:

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