Warehouse automation trends that will dominate in 2022

warehouse automation trends 2022 blog header image
warehouse automation trends 2022 blog header image

2021 has proved to be a year of unforgiving supply chain challenges. From shortages in raw materials and important electronic components to understaffed operations and demand congestion. What trends in warehouse automation have been developed to avoid supply chain disturbances in 2022?

If there has ever been a time to consider warehouse automation, it would be now. Many DCs and warehouses have experienced an increase in demand, whether it be for products, or in clients. Adversely, the required labor needed to accommodate has subsequently dried up. Positions have gone months unfilled, leaving warehouses to turn to higher incentives for applicants or forms of automation that would eliminate the need for such positions. A growing trend among warehouse staffing is to maximize productivity by equipping employees with technology, and the knowledge to utilize them.

2022 automation trends MHI quote 1

1. Co-op automation

Voice-to-pick

Humans and machines working together, and not as counterparts, can eke the most efficiency out of warehouse operations. Voice-to-pick solutions, when combined with a robotic pick module, benefits when a human operator can continually pack orders, and use voice commands to operate a pick solution for the next order.

Wearables

Employees can be equipped with a plethora of devices to boost accuracy and productivity. Tablets running WMS software can be outfitted with wrist or armbands, so employees can always have both hands free. Enabling on-the-go access to inventory and order information keeps operators on-task, instead of having to access a static terminal.

2. Developments in warehouse automation technology

As new technology becomes more developed and available, so does the functionality of specialized solutions. Every warehouse is different, which means unique material handling challenges are posed for solutions provides to tackle. A few automation systems that have seen continued usage and advancements in 2021, and are expected to be major focuses in 2022 include:

  • 5G connectivity adaption
  • Warehouse distribution drones
  • Climbable pick robots
  • WMS automation integration platforms
  • Micro-fulfillment
  • Advances in machine vision
  • Electric standard (UL and ISO) revisions
2022 automation trends MHI quote

3. A focus on domestic supply chain partners

Supply chain turmoil, while affecting all involved, greatly disrupted those using overseas resources. Port congestion, expensive container prices, sky-high shipping fees, and the Delta variant have strangled international lines. In response, companies are searching closer to home for materials and services, avoiding such headaches in the future.

While outsourced partners may be cheaper up-front, eliminating loss and inefficiencies associated with overseas supply chains may prove fruitful after an extended period of using a domestic partner. 2022 will show how many companies decide to make the flip.

4. ScaaS (supply-chain as a service)

While not an entirely new idea for 2021, the expectation is that 2022 will see more users of SCaaS platforms. Essentially, SCaaS follows the footsteps of SaaS (software-as-a-service) by offering users supply chain functions through an external company. While full-service third-party logistics companies exist, SCaaS solutions strive to provide services for every step, from sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, procurement, reporting, and more.

With more and more companies strapped for staffing and adequate resources, enrolling in a tailored SCaaS platform can alleviate some of those operational pressures. Warehouse flexibility should be a key implementation goal as the new year inches closer.

5. DTC eCommerce disruptors

The explosive and continued growth of eCommerce continues to lead companies to invest in online shopping. For example, Shopify, a leading eCommerce platform grew 110% YOY in the first quarter of 2021, achieving a total revenue of $988.6 million. Industries that typically see a majority of sales via traditional brick-and-mortar channels have dipped their toe into direct-to-consumer sales, such as the alcohol industry, with companies like Drizly experiencing significant demand for home-delivery services. This boom has turned many eyes to new customer behaviors, and 2022 will see many larger organizations adopting DTC eCommerce warehouse automation systems as an additional revenue source.

In summary, the major focus for 2022 is FLEXIBILITY. Ensuring operations can scale quickly due to outside stressors like demand increases and staff shortages is the next step in continuous company improvement. 2021 was the year of reactivity, a learning lesson that hit hard and continues to sting. 2022 will be the year of proactivity- building up resources to avoid losses, establishing high-performing automation, and closely adapting to target consumer behaviors will separate the organizations that will thrive, from the ones that will remain stagnant or even worse, fail.


