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6 in 10 Companies Plan Warehouse Automation to Ease Labor Woes

Automation will enhance worker performance rather than replace workers as 61% of companies will enable partial automation or labor augmentation with technology in the warehouse.

To keep up with the growth of an on-demand economy,  87% of companies report that they are currently in the process of or planning to expand the size of their warehouses by 2024, according to a new study by Zebra Technologies.

Additionally, 82% anticipate an increase in the number of warehouses during this timeframe.

The study also found that 77% of respondents agree that augmenting workers with technology is the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse, but only 35% have a clear understanding of where to start automating.

Key survey findings include the following:

By 2024, automation will enhance worker performance rather than replace workers.

  • Sixty-one percent of decision makers plan to enable partial automation or labor augmentation with technology in the warehouse.
  • Three-quarters of respondents believe human interaction is part of their optimal operational balance, with 39% citing partial automation (some human involvement) and 34% citing augmentation (equipping workers with devices) as their preference.
  • Decision makers anticipate using robotics/bots for inbound inventory management (24%), outbound packing (22%) and goods in/receiving (20 %) by 2024.

 Rethinking fulfillment strategies and operations to meet emerging challenges across the warehouse remains a top priority.

  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents cited capacity utilization as a significant expected challenge and plan to address it by expanding the size of their warehouses.
  • Sixty percent of organizations cited labor recruitment and/or labor efficiency and productivity among their top challenges, with 63% of respondents noting an immediate focus on individual or team productivity outcomes.
  • IT/technology utilization was identified both as the most anticipated operational challenge (61%) of the next five years and a desired long-term outcome for increased asset visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance.
  • As warehouses expand, so will the volume of stock keeping units (SKUs) and the speed items need to be shipped. Decision makers will seek increased visibility and productivity by implementing more robust returns management operations (81%), task interleaving (80%), value-added services (80%) and third-party logistics (83%).

 The investment and implementation of new technologies are critical for remaining competitive in the on-demand economy.

  • Almost half (46%) of surveyed respondents cited faster delivery to end-customers as the primary factor driving their warehouse growth plans.
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of decision makers agree that they need to modernize operations across the warehouse to remain competitive in the on-demand economy but are slow to implement new mobile devices and technology.
  • Seventy-three percent of companies are currently modernizing their warehouses by implementing or refreshing mobile computers, tablets and barcode scanners.
  • By 2024, modernization will be driven by Android-based mobile computing solutions (83%), real-time location systems (RTLS) (55%) and full-featured warehouse management systems (WMS) (54%).
  • Sixty percent of respondents cited mobile barcode label or thermal printers as a key area of investment as part of their plans to add, expand or upgrade devices in the next three years.
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