At the 2019 Elevate supply chain conference, HighJump CTO Sean Elliott addressed a packed audience, delivering his message on the challenges of the supply chain of the future. “Our technology has to step up,” he said. With a shrinking workforce and increasing pressures from customer expectations, supply chain managers have their work cut out for them.
Where do businesses turn to improve their warehouse operations and push fulfillment to the next level?
Warehouse automation fills the labor gap and keeps inventory moving. It’s uniquely positioned to solve many of today’s supply chain challenges. With many different flavors of automation in the market, the applications and use cases can benefit a majority of industries and business sizes.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about automation in supply chain is that it’s still growing and evolving decades after the technology first hit the market. To get a finger on the pulse, HighJump conducted a warehouse automation survey to uncover industry and technology trends. Ranging from IT professionals to warehouse managers to executives, the survey polled over 200 individuals in supply chain roles from over 20 industries.
The goal of the survey was to help businesses and supply chain managers better understand the challenges and successes from their peers to help in their evaluations of the technology, applications, and business cases. It covers:
- Warehouse automation technology adoption trends
- Critical performance factors for automation technology in the warehouse
- Satisfaction scoring among businesses and supply chain professionals leveraging automation
Below you will find a few insights and trends we uncovered in the report. Enjoy!
For deeper data and insights, get the full Warehouse Automation Survey Report.
Warehouse Automation Adoption Trends
We all understand that there’s a labor challenge in supply chain. But, we wanted to take a step back and verify the top challenges businesses face leading to automation. Out of six possible drivers, two stuck out: labor and throughput.
With 68% of people believing labor and throughput are the main reasons to bring automation into the warehouse, it’s clear that businesses leverage this technology in place of workers. This lack of workforce hurts the velocity of material flow at a time when customers expect faster delivery. It also drives up wages and other things that can impact the overall profitability of the warehouse.
After learning about why businesses lean toward warehouse automation technology, we wanted to know more about the timeframe they planned to bolster their supply chain management with these solutions. It turns out that almost half of the responders plan to acquire new automation solutions or upgrade their existing tech stack within the next five years.
As a big dollar investment, this timeframe is somewhat aggressive, though given the challenges covered above, it’s warranted. Further, we discovered that only 20% of people reported that their respective businesses are looking at adding headcount to optimize and augment their workforce. The swing towards a more technology-driven warehouse will occur in the near future. And with friendlier models such as robotics as a service (RaaS) emerging, it will be easier to acquire and manage the costs of these solutions.
Warehouse Automation Performance Trends
What do you think is most important to the performance and success of warehouse automation? According to the survey, it’s a dead heat between three factors: Training, IT Support, and Partners/Consultants.
We find it interesting that the survey data doesn’t rank supply chain software higher as a performance factor. (We dig into potential reasons why in the full report.) As with all hardware, it’s the software that drives the experience and final output of technology. It’s possible that there’s a gap in knowledge or best practices, leading businesses away from greater ROI achieved with supply chain software that compliment material handling equipment (MHE). There may also be some confusion as to which systems best support automation, such as the different purposes and value propositions of a WMS versus a warehouse control system (WCS).
If you used automation in your supply chain strategy, how would you maximize those systems? According to the survey, 55% of people say that they have no future plans to optimize their warehouse automation. Fixed MHE might be bolted to the ground, but that doesn’t mean businesses are stuck with their results. A “set and forget” philosophy may create an artificial ceiling on operational and even strategic yield. The principles of continuous process improvement apply to automation and can lead to breakthroughs in performance.
Are You Looking at Warehouse Automation for Your Supply Chain Operations?
The full Warehouse Automation Survey Report has 20 pages of deep technology and industry trends to help you learn from your peers and evaluate the technologies driving your future operations. Be sure to check out the full report for insights, covering:
- Automation operational issues
- Barriers in implementing automation
- Warehouse Automation optimization trends
- Satisfaction scoring, and much more!