Century is constantly keeping up with new trends and technology, all in an effort to engineer the absolute best in efficiency systems for our clients. Our firsthand experience of the stressors has provided us with the insights to recommend scalable and dynamic warehouse solutions. 2021 has been unkind to all facets of the supply chain, and new warehouse technology and processes are in place to make sure there’s not a repeat in 2022.

Ahead of the Trend: The Rise of eCommerce in the Wine and Spirits Industry

rise of ecommerce in wine and spirits industry blog header image
rise of ecommerce in the wine and spirits industry blog header image

Online sales directly to the consumer in the wine and spirits industry used to be a tiny niche, compared to typical distribution methods, but the newest trend, fueled by COVID, is anything but.

In 2020, bars and restaurants shut their doors, leading consumers to make the decision to shop online. U.S. E-commerce sales of alcohol increased more than 80% in value during the pandemic (IWSR). A year later, the sales have plateaued, but are still 15% to 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Consumers turned to online shopping because of an external factor, and a surprising number have stuck around after that factor has been eased.

Online liquor stores have seen increases in sales, spurring investor interest. Last February, Uber purchased Drizly for $1.1 billion (Barrons). Consumer interest is certain to increase in eCommerce purchasing as users adopt the buying behavior, and experience the benefits over traditional liquor store visits. Along with Drizly, a few other online liquor stores run in the races, including:

Uptown Spirits

ReserveBar

Thrive Market

Wine.com

Bright Cellars

Nestor Liquor

Minibar

Flaviar

Wine.com

How does this affect the wine and spirits industry? Supply chains will have to accommodate for order fulfillment, that is having the necessary material handling solutions in place to ensure an order gets packed, labeled, and sorted to its end destination. This is quite different from what is typically processed in a wine and liquor distribution operation.

Cartons (usually packed within 6 bottles) are sent to be palletized or loaded in a truck, which makes deliveries to liquor stores, bars, and restaurants. With an online order, each package is customized and can contain a variety of items (kitting).

Wine and liquor warehouses will have to store individual items, accurately pick and pack them, apply a shipping label, and send them to the customer’s doorstep safely and within a few days’ time.

Integrating order fulfillment is a carefully planned and engineered project, but the long-term growth and profits will dwarf the initial investment once implemented fully.

Order fulfillment is one of Century’s specialties. We’ve had experience in the past engineering systems specifically for eCommerce operations, and we’d like to pass along our recommendations on the solutions that are used.

1. Storage and Pick Modules

Managing a fully stocked wine and spirits warehouse can get complicated when a large variety of products are offered. This creates a need for both short-term and long-term pallet storage. Automation in the form of an ASRS (automatic storage and retrieval system) can rapidly retrieve pallets that need to be distributed or store long-term inventory in the most optimal spot within a racking system.

An ASRS uses a crane attached to a horizontal and vertical track, scaling the racking structure, and using extendable forks to handle pallets. The operator terminal provides information on what product is stored where, and the ASRS operates when a retrieve or store command is inputted.

2. Conveyor System

A tried-and-true conveyor system will be the most accurate, simple, and efficient solution for a wine and spirits warehouse. Conveyors are dynamic in the sense that there are hundreds of additional solutions that can be integrated in the layout. Being highly customizable, each conveyor system is engineered according to the layout of the wine and spirits operation.

In the wine and spirits industry, the key to stable operations is ensuring cartons avoid damage. A zero-pressure accumulation conveyor (like this conveyor, manufactured by Hytrol) does not allow cartons to touch, by properly maintaining space between each and stopping the rollers when the accumulation zone is full. This is especially important when fulfilling specific customer orders that may include unevenly sized items.

