What’s in store for warehouse automation?

What will the market for warehouse automation look like over the coming years, and what kind of technologies can businesses expect to be using? In this blog, Erik de Jonge, Vanderlande’s Senior Manager Strategy & Market Insights, looks into his crystal ball and talks about growth, autonomous vehicles – and the rise of the “humanoid” robots…

“As we move into 2025, we expect business to pick up with high single-digit growth. This will be mainly powered by e-commerce, but also the need to deal with labour scarcity and difficulties in finding space to build new warehouses.”
Erik de Jonge
Senior Manager Strategy & Market Insights

The warehousing sector has had a varied few years to look back on. Healthy growth was driven by a rise in consumer demand for online services through the pandemic period. In fact, 2021 was a record year for the warehouse automation market, which grew by more than 30%. 2022 was less dramatic, but still registered single-digit growth.

Last year, we saw the market flatten due to high interest rates and economic uncertainty, and we expect the same throughout 2024. When reviewing these figures, it’s also worth noting that e-commerce businesses in particular overinvested during the pandemic and now have spare capacity to manage. So, many of these do not need to buy new systems in the current market.

New growth

In collaboration with Tilburg University, we have improved our forecasting models used to predict growth in the warehousing sector. As we move into 2025, we expect business to pick up with high single-digit growth. This will be mainly powered by e-commerce, but also the need to deal with labour scarcity and difficulties in finding space to build new warehouses. Market research company Interact Analysis even expects revenues to return to double-digit growth from 2025 onwards.

If we look more closely at e-commerce, growth in consumer spending was actually negative in 2022 for the first time ever. However, this looks like being a one-off because the sector is set to grow by 10% a year between 2023 and 2027, according to Statista (see sources below).

Increased investment

Businesses across the warehousing sector plan to increase investment in automation significantly over the next five years to match expected growth, reaching 25% of capital spending on average. For third party logistics service providers (3PL), this figure is expected to account for more than one third of capital spending, according to McKinsey.

As in previous surveys, certain issues remain high on our customers’ agendas. Along with difficulties in recruitment and a lack of greenfield sites, we must not forget the modern consumer’s high service expectations.

At Vanderlande, we are well placed to help our customers meet these challenges through our portfolio of flexible solutions. These include STOREPICK for automated case picking, and our FASTPICK goods-to-person system, both of which feature the ADAPTO shuttle system. With their scalability, these solutions can support businesses that expect to grow in the coming years.

Robotic advancements

Robotics technology has come a long way in terms of functionality and reliability. Warehousing businesses have noticed, and there has been a steady uptake in the market for picking and pallet-building robots to complement or replace manual operations.

As a systems integrator, Vanderlande tested the world leading picking solutions and works with best-in-class partners to deliver these solutions to our customers.

Now we see businesses are looking to apply robotics to other areas of the warehouse, such as sorter induction. To this end, Vanderlande has recently launched a new robot picking solution called Auto Induct, which we have developed with AWL. It’s great for inducting small items from a bulk flow of packages onto a sorter – traditionally a labour-intensive task.

New functions

The latest developments in robotics have been available to view at recent tradeshows. One example is the “robotic put wall”, in which a robotic arm sorts and places items into pigeonholes, making them ready for picking by manual operators on the other side. This is mainly used in batch picking applications in e-commerce.

Several companies have also successfully demonstrated the use of robots to unload containers. This technology is not only likely to prove popular in the parcel sector, but also with warehouse operations that deal with general merchandise and fashion. Unloading containers is heavy work, so automating such tasks is likely to be welcomed by many. Such technology is perfect for brownfield sites and is already being rolled out by leading third-party logistics service providers and fashion retailers.

Over the past few months, there have been news articles focusing on the development of humanoid robots. There are at least ten companies working on this technology. Although it feels a little futuristic, these humanoids could really disrupt the industry in the mid- to long-term, as they are refined and put to work on a range of tasks, such as stacking and shifting goods across the warehouse.

Mobile robots

Moving on to a more mature technology, we now see an increasing number of warehouses choosing to invest in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). This is because they are easy to install, offer value for money, and have the scalability and flexibility required by warehouse operators.

The technology is also proving popular with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and third-party logistics service providers, because they like to have solutions that can grow along with their business. AMRs are an attractive option, because they can carry out a variety of warehousing tasks including internal transportation, order picking and sortation. In combination with a robotic arm, they can even contribute to the creation of a fully automated picking process.

It is also possible to enable new concepts using AMRs – such as shuttle systems – combined with “sort bots”. Indeed, AMRs are becoming increasingly versatile. At a recent trade show, several AMRs were able to move products to and from a height of 12 metres, thereby enabling effective use of warehouse space.

The demand for mobile robots in warehouses is forecasted to increase by 15-20% a year, according to CMRA (China Mobile Robot Alliance). It expects that the global market will reach USD $20 billion by 2030.

Streamlined integration

Amidst this whirlwind of innovation, one thing stands firm: the indispensable need for expert guidance. With the market overflowing with diverse solutions for specific workflows, the role of seasoned systems integrators like Vanderlande becomes paramount. We’re not just keeping pace with change – we’re forging ahead.

Sources and further reading

Like to know more?

Are you curious to know how these innovations could complement your existing warehouse automation? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today for expert advice.