13 May 2021
Sameer Jaffary By Sameer Jaffary

The Rise of Warehouse Automation.

This past year has seen a huge boost in e-commerce activity across the globe, with COVID-19 lockdowns having a global impact on our shopping habits.

To keep up with such demands, there has been an accelerated rate of automation within warehouses and distribution centres being adopted.

With shoppers moving more frequently to online stores and checkouts, companies are adapting to this shift. Companies themselves are also constantly developing ways in which they can be more efficient, productive and injury risk-free.

Through working as a specialist recruiter within the warehouse automation and intralogistics industry, I’ve noticed the increasing rate of companies adopting automation and robotics within their warehouses and distribution processes.

Emerging trends such as eGrocery, micro-fulfillment centres, urban warehouses and automated cold storages are all playing a role in increased usage of automation within warehouses and distribution centres.

In this article, I wanted to highlight the latest innovations and developments contributing towards warehouse automation and explore the pioneering companies behind them and the progress they’re making in the space.

To begin, let’s look at a global technology company specialising in robotic automation solutions – Geek+.

The company have developed a range of smart robots to cover all the aspects of distribution operations such as forklift robots, moving robots, sorting robots and picking robots. Geek+ aims to provide a cutting-edge digital and intelligent supply chain through their technology.

Geek+ recently collaborated with AMH Material Handling to create a robotic sortation project for Asda Logistics Services. The project aims to increase operational efficiencies and support continued growth across Asda’s parcel collection and returns business.

Sixty robots from Geek+ have been placed into a distribution centre, which allows for 2,000 parcels to be sorted each hour with 99.99% accuracy. This move marks the first time such technology has been used in this way in the UK.

Another result of rapid acceleration of ecommerce activity this last year is increased numbers of micro-fulfillment centres - small-scale, automated warehouse facilities in accessible urban locations close to the end-consumers.

Customer demands and expectations in the modern world mean they want things fast and efficiently. Automated micro-fulfillment centres are allowing companies to keep up with such demand, with pickup’s in as little as an hour or same-day delivery.

Takeoff Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company, is transforming shoppers’ experiences with their automated micro-fulfillment solution. Having only been founded in 2016, the company was selected among hundreds of others as one of the World Economic Forum’s “Technology Pioneers” for contributions in the field of grocery retailing.

The company aims to implement their solution into existing businesses. A major benefit of micro-fulfillment centres is the flexibility to have them as a standalone facility, or inside existing locations to expand capacity.

Takeoff Technologies partnered with KNAPP, a global supplier of warehouse automation systems and software e-commerce markets, to preassemble facilities to deploy worldwide. Together, the pair will optimise the space needed for order sorting, while adding flexibility to the overall design and operation of micro fulfillment centres.

Another exciting, new company within the space is Attabotics - a Calgary-based robotics company, specialising in developing inventory management systems.

The company recently announced a partnership with AltaML and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). The partnership will look to develop capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning to further optimise efficiency and productivity in Attabotics’ innovative supply chain infrastructure.

The use of AI technology within the process also allows for increased transparency, predictive analytics and network optimization. Attabotics’ expertise in warehousing and fulfilment, alongside AltaML’s expertise within AI solutions and Amii’s world-leading research capabilities, this collaboration will allow for innovation in areas such as maximizing system automation uptime and throughput.

Collaborations like this show the true power of public-private partnerships within the space and open up more opportunities for innovation and development.

Collaborations within the space are proving common and beneficial. Swisslog are a global company specialising in the delivery of logistics automation for warehouses and distribution centres.

The company recently collaborated with XPO Logistics and Nestlé to announce a flagship distribution centre and technology hub in the UK. The 638,000-square-foot facility includes advanced solutions customised by Swisslog and integrated with XPO's digital warehouse ecosystem.

The process uses smart robotics, automated sorting systems and XPO’s intelligent analytics to deliver quick and efficient distribution of Nestlé products.

Swisslog offer modular, flexible and software-driven material handling technologies for different logistics and supply chain requirements. From automated storage and retrieval systems to full scale micro-fulfillment centres, Swisslog, I’m excited to see Swisslog provide more innovative solutions and collaborations across the space.

What’s Next?

Like with many things, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massively accelerated growth and adoption of new technologies and developments. And warehouse automation is a prime example.  

As customers continue to move their shopping habits online and demand items faster and more efficiently, warehouse automation offers a perfect solution to meet these demands.

Like with the companies mentioned above, there is no signs of progression in the space slowing down. From technological developments or company progression, the industry is moving a rapid and exciting rate and I’m certain warehouse automation will be widely adopted in the near future. The rise in automation is here.

I’d love to hear your feedback on the article. If you’d like to talk about the technologies I’ve included or one that I’ve missed, please email me at sameer.jaffary@industrial-cm.com.

For more information about my recruitment services, please visit my consultant page.

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Sameer Jaffary

Sameer is an executive search consultant specialising in the Warehouse Automation and Intralogistics market. His vast network and specialist knowledge of this market combine to ensure he delivers a bespoke, tailored and detailed search process. His passion for the industry and his care to the value and aspirations of both clients and candidates allows him to develop long lasting relationships.

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