An Anticipated Automation Surge Is Lingering As e-Commerce Flows

According to the Annual Warehouse Operations and Trends survey that Peerless Research Group conducted for Modern Materials Handling Magazine, an anticipated jump in warehouse automation has lagged as ecommerce surges due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

It is believed that the situation is due to the pandemic and the difficulty of finding available workers. Still, it’s believed that distribution center operations will need to boost its automation spending soon.

Money There For Automation Investments

The survey found that most warehouses have strong enough budgets for more automation, but as of September DC are working to adjust such things as layout and inventory levels and improving on keeping workers safe.

The yearly survey has asked warehouse executives about the nature and size of their DC networks, e-commerce activity, and operational challenges including finding workers. This year’s survey also questioned respondents about how they’re coping with the Coronavirus Pandemic exploring such issues as protective gear and implementing social distancing protocol.

The survey discovered that 94 percent of respondents report that their workforce is using protective masks and that they sanitize their equipment. As many as 87 percent say that will continue the practice of sanitation even after the pandemic wanes.

According to the survey, respondents’ budgets continue to be relatively healthy. Still the use of more automation equipment lags. Six percent of respondents noted that their warehouses use mobile robots or automatic guided vehicles. That’s less than the nearly 90 percent who use lift trucks at their facilities or 85 percent that use warehouse management systems.

Still, signs show that there will be more of a deployment of automation equipment. The average projected capex budget is on the upswing. Twenty-five percent of respondents did say that they added more automation.

Focus On e-Commerce

More automation coming to warehouse operations.
(Courtesy: Caribb at

However, the focus has been on e-commerce. A large number of respondents report a significant jump in e-commerce activity of 60 percent or more. Twenty-four percent of respondents claimed that they’ve experienced e-commerce growth of more than 30 percent, yet, less than 59 percent.

It is possible that the lack in an increase of automation use is because it takes time to realize what automation technologies to add. Many say that in this case, it is more appropriate to adjust existing systems or layout before investing in more automation.

Increased use of automation will come. That’s because e-commerce activity has exploded and many warehouses can’t find workers.

There has been a significant increase in automation technologies. They include mobile robots.

The pandemic has been on the mind of many warehouse managers. And it has influenced what they have done. For example, they are more concerned about how far apart workers should stand when punching their time cards, how many employees can occupy the break or lunch room at any one time and adding Plexiglas dividers between closely spaced work areas.