After a two-year hiatus, MODEX was back and bigger than ever. From the very first step onto the show floor, the emerging story was clear. Automation. This material handling industry show looked more like a robotics and automation show. Distribution, warehousing, and fulfillment are undergoing monumental changes in response to the recent events with which we’re all too familiar: labor shortages, rapid e-com growth, and supply chain disruptions. Companies are looking for ways to be more efficient, more responsive, and more flexible. And with this explosive growth in automation, the big question on everyone’s mind seems to be: Are we on the path to a completely dark warehouse?
The global warehouse automation market is forecasted to double over 5 years, from US$29.6 billion in 2020 to US$69 billion by 2025 (MMH). It’s also quite telling – and very evident at the show – that warehouse automation is no longer seen as merely ancillary to industry. Still, it has itself become an autonomous sector independent of its ties to industry/production more broadly. Yet, even this shift in perspective is incommensurate with the impact this growth will bring about both endemically within the warehouse automation space and in our daily lives.
Naturally, growth in automation means more robots. But the definition of robots is expanding from highly anthropomorphic robots in movies like Star Wars’ C3PO to today’s highly automated mobile shelving units. Engineers in this space seek to facilitate processes, and every part of the warehouse is fair game. For example, in the emerging automated micro fulfillment segment, we saw a conveyance system that sent ordered items up to a shelf. Small carts on tracks then sort the goods into their respective cubbies. These self-stocking shelving units are enabling the decentralization and automation of grocery micro-fulfillment.
Growth in automation also means software and data. Software development is enabling bigger and more complex automation. It’s also creating integration between, which until now have been, disparate systems in the warehouse. Where humans were needed to connect the gaps between robots, multi-system integration is now bridging the gap. Big data and AI are the keys to the dark warehouse of the future.
So what does all this mean for motion sub-system suppliers like us? Enabling customers to bridge the gap between traditional electromechanical systems and AI-driven systems of the future with intelligent interconnected motion solutions. Creating smart actuation solutions that provide data on system characteristics enables users to monitor environmental conditions, predictively monitor system health, schedule planned maintenance, and maximize performance. All this, is within the existing motion topology required of your system.
Continued innovation can only be enhanced through supplier partnerships. Sub-system suppliers have robust engineering capabilities and extensive application knowledge to help you achieve your product development goals. If you haven’t connected with your suppliers’ engineering departments, now’s a perfect time.
Dark warehouses most certainly are in our future. How quickly we get there is up to us.