As 2023 races to the finish, warehousing is in demand throughout the material handling industry. “We’re seeing an increase in a need for warehouses across the board, across the country,” said Chris Schramm, director of sales and accounts for Nexterus, a full-service supply chain and logistics partner offering customized solutions. Schramm said available warehousing space was close to capacity in 2020 and 2021 and that has loosened up somewhat recently.
Nexterus offers the ability to research “best-in-class supply chain strategies employed by the largest companies in the world,” the website said. “We bring them to you in scalable, affordable applications,” the site said, noting the company uses a unique approach of modeling and optimizing supply chain needs. Schramm said the company studies network opportunities, current and expanding client bases and more, to help determine where a warehouse should be placed. He said many companies are looking for opportunities for expanded capacity wherever possible.
And within warehouses, Schramm said racking is a top priority for many businesses. “The influx of racking is probably the biggest part of the interior of the warehouse. Everyone is looking at the most efficient ways to optimize internally,” Schramm said. Labor, meanwhile, remains a concern.
“The equipment side has definitely started looking at that. Everyone is fighting for the same people. You can saturate a market quickly with four to five warehouses” in one area, he said, noting that automated trucks are helping fill the labor gap in some places. “The Targets, Walmart’s, the bigger players have putting those into facilities. Now we’re starting to see some of those smaller players take advantage of automated trucks,” Schramm said.
The supply chain will undoubtably be impacted in the coming months by the bankruptcy of Yellow Corp., he added. “The financial collapse of Yellow will have the biggest effect across the board for supply chain. Yellow is the number three truck load carrier in the country,” said Schramm, who said other shippers were already operating at 90 percent or more of capacity, so the transportation needs won’t necessarily be immediately absorbed.
As a result, he said shippers may look at changing the dynamics of what they’re shipping and how warehouses are structured. “Shippers are going to be looking at operating their freight and using tools like what Nexterus provides,” said Schramm, who said the company’s Warehowz tool helps find warehousing solutions to meet changing needs.
For the average shipper, drawing up solutions takes around four weeks, according to Schramm, who said Nexterus will incorporate data and costs to create simulations and optimizations. “We can model pretty much anything,” he said. Schramm said many economic analysts feel consumer spending will be solid through the rest of 2023 and will likely not drop off to start in 2024.
At Flux Power, lithium batteries provide warehouse solutions for its large-sized customers through use in forklifts and material handling equipment. “As a general statement, there’s a strong surge to find anything that will provide higher productivity,” said Ron Dutt, CEO, of material handling warehouse operations.
“One big area is if they can move more pallets during the shift,” he said, noting Flux Power’s customers typically achieve this by switching from lead acid, while smaller operations are often using propane power. “Our target is people that want more productivity at lower cost. That value proposition is becoming very well accepted in the marketplace,” Dutt said.
Another factor for some warehouse operations is cutting down on carbon emissions. “All of these larger companies have sustainability goals. This resonates,” he said.
Dutt said Flux Power is growing fast, at over 50 percent per year. “One of the features that comes with lithium that does not come with lead acid is a computer in the pack that transmits to the cloud (computing.) It gives the battery’s state of health and allows the warehouse people to switch the batteries and extend the useful life of the batteries,” Dutt said.
“It’s so great for asset management. It allows remote monitoring for the customer. It provides for early detection of problems.” Equipment malfunctions with forklifts and batteries are one of the biggest pain points in warehousing, according to Dutt, who said mitigating and reducing down time of equipment is key for warehouses. “Having a computer in the battery for the piece of material handling equipment really enables great productivity in many ways,” he said.
Tech and industry partnerships
And Flux Power is developing artificial intelligence capabilities into its computers to provide oversight monitoring. “All equipment at some point needs to be serviced or replaced and there needs to be planning for that. We are developing AI into our computers and the equipment to provide oversight monitoring. We can have somebody monitoring all of our batteries around the country and advising actions they need to take,” Dutt said.
Other companies in the industry are working on similar technological offerings, according to Dutt. He said the advantage of lithium is offering an 80 percent cost savings for three-shift operations. “One lithium pack could operate for all three shifts and wouldn’t have to be changed out,” he said. “Product, life cycle, cost. That’s been the template for us.”
For warehouse managers, another current consideration is coordinating with suppliers, according to Dutt. “Most of the suppliers are not big. The question is, can a smaller supplier keep up with these big Fortune 500 companies? Can you really deliver on time to all their locations around the country? Can you provide the service?” Dutt said.
For Flux Power, Dutt said relationships are key. “We have relationships with forklift OEM’s, Crown Equipment, Toyota. We can approve our packs to go in their equipment. Batteries are typically not provided by forklift manufacturers, so relationships are crucial,” he said, especially since lithium batteries are not used throughout the industry at the same level as lead acid.
Still, Dutt said Flux Power has almost 20,000 battery packs currently in the market. And he said as labor remains “a big deal,” lithium does provide the relief of not having to change the packs as often. And Dutt believes warehouse robotics will continue to increase in use. “A lot of our customers have automated guided vehicles. We’re seeing a lot of robotics,” he said.
Eileen Mozinski Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com