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How have warehouses changed in the 21st Century?

Posted by Trevor
July 23, 2014 in Features

During the 20th Century, warehouses were viewed quite differently from how they are today. They were buildings inside which most procedures were carried out manually, and where it was difficult to cope with sudden changes in the demand for goods, because warehouses were not fully integrated with planning and marketing departments. Today’s warehouses have been promoted from their former role behind the scenes to being at the forefront of customer service, with e-commerce encouraging customers to expect instant gratification and with technological advances enabling companies to meet that expectation.

21st century warehouses rely on automation

It has only recently become possible for customers to obtain products more or less instantly from e-commerce companies, and this has come about through advances in warehouse technology. One of the systems being used is known as a batch-and-wait operation. Customer orders are picked in batches, which cuts down travel time and speeds up the picking process, before being separated into individual orders prior to leaving the warehouse. This type of system has been found to be more efficient than picking orders for each customer separately. Technology has made it possible to pick up batches more effectively by accumulating orders within the system until there are enough of a similar type to make up a batch.

In the 21st century, the flow of goods into and out of warehouses can be monitored more accurately than ever before, because technology allows the integration of warehouses and logistics company systems. Transport provision can now be fine-tuned so that it more closely meets levels of customer demand, saving money for the warehouse-owning company.

The transport of goods inside warehouses has also been revolutionised this century, with changes in the forklift industry allowing trucks to be incorporated more fully into the warehouse system. The addition of on-board computers means that data from forklifts can be easily accessed by the warehouse manager. The manager can view data about the truck’s lift and travel and its hours of activity, acquiring a thorough understanding of what is happening inside the warehouse. The data is all available via the web and can be accessed using a browser.

Warehouse racking that helps its workers

The latest developments in warehouse racking have made it possible to install fully automated systems with mobile shelving and robots that can move inventory. Having the goods move to the workers rather than the other way around is much more efficient in today’s huge warehouses, in which employees may have to walk many miles each day on hard floors. As the robots move products over to the workers the goods then identify themselves, so that they can be quickly picked and packed in what is a speedier, safer and altogether more ergonomic fashion than anything seen in warehouses in the 20th Century.

As e-commerce continues to increase in popularity, the importance of the warehouse in fulfilling customer orders will only strengthen, and 21st century technology will play a crucial part in making sure warehouses can remain responsive to the demands of the market.

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