3. Pack Tables

In order fulfillment, stations are positioned at infeeding operations so that orders can be packaged and sent to a label application. A worker or autonomous robot picks the products and brings it to a pack table. The worker checks to ensure that the order is correct in places in any invoicing documents, and places the items in the package with void-fill.

Pack tables are simple to integrate, and sit aside a main conveyor, so that workers can simply push orders from their tables onto the conveying surface.

4. Print and Apply Stations

Affixing identifiable tags on packages is crucial to ensuring their deliverability. Scanners and sensors across the line depend on a readable tag for it to make it to its destination. Print and apply systems do exactly that. However, there are multiple systems depending on the identification process use and where the box must be marked. Applications can roll-on, wipe over, corner wrap, air blow, and stamp labels.

The direction the box must be scanned also plays a role in a solution selection, but it will outpace manual operations regardless.

5. Sortation

Sortation systems separate products for induction into individual lanes typically associated with an outbound destination. Various types of sortation and conveyor systems are often connected to comprise a fully functioning material handling solution.

The type of sortation integrates highly depends on what product is being moved. For a fragile wine and spirits operation, care must be taken in selecting a stable method of diverting the packages. Sliding Shoe and Narrow Belt sorters are best suited for safely, yet quickly, sending items to where they need to be.

narrow belt sortation
Narrow belt utilizes thin belts so that rising directional skate wheels activate when a package is to be diverted down a destination lane.

sliding shoe conveyor sortation
Sliding shoe uses segmented plastic slats that gently divert cartons to an outfeeding conveyor.

6. Warehouse Management System

The ability to have complete visibility of your warehouse inventory at all times is paramount to operating effectively. A warehouse management system (or WMS) stores vital information such as alcohol percentage, storage location, best-by dates for rotation, and a multitude of SKU data for ordering. A WMS can even offer a best shipping rate selector and presents data with correct state alcohol regulations applied.

Besides being a source of important product information, a WMS can apply that information within your warehouse operations. For example, if the wrong item is picked and placed on an outbound conveyor, the scan tower will read the label and the WMS will recognize it is in the wrong batch, stopping that section of conveyor and sounding an alarm for a worker to remove the incorrect item.

7. Reverse Logistics

Returns are a constant area of disconnect in operations when it comes to order fulfillment. There needs to be a planned intake process to return the items to storage and re-fulfill the order with the correct products.

When returns enter back into a warehouse, they’re put in a separate staging area. Depending on the condition of the item, or whatever the nature of the return is, it may be returned to inventory, sent to another distributor who sells discount items or discarded.

Once a return item has been rescanned in the system, the customer’s order will either be marked as fulfilled (so they can receive their money back) or another order will be placed (in the event they were sent the wrong item, but they still need the correct item sent to them).


Century Systems has extensive experience in integrating warehouse automation systems in the wine and spirits material handling industry. View the video below on a system we engineered and integrated with Fedway Associates.

7 Cost-saving and Effective Warehouse Solutions for Wine and Spirits Distribution

wine and spirits warehouse solutions for distribution blog post

Distributing wine and spirits is a delicate and demanding operation. Warehouses are expected to process, store, and fulfill a massive catalog of products to a wide portfolio of clients, all with their own special requests. An operations employee in a distribution warehouse has their work cut out for them, as the constant supply and demand fluctuates depending on a multitude of factors like seasonality, geography, product timing, and more.

Investing in an automated wine and spirits warehouse solution can absolutely support operations in more ways than one, moving product safely, quickly, and where it needs to be. Evaluating current warehouse operations is certainly a smart move, especially considering the status of the wine and spirits industry now, and in the near future.

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“We believe there is a permanent consumer shift to more online purchases of wine, which will expand with the coming of age of millennial consumers.”

SVB: State of the Wine Industry Report 2021

To help in your evaluation, here are 7 cost-saving and effective warehouse solutions that’ll support your wine and spirits distribution operations.

