The Warehouse of the Future
Achieve 24/7, Lights-Out Operation with Energy that Flows As Seamlessly As Goods
The first commercial warehouses date back more than two thousand years, to the Roman’s Horrea Galbae. Since then, warehousing has become a critical part of enterprise businesses’ supply chain. Efficient operations are required for strong, sustainable financial performance and in many ways, it’s more challenging than ever to keep warehouse operations run smoothly.
Enter the self-operating, self-optimizing warehouse of the future. Sound far away? The reality is the future is here, and it's fully automated, energy-efficient, and seamlessly integrated. In this article, we delve into the key components that define the warehouse of the future, where operations run 24/7 like a well-oiled machine, and energy isn't just a cost but a revenue center.
The Warehouse of the Future is Fully Automated
The cornerstone of the modern warehouse is automation, facilitated by cutting-edge technologies from industry leaders like Nimble AI and Otto Motors. Warehouse automation reduces the time, effort, cost, and errors caused by manual tasks. It’s helping business leaders solve the most pressing issues of our time, like labor challenges and increasing customer demands for speed and cost competitiveness. And it’s making operations more productive.
But what is warehouse automation? Warehouse automation is the process of moving goods into, within, and out of warehouses to get them to customers with minimal or no human assistance. There are many types of warehouse automation, from physical automation where goods are handled without humans, to digital automation, where data and software are used to perform tasks without human intervention, such as triggering workflows like commanding a robot to retrieve an item after an order is placed.
How prevalent is automation? Analysts predict that more than a quarter of warehouses (26%) will be fully automated by 2027 and that’s despite a predicted fall in the number of new warehouses built in 2023 and 2024. These fully-automated warehouses are sometimes called dark warehouses or lights-out warehouses. To achieve lights-out operation, it's essential to have vehicles and systems that are fully automated. Nimble AI's intelligent systems and Otto Motors' innovative solutions are two examples of products that are setting the standard for modern warehouse efficiency.
For true lights-out functionality, automated charging is paramount.
The demand for automation and lights-out operation is growing rapidly, driven by the need for increased productivity and reduced operational costs. These advancements are transforming warehouses into hubs of uninterrupted activity. With a majority of supply chain leaders saying they have plans to either upgrade or implement autonomous guided vehicles, automated storage and retrieval systems, and other automated systems, expect to see broad adoption of automated systems and more fully-automated warehouses in the near future.
The Warehouse of the Future is Energy Efficient
In the warehouse of the future, energy efficiency is not just a goal; it's an imperative. According to a recent AutoStore survey of C-level business leaders in warehouse management and fulfillment, sustainability is one of five strategic priorities for the next twelve months. The need for sustainability is not solely driven by environmental policies and emissions regulations; however, it’s also an economic imperative, driven by rising energy costs, increasing labor costs, and supply chain and shipping constraints.
These challenges are driving the growth of sustainable warehousing, which is the use of low-impact environmental strategies, practices, and design techniques to reduce energy consumption and minimize waste production. Sustainable warehousing incorporates practices like maximizing equipment uptime to reduce the amount of equipment needed, reducing energy consumption and shifting to renewable and clean energy sources, and thinking more holistically about sustainability, such as moving warehouses closer to consumers so there’s less need for transportation, which is a major contributor to emissions and cost for businesses.
An example of optimizing warehouse operations to promote sustainability and reduce waste is leveraging smart routing for vehicles and on-demand charging.
Smart routing optimizes movement of vehicles, ensuring the right number of vehicles are deployed at any time, and works hand-in-hand with intelligent charging that’s based on operational needs and time-of-day considerations.
For example, when a vehicle has planned downtime, it can be directed to the nearest charger and ready to go when it’s needed. When charging is distributed throughout the day it leads to peak shaving, which is when businesses reduce or eliminate the need to charge during intervals of high demand for the electric grid. Since utility companies set rates based on the highest usage, distributing charging needs throughout the day, as vehicles work, leads to both lower energy costs and better vehicle and charger utilization.
Another example of energy efficiency in warehouses is the rise of next generation batteries. Warehouses are now adopting lithium-ion and advanced energy technologies to power their operations. On-vehicle batteries are minimized through strategic charging because they no longer have to store enough energy to last a whole shift, while off-board batteries are integrated for onsite storage. Increased energy efficiency and storage solutions lead to a reduction in the total number of batteries needed, which reduces upstream emissions and materials usage. Further, increased recycling of on-vehicle batteries improves sustainability.
In the warehouse of the future, energy transitions from a cost center to a revenue center. Smart energy management turns the flow of energy into a dynamic process that aligns with operational needs, making the entire warehouse ecosystem more sustainable and cost-effective.
The Warehouse of the Future is Integrated
The energy-efficient warehouse of the future is not just automated; it's seamlessly integrated into the broader supply chain and connected within the facility. Smart routing systems ensure efficient goods movement, while automated loading and unloading of vehicles streamline the entire logistics process. Warehouse systems reliably communicate with each other using 5G. This connected system ensures that data flows where it’s needed, when it’s needed to trigger automated processes in real-time, and it’s constantly assessing its own performance for areas of improvement.
To make this future of seamless integration and self-optimization possible, energy integration is a key aspect, with warehouses increasingly relying on renewable energy sources.
More data requires more power and in the warehouse of the future, the energy pricing model is directly reflected in goods movement, optimizing operations to run and charge vehicles during periods of cheaper energy.
This dynamic approach not only reduces costs, but also contributes to a greener, more sustainable future. Furthermore, energy storage integration is critical to ensuring warehouses are demand response-ready. Warehouses must be able to quickly and automatically adapt to changing energy demands to ensure continuous operation without disruptions. When warehouses build in systems and energy integration, they are highly resilient and adaptable.
Conclusion: The Warehouse of the Future is Here
The warehouse of the future is not a dream; it's a reality fueled by advancements in automation, digitalization, and energy distribution, transmission, and storage. Logistics leaders like Amazon and WalMart are at the forefront of this transformation, but transformation is not limited to the largest businesses. Companies like Ocado and Philips are also paving the way for 24/7, lights-out operations where work occurs predictably and profitably, and energy flows as seamlessly as goods.
As warehouse operators embrace these innovations, they are not only optimizing their operations but also contributing to a more sustainable and efficient supply chain ecosystem. The warehouse revolution is here, and it's a beacon of progress for one of our oldest industries and greatest contributors of carbon emissions. Welcome to the era of fully automated, energy-efficient, and integrated warehousing. To learn more, contact our team today.