Warehouse Automation Growth Due to E-Commerce

Joe Weinlick
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Warehouse automation and robotic control systems that retrieve products are relatively new technologies that have entered the e-commerce market. Led by industry leader Amazon.com, other warehouses have followed suit to meet rising demands of customers who purchase items online and have them shipped to homes or stores.

A 2015 report by the ARC Advisory Group states that the next five years should see a rise in the warehouse automation industry because the e-commerce market continues to expand. The best warehouse automation systems handle high volumes of small orders. Machines must be mobile, able to locate products quickly and capable of getting them packed in boxes as efficiently as possible.

This type of system requires machinery, software, wireless capabilities and interconnectivity at all levels. Machines that retrieve items from a warehouse should receive information from a customer's order as soon as possible to start the process. Real-time data analyzes what orders the company should prioritize, and warehouse control systems adapt to changing needs that create a flexible process that e-commerce companies need.

Warehouse automation represents a paradigm shift that combines brick-and-mortar stores with retail fulfillment. Instead of retail stores that stock everything, smaller buildings have fewer products but the locations act as fulfillment centers. Customers go online, pick out a product and have it shipped to a store for free. Some companies offer to bring products to a store within 24 hours from warehouses using logistics companies such as UPS and FedEx.

The ability of stores to meet customer demand shows why warehouse automation is so important. Robots, computers and software work more efficiently to find items on shelves since machines move faster than humans. Robots can scan for items using radio frequency ID tags and do not need a set of human eyes to double-check their work. Warehouse machines do not need days off, maternity leave, two-week vacations or sick leave. When e-commerce companies get warehouses automated, profits increase due to more efficient delivery systems that put products in the hands of customers faster.

Amazon.com led the way in July 2014 when it automated a system of robots 16 inches tall that retrieve items from shelves, including very heavy items that humans are unable to lift. Despite the automation push, the company also hired more humans, due to increased demand for Amazon.com products. Instead of hiring humans to pluck items off shelves, Amazon.com needed people to help pack boxes and deal with increased customer service demands.

Warehouse automation will lead to more high-tech jobs in the future as need rises for programmers, technicians and engineers. Automating a warehouse also makes workplaces safer for employees. When e-commerce companies deliver goods more efficiently, repeat customers return to buy more product. Therefore, everyone benefits from this type of robotic system.

Photo courtesy of Mighty June at Flickr.com



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