1. Labeling and shipping costs

Correct labeling of alcoholic beverages is not only important for delivery operations but needed for state alcohol regulations and the associated shipping costs. Recurring mislabeling can incur hefty fees and make distribution a headache. Automated print and apply systems can streamline these processes and lower error rates and are relatively easy to add to a warehouse operation. Labeling machines produce the correct shipping information and apply the label by stamping it as the carton passes by, without the need to pick up or stop the product.

2. Warehouse Management System (WMS)

The ability to have complete visibility of your warehouse inventory at all times is paramount to operating effectively. A warehouse management system (or WMS) stores vital information such as alcohol percentage, storage location, best-by dates for rotation, and a multitude of SKU data for ordering. A WMS can even offer a best shipping rate selector and presents data with correct state alcohol regulations applied.

Besides being a source of important product information, a WMS can apply that information within your warehouse operations. For example, if the wrong item is picked and placed on an outbound conveyor, the scan tower will read the label and the WMS will recognize it is in the wrong batch, stopping that section of conveyor and sounding an alarm for a worker to remove the incorrect item.

3. Direct to consumer wine and spirits shipping

The prevalence of direct-to-consumer (D2C) wine and spirits services continue to grow, with wine clubs, subscription boxes, alcoholic beverage delivery, and other flexible solutions becoming more common with consumers. If you are looking to expand your consumer base, investing in a D2C approach early can prove proliferous in the near future. Order fulfillment automation solutions are versatile enough to fit within any step of your operation, ranging from automatic item picking to shipping label application. The importance of effective packing operations to avoid breakage should also be considered. Careful selection of package erecting, sealing, and void-filling machines are all a part of integrating a wine or liquor order fulfillment warehouse process.

4. Gapping and breakage reduction

An unfortunate truth of the wine and spirits distribution industry is that product breakage can and will happen. All you can do in your warehouse is minimize it. An effective method of doing so is using a zero-pressure accumulation conveyor. These gravity conveyors do no allow products to touch each other, using an array of sensors to properly gap infeeding operations, and stopping when the accumulation zone is full.

To increase product safety, a herringbone (canted rollers) design can be used to avoid product from making contact with side railing and guards. For even more stability, a cascade release function can be implemented, which staggers conveyor zones as product begins to move. This provides a small gap between each product when operations start and stop.

5. Storage solutions for reserves and limited run beverages

Managing a fully stocked wine and spirit storage can get complicated when limited run products and desirables vintages are concerned. This creates a need for both short-term and long-term pallet storage. Automation in the form of an ASRS (automatic storage and retrieval system) can rapidly retrieve pallets that need to be distributed or store long-term inventory in the most optimal spot within a racking system. An ASRS uses a crane attached to horizontal and vertical track, scaling the racking structure, and using extendable forks to handle pallets. The operator terminal provides information on what product is stored where, and the ASRS operates when a retrieve or store command is inputted.

6. Cross-docking for quick sortation and delivery of non-stored items

Cross-docking is a warehouse operation that processes items, sorts them to the correct location, and sends them right back out for transportation. Packages are introduced and sent to their destination route quickly and efficiently without storing or spending more than 24 hours in a cross-docking operation.

For high-volume wine and spirit warehouses, this method provides extremely effective in getting product to stores or delivering to customers.

7. Flexibility in handling a variety of packaging types

Wine and spirit companies are innovating in specialty packaging types to attract customers in a constantly competitive product environment. Coupled with the growing sales of cannabis, companies are investing a significant amount in resources to ensure their product stands out.

Wine and spirits warehouse distribution operations must be dynamic enough to maintain current clients and attract new ones who have packaging designs that call for special handling. Automation systems, such as conveyors, are manufactured in different dimensions and applications and can be engineered in a warehouse layout to accommodate cartons of varying sizes and fragility.


Century Systems has extensive experience in integrating warehouse automation systems in the wine and spirits material handling industry. View the video below on a system we engineered and integrated with Fedway Associates.