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Workplaces of the Future Pt. 2: The Warehouses of the Future

Workplaces of the Future Part Two: What Could the Future Look Like for Your Warehouse?

We recently looked at what the future of the office might involve and in this second part of our series, we’ve again surveyed businesses, consumers and sought expert opinions to speculate on what the future might bring for warehouses.

As this LinkedIn article explains, warehouses have been hugely important throughout the ages. First it discusses how the ‘warehousing concept’ is something that can be traced all the way back to early human settlements and their need to store food and supplies. The post then details how warehouses have, and still do, form a ‘pivotal part of the supply chain’ for businesses, and that their setup and operation has constantly changed to meet the ‘trends’ and ‘growing needs of the customer’.

The article also suggests that the ‘needs’ of today’s consumers see present-day warehouse management focussing on bigger ‘global distribution centres’ rather than a ‘single network channel’. Also, businesses often now have to prioritise aspects like ‘quicker order turnaround’ and investment in technologies to improve processes and facilities when managing their warehouses.

So, with all this in mind, it begs the question of what warehouses of the far future may well be like and what factors will have played their part in making them like this – here’s what we found out from our surveys and experts:

 

Gigantic Size and Scale

One of the most popular predictions we discovered is that warehouses will be much larger than they are now – on an almost unprecedented scale.

In the far future, this would be an example of warehouses following consumer trends, by changing to meet the demands of a larger future population who primarily shop online. This was the belief of nearly half of our survey respondents (48%) and several experts.

Jon Gardner, the Manager of storage provider SureStore, backed this up by suggesting how warehouse size will increase as ‘we shop online more and more’ and the demand for fast shipments will mean goods will need to be more readily available and in greater number. He also gave a current example of what could be the beginnings of this shift towards larger storage needs, explaining that ‘retail giant Target currently use a warehouse larger than 2 million square feet’.

Jane Gokgoz the founder of Personalised Gift Shop, also promoted the link between the increased demand for online shopping and larger warehouse space:

Online retail is booming, which means the warehouses look set to keep growing in our sector…this growth has been strong and steady since 2007 and online now accounts for over a quarter of all UK purchases – we can see this; we are seeing exponential rises in sales at PGS and will be doubling our warehouse space by the end of the year.

 As young people grow up digital natives, with ever faster technology at their fingertips, this is set to continue, and the warehouse will need to keep up’.

As you can see from our mock up image at the top of this post, the warehouses of the future could be far bigger than the largest warehouses of today, encompassing billions of square feet and dwarfing modern buildings to house goods.

In addition to this gigantic size and scale, Matt Warren the CEO of Veeqo, shared with us his belief that warehouses may also be situated within major cities with bigger populations, to distribute goods quicker, like our mock ups at the top of this post and below illustrate.

These structures may also be more akin to skyscrapers in their design, based on current development plans from leading distributors:

Amazon, as with many things, are currently leading the way in terms of innovation in warehouse management. They’ve recently unveiled plans for “multi-level fulfilment centres” that take the form of skyscraper buildings, rather than traditional industrial warehouses.

These will be located in the heart of high-population cities with drones picking up and dropping off deliveries from any floor.’

 

 

Widespread Automation of Services

On the subject of drones, the use of sophisticated technology to automate the processes and distribution of the warehouses of the future was another key prediction from our research.

Firstly, 53% of those surveyed believe that ‘drones’ and ‘flying shipping craft’ will be used in the running of warehouses – particularly for the collection, movement and delivery of goods.

Jon Gardner also offered his thoughts on this, stating that the move away from the highstreets to purely online shopping could be responsible for this, with drones handling:

A future where goods are ordered with one click, items are picked from the warehouse, packaged, labelled, prioritised and delivered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no need for a human being to get involved.’

Matt Warren also offered further insight into what effect these drones could have on supply chains:

Delivery times will be cut down…extrapolating this even further… it’s likely that we’ll be hitting near instant delivery times. Think AR apps or headsets directing pickers to exactly where each item is in a warehouse with drones then continually picking up and dropping off deliveries.’

Below is another mock-up of how drone technology within a ‘skyscraper’ style warehouse that is servicing London might look. This features drones entering and leaving the building, from which they may well have automatically collected new goods from storage areas to fulfil another order or supply request.

 

 

Robot Employees and Warehouse Operation

Much like our findings with the office of the future, there was the same notion that human staff will be minimal within warehouses, but robot employees were something many speculated would be found in the future.

What’s more, as articles like this from CNBC show, many of us believe that these robot workers could take on ‘humanoid’ qualities to replicate the actions of humans in the workplace and theoretically make their integration seamless.

One current example given in the article is the technology developed by ‘Intuitive Surgical’ who has ‘sold over 4,200 of its da Vinci surgical robots, which reproduce a surgeon’s hand motions through small incisions in a patient’s body during operations such as hysterectomies; benefits may include shorter recoveries.’

The CNBC article also stresses how this market is ‘expected to grow to $12 billion by 2025’ so there’s every chance in the far future that robot warehouse workers may look like our mock-up below:

 

 

As you can see ‘PAL’ is of course wearing the correct P.P.E. as it is also quite likely safety will be just as important in the future. Furthermore, such robots would be an investment for the warehouse operators and keeping them safe, protected and functional would be in their best interests.

 

Other Technological Developments

A few other interesting findings from our survey were that 20% of respondents also expect A.I. to be prevalent in future warehouses and just over half (54%) think that their operation will have a ‘heavy focus on automation’. In other words, orders, supply and distribution could all be managed by machines and ultimately will be far faster and more efficient than a human workforce.

Again, these views were shared by experts in this post from Drapers that explains how A.I. and machine learning could be something that vastly improves warehouse operations:

Imagine a machine working through a problem 24/7, optimising live data. For example, allocations could take into account the weather, what’s happening on social media and so on.

Evan Garber, the CEO of Escape Velocity Systems, shares this belief in his contribution to online expertise forum ‘Future of Everything’ by stating that warehouses will use A.I. to ‘enhance accuracy’ and create ‘more productive and nimble operations’ that ultimately ‘tip towards higher profitability’.

 

Key Learnings for SMEs

As ever, the future of course does remain to be seen and this is only speculation. However, we can see the beginnings of some of these predictions in aspects like a rise in online shopping, the development of A.I., drones and ever-increasing delivery speeds.

As such, there are again some key learnings that today’s businesses can take from what we have found.

  • To ensure that you have a variety of fast delivery services – like next-day or same-day delivery – within your warehouse and logistics setup, to suit modern consumer preferences.
  • To look into ecommerce options with your business – if you haven’t already – and the opportunities this could offer if you were to integrate them into your warehouse’s supply chain.
  • To carry out some research and development into any technological developments that you might find to be beneficial for improving your current warehouse setup.

In our next and final post of this trilogy, we will look at the transport options of the future, so visit our blog again soon for the conclusion to our ‘workplaces of the future’ series.

 

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