If you’re looking for ways to increase your company’s efficiency, productivity and affordability, look no further than your logistics model. Even as retailing models have changed – moving from a focus on in-person transactions to an online-first or omnichannel mentality – the basic need to get items from warehouses to customers has remained. Generating savings and increasing effectiveness in warehouses and distribution centers is an eternally relevant objective.
That’s where automation comes in. The idea of employing machinery that can handle tasks quickly, including those that are impossible for human employees, is intriguing. Industry-leading eCommerce brands continue to integrate automation technology into their warehouses and distribution centers, making it more important than ever to do the same if you want to keep up.
A recent study about how logistics is being handled today revealed that there is still a place for conventional, non-automated equipment in the vast majority of both warehouses and distribution centers. Companies are employing traditional lift trucks and shelving, and more than half of these organizations don’t plan to upgrade such systems in the near future.
The continuing relevance of traditional hardware isn’t a sign of weakness for automation; the same study found that 55% of respondents have automated sortation, conveyor and weighting systems. In addition, 38% have automated solutions that bring items to workstations and 25% pack automatically. A significant number of companies are interested in upgrading their packaging, robotics and conveyors – 52%, 45% and 43%, respectively.
There are several reasons that companies look to improve their capabilities. They are typically intent on scaling up their speed because expectations have grown among their customer bases. With eCommerce increasing in prominence, warehouse operators are picking and packing goods at rates that exceed what they’ve experienced in the past. The fact that some companies are automating has inspired others to get on board.
A different study on distribution center improvements delved into the motives behind some planned tech upgrades. The study revealed that companies are dealing with amounts of small orders they have never seen before. Priorities are shifting to adapt to an eCommerce-first world, and the responses have taken many forms. Businesses need to take stock of their present capabilities and next objectives, and then make selections that will guide them on the path to success.
When it comes to automation priorities, conveyors came in first and put-to-light systems came in second. This is due to a search for efficiency and reflects a difference between U.S. and European distribution centers: Conveyers are more important in North America. As for the put-to-light choice, companies are hoping for efficiency gains with the way they send eCommerce orders to their customers. Fulfillment through this channel is sure to be a high-priority area as competition remains heated.
Once it comes time to upgrade your company’s logistics capabilities, it may make the most sense to turn to a third-party logistics provider. This is because many logistics providers may already have the warehouse automation and distribution center capabilities it takes to stay engaged in the modern eCommerce space. Dealing with competition from large and small rivals alike, you may feel your organization is stuck, facing an inefficient future if you don’t make the necessary upgrades. Third-party partners provide a way to take advantage of the technology without the need to make a serious investment.
Having a flexible logistics partner means working with an organization that can scale up or down to suit your company’s current place in the market – and quickly switch gears if circumstances evolve over time. There’s no need to work with a one-dimensional warehousing or shipping business when fully featured and adaptable options exist in the marketplace.
One of the major reasons to gain speed and capacity in warehouse and distribution centers is actually a great reason to work with an outside company: When eCommerce demand peaks in busy seasons, your organization can trust its flexible third-party partner to provide the needed capacity, thus removing the need to own your own warehouse facilitates large and advanced enough to handle peak-season demands.