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

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. Get in touch with one of our automation experts and re-engineer the efficiency of your warehouse.

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.

10 Warehouse Ideas for Outstanding Continuous Improvement

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warehouse continuous improvement blog header

The job of a continuous improvement professional is a multi-variable logistical nightmare, and typically they’re juggling multiple processes and implementation projects at once. A warehouse, whether used for manufacturing, storage, distribution, order fulfillment, or all four, is an integral point of the supply chain where many continuous improvement and operational excellence professionals (like yourself) focus on.

Century has over 40 years of working with warehouse operations and understands where streamlining tactics can be administered. Here are our 10 insightful ideas to generate positive warehouse performance.

1. Real-time warehouse visibility

Real-time visibility into warehouse operations through HMI (human-machine interface) will give you valuable control and insight into day-to-day product movement. Allowing warehouse employees detailed error notification, showing the status in all areas of the system, and providing remote access to all control stations located on a system are just three of the major benefits of an HMI.

Adding or updating an HMI program to any automated system immediately begins to increase productivity within a facility, and HMI programs give the warehouse employees a much easier approach to operating an automated system effectively.

2. Evaluate communication channels

How do your warehouse workers communicate with each other (if, at all?). A growing solution that many warehouses are adopting is providing communication methods for employees. This could be as simple as walkie-talkies or as integrated as a voice-to-pick system that prompts employees on picking operations.

Effective communication also extends to project managers. While the typical array of emails, video meetings, and phone calls are here to stay, ERP solutions can integrate direct messages based on specific projects, timelines, and areas of focus. SAP and Oracle are common platforms, but more focused ones like Jira can be implemented as well.

3. Effective waste reduction

Environmental awareness should be an area of continuous improvement for any warehouse. Whether it’s distribution or manufacturing, waste is a byproduct of the operation and must be disposed of or repurposed quickly and effectively.

The most common form of waste disposal is a baler, which typically compresses packaging refuse (like corrugate or plastic). For operations that produce a larger amount of waste, a trash conveyor can move waste into a baler, so all workers must do is move their trash to the line as it automatically takes it away.

4. Maximizing warehouse space usage

Warehouse space is extremely precious-ensuring there’s room for storage, order fulfillment, loading, maintenance, employees, and office space- all while following building codes, is no easy feat. If space is at a premium, but additional systems will need to be implemented in the future, a few capacity-saving solutions can provide some leeway.

  • Inclined and spiral conveyors
    • Suspended conveyor sections above the warehouse floor.
  • Mezzanine structures
    • Walkways and platforms suspended above the warehouse floor.
  • Narrow-aisle racking
    • Special forklifts can be used to access pallets in these lanes
  • ASRS
    • Automated cranes travel within narrow-aisle racking structures to retrieve pallets
  • Shuttle system
    • Items are held in compartments within a complete racking structure, eliminating aisles completely.

If there are warehouse constraints you’re aware of, it may be time to complete a cost-analysis of keeping existing structures or replacing them with space-saving solutions.

5. Influence performance in partners

Transparency and a reporting cadence among partners are key to ensuring your process improvements extend outside of the warehouse. Whether it’s a third-party logistics company that cross-docks your products, or a trucking broker that provides delivery to retail stores, you should be informed of their performance like they’re your own employees.

Many partners provide data reporting software that’ll integrate into your WMS or send automatic updates via an internal portal or email. Review this data and ask questions on any discrepancies, sharing thoughts on where improvements could be made. Fostering open communication and knowledge will benefit both you and your partners and generate performance across the entirety of the supply chain.

6. Reduce manual labor redundancy

Repetitive manual tasks within a warehouse can be a significant profit drain, especially when finding reliable labor is difficult. Although a more expensive upfront cost, automating such tasks quickly pays themselves back and outpaces manual operations in every aspect.

As an example- manual box erecting requires at least one employee (more if it’s a 24-hour warehouse) to simply fold and form boxes all day. An automatic case erector can replace inefficient repetitive laborers, and far outpace their output and associated costs. There are many automated solutions, and each has different benefits and functionality. Century can help you navigate and engineer a system that’ll boost every aspect of your continuous improvement efforts. Shoot us a message on what you’re working on, and we’ll be in touch with you on our thoughts.

7. Spur team collaboration

A term you may have heard before, a kaizen process is the idea that employees from all levels of a company can collaborate together to provide insights and skills in the pursuit of incremental improvement.

Every employee works on a specific touchpoint in your warehouse and most likely has deeper knowledge on whatever they manage the most. In this sense, they can provide expanded details that when rectified, can impact the overall process positively.

For example, a maintenance director may know which systems experience the most downtime, and why. Opening lines of communication and collaboration between different departments can solve inefficiencies that wouldn’t have been recognized otherwise.

8. Integrate powerful WMS systems

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 batch number, storage location, inventory quantity, and a multitude of SKU data for ordering. A WMS can even offer the best shipping rate selector and presents data with specific handling information (like weight and dimensions).

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.

9. Follow supply chain technology developments

As a continuous improvement professional, you should be aware of new developments in supply chain and warehouse technology. Solutions are becoming more nuanced in the sense that there is very specific functionality it provides, which could offer a potent process improvement if applied correctly.

The best way to stay up to date is by setting up a collection of RSS feeds that gathers news and press release articles from industry-leading websites. RSS.app is a great RSS program to start with. Checking your feeds on a daily basis keeps you in the know and allows you to be a proactive supply chain executive.

10. Establish and compare KPIs

Most importantly, before any continuous improvements are implemented, benchmarking has to be done to validate the cost-benefit and efficacy of your strategies. Identify the implementation points in the warehouse and compare output rates over a certain timeframe.

Coordinate with an engineer or plant manager on the system rates of any solutions used, and set goals on where you’d want those rates to be. Many reporting platforms offer KPI settings to collate data around a preselected criterion. Fine-tune these settings to identify inefficient warehouse touchpoints and explore solutions on what would solve them, while maintaining a positive ROI.


Century System engineers warehouse solutions with your continuous improvement goals implemented. Our process is to work closely with you and other key members of your team to completely understand your vision, budget, and output expectations. Interested in learning more? Send us a message with your thoughts on how’d you like to move forward with your operations, we’d be more than happy to throw in our two cents.