Warehouse Shelving: Shifts in Best Practices in 2021 and Beyond

Efficient and sturdily constructed warehouse shelving will remain crucial in light of current and future supply chain trends, like the fulfillment robots pictured here.

2020 was an unprecedented year, followed by 2021, which has somehow been even more turbulent for many individuals, cities, states, and even countries. New infrastructure solutions are necessary for basic societal functionality, and one of the biggest operational revolutions today is taking place in and around industries that store or ship goods.

Warehouse shelving is not the kind of thing people tend to think as a revolutionary aspect of modern society, but supply chain lines rely on storage. If optimal conditions can’t be met, the result is operational blockages that prevent society, warehouses, retailers, sellers, and shippers from either functioning in their normal capacity, reaching target goals, and so on.

Here we’re briefly going to explore what these changes will look like, how they already look, and what this means for the future. You may be surprised to discover just how far certain digital optimization changes have gone. So with these things in mind, we’ll consider the following:

  • A Marked Increase in Automation & Digital Warehousing
  • Pandemic Spurs On-Demand Shipping & Storage Issues
  • Expanded Transparency & Visibility Through IoT Technology
  • The Robotic Element
  • Micro-Fulfillment & Ecommerce Complications
  • Space, Resilience, & Agility Changes
Drones like the one shown in this rendering will become more common throughout the logistics pipeline as automation picks up steam.

A Marked Increase in Automation & Digital Warehousing: Full Automation within a Decade

One big thing that’s coming with increasing rapidity is digital warehousing. A variety of automated robots and IoT (Internet of Things) devices will soon manage warehouse shelving in a way that virtually eliminates the need for previous methods of management. Certainly oversight in some physical capacity will be necessary, but not in a way as involved as has been the case until now.

Even so, this shift will take time. Current prognostications say that by 2031, you should expect some warehouses to be fully automated. Many Amazon centers are already more automated than people realize is possible. This trend will compound in the next few years. 

Pandemic-Related Warehousing Initiates On-Demand Shipping & Storage Issues

Lockdowns, mandates, and other events in the last two years have made it necessary for many people to conduct shopping from their homes through the web, increasing on-demand shipping needs.

What this means is that warehouses must conduct statistical analyses of high-demand goods so they can stock them in advance. This will change how warehouse shelving is managed, how delivery is done, and many fundamental aspects of warehouse management overall.

Industry 4.0 heavily involves the Internet of Things. This image represents how via a mobile device, IoT technology allows a warehouse manager to remotely control robots, communicate with personnel, access inventory stored in the cloud, etc.

Expanded Transparency & Visibility Through IoT Technology

IoT technology was mentioned earlier, and it’s worth noting that through such tech, increased visibility for clientele and management personnel becomes available. With the tap of a touchscreen device and proper use of an associated app, a package’s delivery and transit can be monitored minute by minute. This means more visibility and transparency. Accordingly, organization of warehouse shelving will increasingly include IoT-enabled tech for such transparent visibility.

The Robotic Element: It’s Here and Not Going Anywhere

Forward-thinking warehouse shelving and design should take into account the rise of automation in product delivery, storage, and management. We mentioned how Amazon is pioneering this technology within their premises; in certain communities, externalized robotic delivery is also on the table. In Oakland, CA, food delivery robots are already in service. That trend is expected to continue to gain momentum in the coming year and beyond.

More and more frequently, customers are relying on being able to make purchases via their computers, tablets, and mobile devices, like this woman is doing with her smartphone.

Micro-Fulfillment & Ecommerce Complications

To that end, as statistics and automation streamline acquisition, storage, and delivery of goods, it is to be expected that micro-fulfillment within urban areas in proximity to customers will reduce much complication and delay. The Thomas Insights blog provides a good definition of the concept: “a distribution strategy that involves placing small warehouses within highly populated cities, and some retailers are starting to set up their own small-scale fulfillment centers in-store.”

Amazon has led the charge in the United States, building out its network of Fulfillment Centers to reduce shipping times and enable same-day delivery in some cases. Walmart explored such options in their retail stores, though these “giant web-based vending machines” were short-lived. Even so, more retailers are expected to experiment with micro-fulfillment. What this represents is cost-effective, scalable automation that can make the time between order, delivery, and pickup only a few hours. Efficient warehouse shelving will play a major role in the sustainability of this on-demand approach.

Space, Resilience, & Agility Changes

Warehouse shelving needs will increase based on remote materials acquisition and storage. More stock will be necessary to facilitate micro-fulfillment and avoid the supply chain disruptions and shipping delays of the past two years. Stock expansion increases needed space, and together these things will force many local companies to re-imagine their warehouse shelving and storage solutions.

Material Handling Companies Who Understand

It becomes important to structure warehouse spaces and operations utilizing information and best practices from companies who not only understand what’s presently going on in relation to the pandemic, but what’s coming as a result of these changes.

This will mean new storage racks, mezzanines, wire partitions, modular drawer cabinets, systems for pallet racks that facilitate easy shipping and installation, and the list goes on. In the northeastern United States, Greystone Equipment provides just these sorts of solutions.

Working with companies like Greystone will help your warehouse retain viability, profitability, and optimal operations despite unexpected shifts in the industry that are hard to predict, and even harder to avoid. Serving the greater Philadelphia areas of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, our many services and products can help you keep up with the times, from pallet rack installation to space-saving modular storage for your warehouse. Contact us today and we’ll help your company build a better present and future.