by Pat Nolan | 11/06/2019
Honeywell, a longstanding giant of the warehousing technology market, has recently disclosed its plans to take the supply chain’s evolving demands head-on. On October 24th of this year the company unveiled Honeywell Robotics, a robotics innovation hub and center of excellence to be built in Pittsburgh. Per Honeywell’s announcement, the new facility “will help shape the warehouse and distribution center of the future, particularly as companies look to automated solutions, software and robotics to deliver increased speed, accuracy and throughput in complex material handling environments.” This will be achieved through the innovation and development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision and advanced robotics.
This announcement comes at a pivot moment for both Honeywell and the warehousing industry. For Honeywell, whose warehouse-focused Safety and Productivity Solutions portfolio has appeared more vulnerable to competition in recent years, the robotics innovation hub provides an advantageously readjusted strategic approach to supply chain markets. The company’s Safety and Productivity Solutions line – mobile devices, thermal printing solutions, data collection, asset management software solutions and more – has lost some footing in its dominant position due to lagging product innovation that has been outpaced by its competitors. To recoup, the investment in Honeywell Robotics will allow the company to get ahead of and prepare for the impending robotics and automation boom in warehouse and distribution center environments.
For the warehousing industry, the new center of excellence focused on AI, machine learning, computer vision and robotics comes as its growing operations need these technologies to remedy its most pressing issues. VDC’s upcoming Modernizing the Warehouse report finds that the top mobile investment priorities for warehousing decision makers are to increase picking efficiency (47.9%), increase employee productivity (47.9%) and improve the efficient use of limited warehouse/DC space (35.6%). The first two are year-over-year carryovers and not surprising. However, the latter priority – improving the efficient use of limited space – is a new contender that highlights a critical concern for distribution efforts today.
Just last year, running out of space was at the bottom of the list of this sector’s tech investment priorities. The decades-long expansion of warehouse sizes and locations seems to have come close to full capacity – businesses are running out of space. The sector is thriving; as a consequence, warehouse and DC space vacancies have hit record lows. With limited space to grow into in the near future, operations instead need to totally optimize existing space. VDC also reports in its Modernizing the Warehouse study that the mean number of SKUs managed by warehousing operations has skyrocketed since last year, further exacerbating the space conundrum.
Lastly, relevant decision makers say that their top labor concern moving forward by far is a lack of skilled labor. As the shortage of labor and space continues to stunt the growth potential of warehouse and DC operations, the technology categories that Honeywell Robotics intends to focus on and innovate are sure to find themselves in the automation strategies of many industry stakeholders. In the near-term, warehousing respondents claim that the most common elements of automation present at their organizations over the next twelve months will be automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), IoT-driven automation and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs).
For more information on the technology trends and market forces at play across the warehousing landscape download the executive brief for VDC Research’s upcoming report, Modernizing the Warehouse, available now for download here.