Top Warehousing Automation Trends of 2020

Welcome to 2020. 

To start the year off right, we had a conversation with Jeff Hedges on what he sees trending in the coming year. As president of OPEX Warehouse Automation, Hedges is the man who decides how to best answer your automation needs with advanced hardware and software from the company’s manufacturing, warehousing and administration hub in Moorestown, NJ. Here’s what he’s thinking about these days. 

Micro-fulfillment.


Practically forever, automated fulfillment systems have been obsessed with size. Big to bigger. Tall to taller. Always more aisles. It’s now time to do an about-face. 

While we aren’t exactly talking tiny houses here, we are talking about micro-fulfillment centers of 5,000 square feet or less for all types of retail. Hedges says the idea is to get fulfillment as close to the customer as possible. Not a UPS ride away. 

Right now, most companies are focused on getting the order fulfillment people and their carts out of the aisles at grocery stores and into a micro-fulfillment center in the back of the store. In some scenarios, a single micro-fulfillment center services several stores from a central location. But Hedges says that grocery is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Retail beyond grocery is the big kahuna. And, by the way, micro-fulfillment systems are projected to be in excess of $1 billion annually in just a couple of years. That’s a lot of potential automation spend.

Retail micro-fulfillment centers will handle orders regardless of origin, explains Hedges. They will pick, pack and have the order ready for customer pickup at their local brick-and-mortar store in an hour or two. This is light years ahead of asking clerks in a department store to pick items from store shelves and stack them up incoherently by the register for customer pickup. All of us are eager for an upgrade from that dismal scenario. Look for micro-fulfillment to be front and center at OPEX in 2020. 

Third-party logistics providers.


Traditionally, 3PLs have been light on hardware beyond lift trucks and racks. But that’s beginning to change as they chase e-commerce business, says Hedges. 

OPEX already has several installations of Perfect Pick and Sure Sort at 3PLs, he adds. And that trend is only going to expand in 2020. 

The 3PLs are past the hurdle that has previously blocked them from investing in automation. They are entering into longer-term contracts to start. But even more important, each 3PL is under pressure, especially with e-commerce companies, to demonstrate higher efficiencies. Automation allows them to distinguish their company from others,” explains Hedges. 

Sustainability.


In far too many cases, sustainability is a buzz word. But at OPEX, it’s standard practice. 

For two years now, OPEX has been the largest 100% solar-powered company in New Jersey. And with 600,000 square feet of manufacturing, warehousing and office space powered by solar, that’s quite an accomplishment. 

Just as important, energy conservation is standard practice for Perfect Pick and Sure Sort. Energy draw for a single-aisle of Perfect Pick is the equivalent of running two toasters and substantially less for an aisle of Sure Sort.

That’s possible because iBOTs are powered by highly efficient ultracapacitors that charge on the fly. Such low energy consumption combined with control software that optimizes iBOT routes makes sustainability standard practice, says Hedges. Don’t expect the company to let up on its drive to continually improve its sustainability profile. 

Global interest in Perfect Pick and Sure Sort.


North America has been the power base for OPEX warehouse automation systems since Perfect Pick was introduced seven years ago. 

While the company has done work in more than 40 countries, Hedges says in 2020 the plan is “to turn the light” on Europe. Business development efforts are well underway there with new people being added to the 100-person strong workforce OPEX already has in place. 

Other areas of interest include Asia, Central America, and Australia. “A global presence is not new to OPEX. And in time, non-U.S. sales could exceed sales here at home,” says Hedges. Now, that’s something to watch for.  

So there you have it. Some keywords from OPEX for 2020. Expect to see them resurface in blogs this year. Have a great 2020 yourself. 

Gary Forger is the former editor of Modern Materials Handling magazine and the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030.

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