Warehouse Automation; 60 Years In The Making

How is warehouse automation transforming supply chain operations?

In 1962 in Germany, Demag built arguably the first automatic high-bay warehouse for a publisher to store millions of books. This pioneering development in distribution technology set the hare running in warehouse automation. If you were at IMHX this month you’ll have seen just how far we’ve come in six decades.

Most exhibitors displayed some form of automation, autonomous vehicles, robotics or new tech promising operational benefits. On our stand, we focused on supply chain pain points. Showing through technology like voice, smart scanning and RFID, how customers could achieve over 25% warehouse productivity increases with 30% fewer people.

Optimising labour

Staff shortages certainly remain a significant issue. I have reflected a few times in past posts about how voice-directed warehousing can not only help reduce training times of new personnel but also improve accuracy, efficiency and productivity of existing staff. When it takes an average 4.7* weeks to train new associates to full productivity you need as much help as possible to get them up to speed quickly.

Four out of five (83%*) associates are more likely to work for employers with modern devices than companies with old tech or none. But they must feel confident with that technology. Recent research suggests 27% of field workers do not feel they’ve been given enough help and support when using a new piece of tech or digital solution. Which defeats the object and any tangible business operation benefits.

Optimising labour seems to be the driving force for many businesses with nearly two-thirds (64%*) of decision-makers planning to augment workers with mobile devices within the next five years to ease workloads. Or introduce collaboration with automation solutions as well as mobility solutions.

And at least here, both sides seem to be on the same page. With 83%* of decision-makers and 89% of associates agreeing that augmenting labour with technology and devices is the best way to introduce automation into a warehouse operation.

Warehouse automation innovations

So, what’s topping the list for tech? There will be great implementation of mobile barcode label printers to bring efficiencies in workflows. But rugged tablets will see the most dramatic increase in the next three years, rising from 25% to 81%*. This rise could be attributable to companies who bought consumer-grade tablets. But who have since discovered they need to be replaced more frequently in harsh demanding environments.

This really is a case for ‘buy once buy right’ with devices like Zebra’s new ET4x series of 8 and 10-inch Android based rugged tablets. Which are priced right and built for business.

Price is certainly a barrier to entry for many businesses. Which is why we had a lot of interest at IMHX in our long-term discounted rental scheme designed to sidestep inflation and cover peak seasons. Available across our entire product portfolio, it could help safeguard supply chain company capital for more pressing issues like energy price hikes.


Warehouse automation has certainly progressed in the past 60 years but now is not the time to apply the brakes, especially when 87%* of decision-makers plan to accelerate modernisation plans over the next three years. The global warehouse automation market is estimated to reach USD 64,639 million by 2030. 80% of warehouses today said to be lacking any type of automation.

Covid-19 and global disruptions like the Ukrainian war exposed the vulnerability of supply chains and the need for improvements in areas like inventory accuracy and visibility, labour optimisation and predictive and adaptive data analytics. Ecommerce continues to rise and decision-makers recognise they need greater resilience, collaboration, transparency and speed to remain competitive and it will be modernising their tech that gives them the edge.

Renovotec is the UK’s fastest growing provider of rugged mobile hardware; as well as delivering end to end managed & consultancy services, robotic solutions wireless networking, enterprise mobility, mobile data capture, printing and hardware rentals solutions. With over 25 years of industry experience, Renovotec supports customers across multiple industry verticals – including warehousing, transport & logistics, manufacturing and field mobility. For more information call 01924 600480.

*Source: Dynamic Markets Demand Warehouse Agility. Zebra Technologies.

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