‘We were on the fence regards automation, it was
maybe 50-50, I’d now say we’re 90-10 on it’.
readers to consider warehouse automation, indeed,
43% said they were more likely now to make an
investment. That said, a significant minority said they
were less likely (18%), and a large proportion were not
Respondent reactions include a prediction the future
will involve ‘possibly less personnel and more
automation’, while another says ‘automation has been
on the radar for some considerable time’.
And: ‘We were on the fence regards automation, it
was maybe 50-50, I’d now say we’re 90-10 on it’.
However, one reader adds automation is ‘always
under review but it depends on rates for storage going
forward’, showing how the economic argument has to
be carefully considered.
Clearly, automation won’t work for everyone. One
respondent says ‘due to the layout of the site, the age of
the buildings and the type of product we have, we
would be highly pressed to get a payback for a very
large investment in automation’.
According to recent research from Frost & Sullivan the
global warehouse automation market is expected to
nearly double its size, expanding from $14 billion in
2019 to $27.2 billion by 2025.
The automated guided vehicles (AGV) segment is
forecast to hit $4.6 billion while the autonomous
mobile robot (AMR) segment is expected to reach $6.8
The current low cost of borrowing money will also
encourage many companies to think that, with other
factors also pressing, now is the time to make that
For those who had already invested in automation, the
immediate focus in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis was
keeping sites running.
Joe Metcalfe from consultants Hatmill says ‘ensuring
sites are running efficiently meant increasing demands
on suppliers to provide 24 hour call out support, as well
as activities around maintenance and servicing to
ensure that sites can continue to fulfil volume’.
Currently some businesses are fulfilling peak like
volume over sustained periods of time (like Christmas
all year round), with companies rapidly trying to
establish or grow online provision, leading to a further
increase in demand for warehouse automation.
Joe explains: 'We think the constraint on the growth
of warehouse automation will be human resource –
skills and experience in project delivery and
engineering were already a challenge, and now even
more so. That requirement for talent is not a problem
you can fix overnight.'
As Joe says the main constraint on automation may
well be be lack of skills. There are other constraints to
bear in mind, such as a lack of facilities that are ready, for
example, in terms of energy supply, or suitably even
flooring. There’s some knock-on effects, for sure, that
need to be taken into account in any analysis.
MEGA OR MICRO
Automation might be an increasingly popular tool, but
it is no monolith, and that has never been more true
than now, with an extremely broad range of solutions
and approaches available. You can have an automated
mega-shed, or you can have micro-fulfilment at the
supermarket in town. You can have huge conveyor
based systems and you can have scalable AMRs moving
in the warehouse to retrieve goods. Indeed, these days
you may have a mix of such technologies and a key
challenge will be knitting them together into a
Research firm Style Intelligence has noted the rise of
AMRs (for example, GreyOrange has supplied 5,000
robots to XPO, and Locus Robotics 1,000 robots to DHL);
but also puts this into the context of Amazon deploying
250,000 plus of its own brand of robots, for its own
Style Intelligence has also noted trends such as
increased deployments of micro fulfilment centres
(MFCs) increased piece picking robots, and increased
use of manufacturing concepts such as digital twins in