With Brett Newstead, Director Sales, ANZ, Zebra Technologies
1. What are the top challenges warehouse operators are facing today?
While there may be some differentiation between what decision makers and warehouse associates in Asia Pacific see as the biggest challenges impacting their organisations, the consensus is that much of the rapid rise in e-commerce activity is driven by pandemic-related disruptions, and it has had a big impact on local businesses.
More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those APAC warehouse associates surveyed in a recent study by Zebra Technologies ranked fulfilling higher order volumes from increased e-commerce activity as their biggest challenge.
At the same time, just under three-quarters (74 per cent) of APAC decision-makers surveyed suggested they felt that predicting inventory availability and confirming inventory accuracy was the most challenging aspect, according to the Asia Pacific findings in Zebra’s global Warehousing Vision Study report.
2. How can warehouse operators overcome these challenges?
A lot of businesses that rely heavily on efficient warehouse operations have dealt with the increased workload arising from surging e-commerce activity by investing in new technology. Many are turning their focus and investment dollars toward solutions that both support and augment their existing workforce.
For example, nine in 10 Asia Pacific decision-makers surveyed in Zebra’s study agreed that machine vision and fixed industrial scanning technology in key areas would help them save time and eliminate errors, even though only a quarter of the respondents are currently using these technologies.
Moreover, 27 per cent of warehouse operators globally have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR). Within five years, that number is expected to grow to 92 per cent in Asia Pacific and 90 per cent worldwide. This kind of technology can inject workflow automation into warehouse operations, a capability that is increasingly being seen as the way forward for organisations struggling with the broader influx of logistics demand.
3. What role can technology play?
Currently, there is an acute awareness among warehouse operators that technology can help them to automate their workflow and streamline their processes to improve efficiency. Zebra’s research suggests that nearly nine in 10 warehouse operators agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy.
Globally, 80 per cent of warehouse operators polled in the Zebra study confirmed that the pandemic had prompted them to evolve and modernise more quickly. In Asia Pacific, three-quarters of decision-makers said the pandemic had prompted them to make changes. So, we are already seeing how technology is streamlining operations for many warehouse operators.
Specifically, technology that can automate warehouse processes is proving to be an incredible equaliser in a market landscape that is seeing surging demand but is restricted in terms of the available labour pool due to an historically low unemployment rate. Augmenting existing labour forces with devices such as wearable computers, portable scanners and ruggedised tablets is the best first step to introducing automation and greater efficiency to warehouse operations.
4. What does the future of warehouse operations look like?
Globally, Zebra’s research findings indicate that 55 per cent of wholesale distribution decision-makers expect to have invested in, or will make plans to invest in, robotics within the coming 12 months. Autonomous mobile robots will be more prolific in the coming years.
That said, although most warehouse operators worldwide plan to deploy autonomous mobile robots for person-to-goods (P2G) picking, material movements and other automated inventory activity, it is expected that more will invest in software that helps to automate analytics and decision-making processes.
In Asia Pacific, 95 per cent of decision-makers surveyed in Zebra’s research indicated a willingness to invest in such software in a bid to raise worker effectiveness and efficiency, and to reduce labour costs, which have been outpacing the global average. Over 60 per cent of decision-makers globally expect to invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and throughout supply chains over the next five years, making such software more effective.
Meanwhile, we can expect to see more use of technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning and machine vision systems, with nine out of 10 decision-makers polled by Zebra expecting their use of sensor-based technologies to become more prevalent over the next five years.
5. What does this evolution mean for businesses?
Investment in warehouse-related technological solutions is expected to see organisations make their processes more efficient and resilient in the face of future disruptions and challenges, should they occur. This factor alone has the power to build additional confidence in local organisations as they look to life beyond COVID.
As a bonus, the efficiency delivered by such solutions is anticipated to allow worker efforts to be redirected towards more important business goals, especially those related to customer support. Fifty-one per cent of decision-makers surveyed globally indicated they felt like their most important labour initiative is to reduce time invested in unnecessary tasks so that their workforce can instead focus on customer-centric aspects of business.
The redirection of workers’ efforts is likely to lead to happier team members. Indeed, 92 per cent of warehouse associates surveyed in Zebra’s study agreed that technology advancement will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers. In Asia Pacific specifically, nine out of 10 warehouse associates reported a positive outlook, despite only 34 per cent reporting that employers increased remuneration.
The evolution and uptake of new technologies is set to offer businesses with warehouse operations happier workers while also introducing greater efficiency to better handle surging demand, especially in times like these when supply chains are strained and there’s increasing pressure to meet tighter deadlines.