18 January 2019
Automation and the future of warehousing
Back in the late 1800s, the introduction of hoists shook up warehousing
operations across the world. In the early 1900s, forklifts did the same all
over again, boosting productivity for commerce businesses of all kinds. Fast
forward a hundred years or so, and it’s time for the next big revolution:
It’s clear that significant changes are afoot, and while the
world’s big-budget businesses are the ones making the most notable moves at
present, all signs point to robots and artificial intelligence becoming the
norm in warehouses of all sizes before too long. Could you be next?
The early movers
Forward-thinking companies are already investing big in
automation to ease pressure and streamline processes. Amazon is the prime
example here – the US retail giant started introducing robots to its warehouses
in 2014 and now has more than 100,000 in operation across the globe.
Amazon says it began its robotics journey “on the notion
that in order to meet consumer demands in eCommerce, a better approach to order
fulfilment solutions was necessary.”
Others soon followed suit, Ocado being the UK’s most
prominent example. At its fulfilment centre in Hampshire, the online
supermarket firm not only uses robots to pick and pack orders, but also to
manage products based on their sell-by dates. And that’s just the start:
co-founder and CEO Tim Steiner recently said that "every human touch point
[in the fulfilment centre] is designed to one day be replaced by a robotic
So, why should we automate?
It’s often said that a business’s biggest asset is its
workforce, and while that’s still true to a certain extent, humans do have
limitations. Human error is still a big consideration for fast-moving retail
businesses, for example; people also get sick, and must be paid regularly. More
than anything, though, humans can’t match the efficiency of machines when it
comes to repetitive tasks like picking and packing – and that efficiency is
what separates the successful businesses from the struggling ones.
The machines in place at Amazon’s warehouses are designed to
remove those monotonous tasks from workers’ hands, allowing them to focus their
attention on the things that require genuine human attention, such as customer
service. The result is a much smoother operation, fewer errors and bigger
Managing data effectively
Most businesses are fuelled in some way or another by data,
whether they realise it or not. And, as the presence of technology grows in
warehouses, so too does the amount of useful information available. Managing
it, however, is a daunting prospect.
This is why, away from the robots being used to carry goods,
businesses are starting to rely more heavily on software to turn their data
into useful insights and help them put it into action. This kind of automation,
where records are updated immediately and made available in real-time, helps to
keep everything running at maximum efficiency. The paperwork and laborious
admin is removed, leaving workers to pick, pack and process more during their
We’re proud to provide warehouse managers with the tools
they need to record and make better use of data. Our handheld computers are in use in the warehouses of companies across various
industries, and the list of happy customers continues to grow. To find out more
about how our solutions could help you, get in touch today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - PETER MARSH
Peter joined TouchStar (formally Belgravium) in a sales manager role in 2001. Prior to joining the company, Peter held Partner and National Sales Manager roles within the parcel and logistics industries.
In 2011 Peter was promoted to Sales Director and is now actively involved in promoting the value of TouchStar’s Rugged Mobile Computing solutions to the warehouse, logistics, manufacturing and field service industries. When not involved in the business, Peter is a keen and enthusiastic football and cricket fan.