Zebra Technologies Corporation, an innovator at the front line of business with solutions and partners that deliver a performance edge, has conducted a new global Warehousing Vision Study to explore the trends and sentiments driving operational decisions and spend in warehouses. The findings released today deliver encouraging news: warehouse operators are making significant investments to better fulfill the needs of both customers and workers and make it easier to fill open jobs.
Conducted in January and February 2022, the survey collected feedback from more than 1,500 warehouse decision-makers and associates around the world. In Asia-Pacific (APAC), the markets surveyed for the study are India, Australia, China, Japan, and Singapore.
Market Pressures Become Catalyst for Positive Changes
Nearly nine in 10 warehouse operators globally agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy, with 80 percent confirming the pandemic has prompted them to evolve and modernize more quickly. Those in the APAC region (including India) feel the pressure to modernize almost as much as the others around the world, with about three-quarters of APAC decision-makers (including India) saying the pandemic has prompted them to make changes.
They are turning their focus and spending most heavily toward technologies that support workforce augmentation and workflow automation. For example, more than nine in 10 operators in all regions, including APAC, indicate they will increase the use of wearables, mobile printers, and rugged tablets over the next few years, along with mobile dimensioning software that automates parcel and carton measurements. In addition, 27 percent of warehouse operators globally and in APAC(including India) have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) today. Within five years, that number is expected to grow to 92 percent in APAC (including India) and 90 percent worldwide.
“The disruptions by recent world events brought to fore the importance of a resilient, flexible supply chain,” said AikJin, Tan, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead for Manufacturing, Machine Vision/Fixed Industrial Scanning, Zebra Technologies. “Encouragingly, APAC warehouse operators (including India) are taking proactive action, with our study revealing 84 percent of them are now more comfortable integrating new technologies to bolster their operations and infrastructure.”
Warehouse associates are also becoming more comfortable with their employers’ use of advanced technologies. Less than half globally say their employers have increased wages or offered bonuses amid labor constraints, yet most feel positively impacted by the situation. This trend continues in APAC (including India), where nine in 10 warehouse associates report a positive outlook despite only 34 percent reporting that employers increased remuneration. Employers are improving work conditions in other ways, such as giving them more technology to use on the job and leveraging technology to create more flexible work shifts. In fact, more than nine in 10 warehouse associates around the world agree on some level that technology advancements will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers, even in times like these when supply chains are strained, demand is surging, and there is increasing pressure to meet tighter deadlines.
Top Warehouse Challenges
Decision-makers are having a harder time getting customer orders out the door on time than they did three years ago, and they are struggling to maintain inventory accuracy and visibility. They also admit they are expected to deliver orders faster than ever to keep up with the on-demand economy, with rising transportation costs taking their toll on over 40 percent of warehouse operators spanning manufacturing, transportation, wholesale distribution, logistics, and retail. This may not be surprising considering that respondents indicate their shipping volumes have increased more than 20 percent on average over the past two years.
Like associates, though, warehouse operators are viewing these challenges as catalysts for change and growth. Between now and 2025, over eight-in-10 expect to increase the number of stock-keeping units (SKU)they carry and the volume of shipped items. They also plan to expand returns management operations, offer more value-added services, and increase their physical footprints, with both the number and size of warehouses increasing.
While 61 percent of warehouse operators globally also want to increase headcount within the next year to right-size their workforces, they admit finding and training workers in a timely manner remains a big challenge. This is especially true in APAC (including India) where 53 percent report difficulty finding workers and 59 percent indicate training is challenging. As a result, over eight in 10 decision-makers around the world agree they will have to rely more on automation in the future.
Balancing the Scales: Augmenting the Workforce with Automation
While most warehouse operators worldwide will deployAMRsfor person-to-goods (P2G) picking, material movements and other automated inventory moves, more will invest in software that helps automate analytics and decision-making. In APAC (including India), 95 percent of decision-makers indicated this willingness to invest in such software in a bid to raise worker effectiveness and efficiency and reduce labor costs, outpacing the global average by just a bit.
“Today, the average time to train workers to full productivity is 4.7 weeks,” Rajnish Gupta, Vice President and Head – India & Subcontinent Business, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific said.“As such, 51 percent of global decision-makers and 56 percent of APAC (including India) decision-makers feel the most important labor initiative is to reduce unnecessary tasks so associates can focus on more customer-centric work and utilize their workforce more efficiently.”
The portfolio of warehouse solutions including printable indicators, RFID scanners, and readers, among others are meant to support the continued upscaling of warehousing operations driven by the on-demand economy. Through the introduction of the right technologies, enterprises will be able to gain real-time insights needed to help make business-critical decisions swiftly and decisively.
Job Satisfaction – and Worker Retention – are Byproducts of Automation
With warehouse operators planning to increase automation, some might say jobs will be lost. Yet, study respondents believe automation may help keep more people in their jobs and fill empty ones. Nearly eight in 10 warehouse associates in APAC (including India) and globally say walking fewer miles per day would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick or handle more items, and many strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful.
Decision-makers should take note; only 36 percent of those surveyed in APAC (including India) and 41 percent worldwide completely agree to implement warehouse technologies such as robotics and devices can help attract and retain workers even though most associates:
- who work alongside AMRs today confirm they have helped increase productivity and reduce walking/travel time, reduce errors, and enable advancement to new roles or opportunities.
- claim they are more likely to work for an employer that gives them modern devices to use for tasks versus an employer that provides older or no devices.
“Automation is the great equalizer, especially when labor is constrained or during unexpected surge periods or seasonal peaks when it may be difficult to scale the workforce quickly,” Tan added. “Interestingly, associates feel more strongly about this than warehouse operators right now, which further adds to the business imperative of an augmented workforce in the warehouse environment.”
Five-Year Technology Outlook for Warehouse Operations
Globally, 85 percent of decision-makers say they have implemented mobility so front-line workers can capture each inventory move they make, and most feel they are optimizing the use of their devices to fit the task, safety, and ergonomics. However, warehouse associates and decision-makers are concerned they will not meet their business objectives unless more technology investments are made to improve operations, with associates in the transportation and logistics sectors feeling most strongly about this need.
As a result, more than six in 10 decision-makers say they will invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and overall visibility throughout supply chains over the next five years.
Nine in 10 expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning, and machine vision systems to become more prevalent over the next five years. As businesses invest in advanced technologies that enable more visibility, real-time guidance, and data-driven performance, they’re focusing on increasing team productivity and better utilization of assets, equipment, and people, which equates to improved worker well-being and overall market competitiveness. However, it will become critical for warehouse operators to become more thoughtful about how they implement and integrate technologies as they increasingly digitalize workflows and scale systems. Following a phase-based roadmap will be key to steady, sustainable maturity.
KEY REGIONAL FINDINGS
- Nine in 10 APAC decision-makers (including India) agree on machine vision and/or fixed industrial scanning technology in key areas would save time and eliminate errors, even though only one-quarter are currently using them.
- EMEA warehouse associates were the most likely to say they would view their employer more positively if provided with mobile devices and technology.
- 96 percent of associates in LATAM believe implementing warehouse technologies such as robotics and devices would help attract and retain workers, the highest of any region.
- 86 percent of North American decision-makers say the pandemic has prompted them to evolve and modernize more quickly, the most of any region.