Passport Research: The state of warehouse automation

Warehouses and the humans on which they depend are under numerous pressures, from tight labor markets to viral outbreaks. It’s the perfect time to perform a quick check on the state of the warehousing industry, including capacity, rents, employment, automation and use cases for fully automated facilities.

Warehousing markets continue to be very healthy. Major markets like Atlanta and Chicago are building lots of new capacity, and vacancy rates in the most important Southern California markets are very low at 2.2%. What we’re most interested in — and we may cover this in more detail in the future — is the increasing segmentation of warehousing facilities by size and function. Catch a glimpse of how Amazon conceives of the different kinds of buildings in its physical network in the table to the right of this page.

In general, the level of automation and robotics that warehouses employ is fairly low and has fairly low dexterity. Much more hard technological work needs to be done to solve for some of the most vulnerable supply chains, including food’s cold chain and meat supply chain. And much more strategic thinking needs to be applied to implementing automation to ensure that facilities become more, not less, responsive, resilient and flexible as the proportion of robotic to human workers grows.

Finally, we examine the very limited pilots and projects involving completely “dark” warehouses that are 100% automated and consider which verticals have realistic use cases for these sorts of facilities.

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