With the coronavirus still shadowing everyday life, a great deal of uncertainty hangs over the material handling industry as we move into 2022. Yet, the industry can’t wait for that uncertainty to clear before making the investments required to enable supply chains to adapt to the changes occurring in the market. That should make 2022 another busy and dynamic year for warehouse operators and their automation partners. Here are four macro trends that we expect in the coming year.
1. Item picking moves upstream
There has been a general trend toward smaller order sizes in recent years and, in 2022, that trend continues as centralized pallet and case warehouses begin to integrate individual item picking into their operations. This trend will be driven by the continuing evolution of the retail landscape and the move into direct-to-consumer sales by manufacturers.
2. Grocery retailers crystallize their MFC strategies
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on e-grocery adoption has been well documented. Demand for e-grocery services has leveled since the hectic early days of the pandemic but is still much higher than grocers expected it to be just two years ago. We are also now seeing the same trend in e-grocery as we previously saw in other e-commerce markets: growing consumer expectations for faster order fulfillment. The difference is that fulfillment times for online grocery orders are measured in minutes or hours rather than days as in other e-commerce applications. As consumers integrate online grocery shopping into their daily and weekly routines, tolerance for longer fulfillment times has disappeared.
3. Supply chain connectivity begins to deliver global inventory visibility
One of the gaps that exists in many supply chains is the inability to gain a comprehensive view of inventory across global distribution and retail locations. This is a problem in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing distribution landscape as it limits the ability to react to both individual customer requirements and broader market shifts.
4. Flexibility drives warehouse automation decisions
The common thread across the first three trends is the need for distribution systems to remain agile and respond to change. That’s only possible when the automation systems that are deployed can flex in size and performance over time.
The material handling industry has seen unprecedented change over the last several years. Responding to those changes in real time was often an all-consuming task that delayed longer term planning. Now, as we enter 2022, many organizations will find they simply can’t stretch their available resources and systems any further. New distribution strategies and technologies are required to meet the challenges of today and to adapt to the unforeseen changes of the future.
Markus Schmidt carries a Dipl.-Ing. certification from the University of Cologne / Germany and has served on the Extended Board of the Material Handling Institute for eight years. In his professional development he held various positions within the material handling industry. In the years 1997 to 2005 he managed Swisslog’s UK business as the Managing Director before taking the American Region on board.