The trends in warehousing are based on new technologies, digitalization and IoT and Industry 4.0—with a high degree of automation and robotization.
By Tone Lerher
The emerging trends in warehousing—and in a variety of industries—are based on the development of new technologies, digitalization, the concept of the Internet of Things and the concept of Industry 4.0 with the high degree of automation and robotization (the application of collaborative robots). Together with an interdisciplinary scientific approach, they create the conditions for new possibilities and dimensions by using advanced and environmentally friendly technologies.
With the beginning of e-commerce, new generations of warehouses have emerged that specialize in the specific needs of online business-to-consumer retailers. The Statista report, “Global retail e-commerce market size 2014-2023,” shows that the global online sales market amounted to $4.206 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow further in the coming years (Figure 1).
Nowadays, e-commerce and warehouses are faced with the following requirements: small order sizes (Batch size 1), large product assortment, short delivery times and variable order quantity. Conventional (manual and mechanized) warehouses have difficulties in meeting these requirements. One of the most labor intensive and demanding processes in warehouses is the order-picking process, which is usually not or only partially automated. The order-picker often suffers from a lack of ergonomics at the workplace and with requirements for high precision work. Accordingly, automation and robotization of warehouse processes are a key factor in warehouses of the future, where a high potential for progress can be exploited.
Over the last decade, warehouse automation has developed rapidly. Great progress has been made with shuttle-based storage and retrieval systems (SBS/RS) and automated vehicle-based storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) for mini-load warehouse systems. SBS/RS in AS/RS consist of storage racks with elevators that can perform vertical movements of stock keeping units (totes, bins) and shuttle carriers that can perform horizontal movements. Compared to classical crane-based mini-load AS/RS, SBS/RS and AV/RS have several advantages, such as high throughput capacity, high flexibility and scalability, low energy consumption, etc. The above-mentioned advantages over crane-based mini-load AS/RS are the main generator for the application of SBS/RS and AS/RS in practice.
There are many different configurations of SBS/RS and AS/RS such as: shuttle carrier for horizontal movement, shuttle carrier for horizontal movement and vertical lifting, shuttle carrier for diagonal movement and shelf-climbing shuttle carrier.