Zebra Technologies Corporation recently conducted a new global Warehousing Vision Study to explore the trends and sentiments driving operational decisions and spend in warehouses. The findings released today deliver encouraging news: warehouse operators are making significant investments to better fulfill the needs of both customers and workers and make it easier to fill open jobs.
Market Pressures Become Catalyst for Positive Changes
Nearly nine in 10 warehouse operators globally agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy, with 80% confirming the pandemic has prompted them to evolve and modernize more quickly. Those in the APAC region (including India) feel the pressure to modernize almost as much as the others around the world, with about three-quarters of APAC decision-makers (including India) saying the pandemic has prompted them to make changes.
They are turning their focus and spending most heavily toward technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation. For example, more than nine in 10 operators in all regions, including APAC, indicate they will increase the use of wearables, mobile printers and rugged tablets over the next few years, along with mobile dimensioning software that automates parcel and carton measurements. In addition, 27% of warehouse operators globally and in APAC (including India) have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) today. Within five years, that number is expected to grow to 92% in APAC (including India) and 90% worldwide.
“The disruptions by recent world events brought to fore the importance of a resilient, flexible supply chain,” said Aik Jin, Tan, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead for Manufacturing, Machine Vision/Fixed Industrial Scanning, Zebra Technologies. “Encouragingly, APAC warehouse operators (including India) are taking proactive action, with our study revealing 84% of them are now more comfortable integrating new technologies to bolster their operations and infrastructure.”
Warehouse associates are also becoming more comfortable with their employers’ use of advanced technologies. Less than half (45%) globally say their employers have increased wages or offered bonuses amid labor constraints, yet most (82%) feel positively impacted by the situation. This trend continues in APAC (including India), where nine in 10 warehouse associates report a positive outlook despite only 34% reporting that employers increased renumeration. Employers are improving work conditions in other ways, such as giving them more technology to use on the job and leveraging technology to create more flexible work shifts. In fact, more than nine in 10 warehouse associates around the world agree on some level that technology advancements will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers, even in times like these when supply chains are strained, demand is surging, and there is increasing pressure to meet tighter deadlines.
Top Warehouse Challenges
Decision-makers are having a harder time getting customer orders out the door on time than they did three years ago, and they are struggling to maintain inventory accuracy and visibility. They also admit they are expected to deliver orders faster than ever to keep up with the on-demand economy, with rising transportation costs taking their toll on over 40% of warehouse operators spanning manufacturing, transportation, wholesale distribution, logistics and retail. This may not be surprising considering that respondents indicate their shipping volumes have increased more than 20% on average over the past two years.
Like associates, though, warehouse operators are viewing these challenges as catalysts for change and growth. Between now and 2025, over eight-in-10 expect to increase the number of stock-keeping units (SKU) they carry and the volume of shipped items. They also plan to expand returns management operations, offer more value-added services, and increase their physical footprints, with both the number and size of warehouses increasing.
While 61% of warehouse operators globally also want to increase headcount within the next year to right-size their workforces, they admit finding (55%) and training (54%) workers in a timely manner remain big challenges. This is especially true in APAC (including India) where 53% report difficulty finding workers and 59% indicate training is challenging. As a result, over eight in 10 decision-makers around the world agree they will have to rely more on automation in the future.
Balancing the Scales: Augmenting the Workforce with Automation
While most warehouse operators worldwide will deploy AMRs for person-to-goods (P2G) picking, material movements and other automated inventory moves, more will invest in software that helps automate analytics and decision-making. In APAC (including India), 95% of decision-makers indicated this willingness to invest in such software in a bid to raise worker effectiveness and efficiency and reduce labor costs, outpacing the global average by just a bit (94%).
“Today, the average time to train workers to full productivity is 4.7 weeks,” said Mr. Rajnish Gupta, Vice President and Head – India & Subcontinent Business, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific. “As such, 51% of global decision-makers and 56% of APAC (including India) decision-makers feel the most important labor initiative is to reduce unnecessary tasks so associates can focus on more customer-centric work and utilize their workforce more efficiently. To enable decision-makers to scale warehouse operations and keep up with the on-demand economy, Zebra Technologies has come up with a series of warehouse technologies including printable indicators, RFID scanners and readers like RFD90, ATR7000. Apart from these, Zebra Technologies has also launched new series of enterprise tablets and mobile computers including the L10ax, ET80/85, ET40/45, TC53/58, TC15, as well as the new DS3600-KD ultra-rugged scanner and WS50 Android wearable computer.”
The portfolio of warehouse solutions including printable indicators, RFID scanners and readers, among others are meant to support the continued upscaling of warehousing operations driven by the on-demand economy. Through the introduction of the right technologies, enterprises will be able to gain real-time insights needed to help make business-critical decisions swiftly and decisively.
Job Satisfaction – and Worker Retention – are Byproducts of Automation
With warehouse operators planning to increase automation, some might say jobs will be lost. Yet, study respondents believe automation may help keep more people in their jobs and fill empty ones. Nearly eight in 10 warehouse associates in APAC (including India) (79%) and globally (78%) say walking fewer miles per day would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick or handle more items, and many strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful.
Decision-makers should take note; only 36% of those surveyed in APAC (including India) and 41% worldwide completely agree implementing warehouse technologies such as robotics and devices can help attract and retain workers even though most associates:
– who work alongside AMRs today confirm they have helped increase productivity and reduce walking/travel time (83%), reduce errors (73%), and enable advancement to new roles or opportunities (65%).
– claim they are more likely to work for an employer that gives them modern devices to use for tasks versus an employer that provides older or no devices (83%).
“Automation is the great equalizer, especially when labor is constrained or during unexpected surge periods or seasonal peaks when it may be difficult to scale the workforce quickly,” added Tan. “Interestingly, associates feel more strongly about this than warehouse operators right now, which further adds to the business imperative of an augmented workforce in the warehouse environment.”
Five-Year Technology Outlook for Warehouse Operations
Globally, 85% of decision-makers say they have implemented mobility so front-line workers can capture each inventory move they make, and most feel they are optimizing the use of their devices to fit the task, safety, and ergonomics. However, warehouse associates (84%) and decision-makers (79%) are concerned they will not meet their business objectives unless more technology investments are made to improve operations, with associates in the transportation (92%) and logistics (88%) sectors feeling most strongly about this need.
As a result, more than six in 10 decision-makers say they will invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and
and overall visibility throughout supply chains over the next five years.
Nine in 10 expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning, and machine vision systems to become more prevalent over the next five years. As businesses invest in advanced technologies that enable more visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance, they’re focusing on increasing team productivity and better utilization of assets, equipment and people, which equates to improved worker well-being and overall market competitiveness. However, it will become critical for warehouse operators to become more thoughtful about how they implement and integrate technologies as they increasingly digitalize workflows and scale systems. Following a phase-based roadmap will be key to steady, sustainable maturity.