Logistics is the backbone of the modern economy. As such, it’s constantly adapting and responding to market changes, from the introduction of new technologies to booms in product demand and declines in labour availability. Staying ahead of the competition — and customer demand — requires logistics and intralogistics businesses to be aware of the trends that are shaping their operations.

Mehul Patel, Chief Technology Officer of Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions, shares what he sees as the top trends driving Europe’s warehousing and logistics market forwards into the second half of 2023.

Space is a premium

A report from Savills highlighted that take-up of European warehouse space saw quarter-on-quarter growth in 2022 and remains close to the record-setting peak of 2021. This coincides with research from CBRE that available logistics space in Europe fell to a low in Q3 2022. Low availability and high demand are prompting warehouse operators to make each part of their warehouse as efficient as possible, allowing them to derive better value per square foot of real estate.

Warehouse operators are increasingly turning to solutions that allow them to make the most of their valuable warehouse space. Ergonomic workstations, vertical storage and retrieval systems and dynamic picking equipment are a handful of the technologies being advanced to tackle this pressing industry issue.

These technologies will only become more prominent as years pass – not only due to the competitiveness of the warehouse real estate market, but also because of the move towards smaller, last mile or local warehouse units to meet emerging quick commerce demand.

Use, reuse, optimise

The logistics sector is widely recognised as one of the biggest sources of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions globally. The exact impact of warehouses is difficult to determine – a recent meta-analysis calculated that warehouses account for, on average, one-fifth of total logistics emissions in the U.S. – but the topic of sustainability remains front-of-mind for operators.

Systems and equipment designed for energy efficiency and lower carbon operations are therefore becoming more prominent. For some technologies, improvements in energy efficiency come from designs featuring components with reduced power consumption. For others, systems include energy recovery mechanisms to reduce net energy consumption by reusing energy generated in the system, such as using kinetic energy from an automated material handling system to power a simple pick-and-place process.

Sustainability also emerges as a beneficial by-product of other developments. As more warehouse operators embrace dynamic material handling solutions as an alternative to certain fixed systems, the lighter weights can provide reduced power consumption. There is also potential for reduced space needs and less cooling, heating and lighting requirements due to fewer people. While, in practice, these possible benefits must be considered on balance against the total product handling capacity of each system, the emphasis on reducing energy consumption reinforces the importance the topic holds for warehouse operators.

Advanced scanning technology is on the rise

The ability to track assets through the supply chain and accurately monitor stock levels is invaluable for warehouse operators and brands alike. In March 2023, retailer John Lewis announced that it would be investing heavily in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to enhance stock visibility, allowing the company to better manage risk and consolidate operational costs.

For warehouse operators, RFID helps keep track of packages throughout the warehouse and the wider supply chain. However, the fast-moving nature of high-volume fulfilment centres can make RFID scanning a barrier to efficiency, unless properly implemented.

Efficiently bringing RFID into warehousing and logistics operations requires consideration of the scanning technology’s capabilities. RFID scanners with higher tag read rates and greater read ranges — for example, accurate reading from five or six metres away — are ideally suited to fast-paced environments. Ergonomic handheld designs also help warehouse workers to scan packages easily and quickly without impeding workflow.

Beyond RFID, warehouse operators are also adopting more efficient means of scanning and decoding various types of tags, including barcodes. Systems offering continuous scanning and batch scan functionality can help operators read all the necessary asset data in a highly efficient manner.

Supporting the workforce is a priority

Truly efficient operations within a warehouse environment are not simply about speed and throughput rates of machinery and hardware. A warehouse is only as efficient as its workforce, which is why we’re seeing some significant developments in productivity technologies for workers, such as wearable and handheld computing units, voice-enabled devices and digital technologies that span the distribution centre.

Even with an abundance of automation systems in place, staff are still required to complete several tasks while on the warehouse floor, such as scanning goods or looking up order and inventory information. To make these tasks safer and more efficient in the fast-paced warehouse environment, workers need to be able to work hands-free.

Wearable scanners, for example, allow staff to carry objects while on the move and only scan when needed. These devices need to be ruggedised, have low-latency connectivity and include advanced scanning technology that can quickly process data from all barcodes — even if they are damaged or incomplete.

More handheld devices are becoming available for warehouse operators to help staff operate effectively, efficiently and safely. These newer devices are making use of modern features such as voice technology and 5G connectivity while also boasting greater processing power than ever before, all of which help staff to productively manage their workflows on the go. And this will only become more important as a means of effectively managing workflows in increasingly digitised warehouse operations — according to Make UK, 80% of UK manufacturers are planning to increase their digital spend by 2024.

Each of these trends are united by an underlying need for greater efficiency in warehousing and logistics operations. The industry is clearly amid a period of upheaval and change, with numerous challenges affecting operations and an abundance of opportunities waiting to be realised.