Zebra Study Reveals Executives’ Priorities

By Edson Perin

According to the research, 89 percent of the companies polled are investing in labor and technology to expand their warehouse deployments by 2024.

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Zebra Technologies has announced the results of its “Future Warehouse 2024” study, which cites increased automation and workforce growth as trends for corporate warehouses, distribution and supply centers throughout the next five years. More than 1,400 executives from the manufacturing, transportation, logistics, retail and wholesale distribution sectors in North America, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and Latin America were interviewed, with Brazilian and Mexican decision makers consulted for the study.

According to the study, 74 percent of respondents agree that introducing more workers, together with technology solutions, is the best way to automate warehouses, though only 35 percent clearly see where to start this process. The research addresses strategies of leaders in the areas of operation and information technology in order to modernize warehouses and keep up with demand. Of these, a total of 89 percent of decision makers are leading expansion processes or are already planning to expand their warehouses by 2024. Another 84 percent anticipate an increase in the number of warehouses.

According to Vanderlei Ferreira, the general manager of Zebra Technologies in Brazil, executives are prepared to face a growing demand throughout the next five years and are gradually modernizing their warehouse processes, improving worker and equipment productivity and improving the workflow. “By 2024,” Ferreira states, “the trend is for solutions to continue to be integrated with an increasingly holistic approach, creating data-based environments that balance workforce and warehouse automation with worker training at baseline, gaining a competitive advantage that now makes them pioneers on the road to modernization. “

By 2024, according to the Zebra study, automation will improve workers’ performance rather than replace labor. Of those surveyed, 69 percent of warehouse managers plan for partial automation or workforce augmentation through technology. In the same group, 62 percent consider human interaction to be part of an ideal operational balance, while 32 percent prefer partial automation with human participation, and 30 percent bet on increasing the number of workers together with the use of technological devices.

Decision makers believe in the implementation of automated or robotic systems to manage warehouse inventory (31 percent), packaging for distribution (20 percent) and receiving goods (22 percent) by 2024. Rethinking strategies and operations to address challenges remain among the priorities. Of the study participants, 59 percent cited gaining storage space as a stimulus to expanding the size of their sheds. Among organizations, 60 percent mentioned hiring labor or increasing worker efficiency and productivity as their main focal points.

Use of technology was identified as the most anticipated operational issue of the next five years for 60 percent of respondents. Long-term desired results for increased asset visibility, real-time information usage and data-based performance were also cited. As warehouses expand, so do the numbers of stock-keeping units and the speed at which items must be shipped. The concerns are increasing visibility and productivity, as well as optimizing processes such as returns (86 percent), task interval (82 percent), value-added services (86 percent) and third-party logistics (95 percent).

Investment and deployment of new technologies are critical factors in competing in an on-demand economy. Thus, almost half of respondents (48 percent) cite delivery speed as the main driver of their warehouse expansion. Seventy-four percent of decision makers agree on the need to modernize their warehouses to ensure competitiveness in the on-demand economy, but find the process of deploying mobile devices and other technologies slow.

Among those surveyed, 78 percent of companies are modernizing their warehouses by renovating mobile computers, tablets and barcode scanners. By 2024, modernization will be driven by mobile-computing solutions based on the Android operating system (95 percent), real-time location systems (51 percent) and full-featured warehouse-management systems (62 percent). Fifty-eight percent of respondents consider mobile barcode labels and thermal printers as key investment areas to add to their plans, expanding usage and upgrading devices during the next three years.

Latin American decision makers identify workforce efficiency or productivity (71 percent) as one of the key challenges for the next five years, while 95 percent of organizations plan to deploy Android-based mobile computers in warehouses by 2024 to improve worker efficiency and productivity. In the Asia-Pacific region, 87 percent of respondents plan to deploy a mobile execution system to better manage warehouse workers by 2024. Seventy-three percent of managers plan to invest in smart watches and lenses during the next three years.

In Europe, warehouse square footage is expected to increase by 26 percent during the next five years, more than in any other region. By 2024, the use of RFID and tracking technologies is expected to increase in outbound warehouse operations as one in five organizations plans to use them for packaging (25 percent), inventory management (20 percent) and item collection (19 percent). And in North America, nearly half of all decision makers (49 percent) identified packaging, organization and outbound cargo as challenges for the industry. Ninety-four percent of respondents will have deployed or planned to deploy load optimization solutions by 2024.