Today, businesses are being squeezed on all sides. They have to contend with high inflation, supply chain disruptions and scarce labour while trying to meet rising consumer expectations for low prices, fast delivery, order accuracy and easy returns. To relieve these pressures, businesses are increasingly outsourcing their logistics, and logistics providers are increasingly turning to automation. The result is safer and more efficient warehouse operations, higher consumer satisfaction and a growing consensus that automation is becoming integral to supply chains.
Starting from a small base
It’s estimated that currently only 5% of distribution centres are automated, so full automation is still years away. Nevertheless, we can already see the outlines of what this automation will look like over the coming years.
We think warehouse automation is going to proliferate where it is needed most. In Europe, we have warehouses in the U.K., France, Italy and Poland that showcase high levels of automation. One of these is the Nestlé distribution centre in the East Midlands, U.K., where end-to-end integration of automation and robotics helped the global food and drink processing conglomerate to overcome the challenges of COVID‑19 and the other supply chain issues that threatened the peak holiday shopping season in the final months of 2021. The throughput of this automation is eye-opening: Nestlé packed and shipped millions of its KitKat candy bars, which, if laid end-to-end, would reach from London to New York City.
Later this year, we’ll be opening a new automated warehouse for GXO pharmaceutical customers in Italy. That facility will showcase the growing use of automation to meet the challenges of highly regulated storage and handling requirements, operating efficiency and order accuracy.
Automated systems have also become crucial as we build and operate warehouses with high-density storage on multiple levels. Working with technology partners such as Dematic and SwissLog, we can engineer warehouse systems that automate access and retrieval tasks at high volume and accuracy with total consistency using cranes to find the appropriate products at higher speeds. This area of automation is steadily evolving, using faster systems that are better coordinated and are managed by smarter warehouse control systems.