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Outlook 2022: The state of warehouse automation

Source:FoodPacific Manufacturing Journal     Date:2022-01-28
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In November 2021, global supply chain technology leader, Körber announced it will be installing an automated storage and retrieval system including software at Sineurope Pte Ltd, a supplier of premium-grade frozen and dried seafood.

Looking to upgrade its cold chain facility in Singapore, Sineurope invested in an automated high-bay warehouse consisting of a 31-meter-tall freezer-rated pallet stacker crane equipped with autonomous satellite vehicles (ASV). The system not only expands company's storage space, but helps in reducing energy use, thanks to the energy regenerative systems built into the stacker cranes. And even with a lean team working at the cold room storage, the company wil see productivity remain high with ASRS. 

Also earlier in 2021, Körber announced it had partnered with cold storage provider, BigBlue Logistics for an automated deep freeze warehouse in Cebu, Philippines. The design concept for BigBlue consisted of a -28°C automated high-bay warehouse with five 30-meter-tall automated storage and retrieval machines (ASRS/stacker crane). Space is optimised by allowing higher storage density per square meter. The stacker cranes also contain energy recuperation units, reducing energy consumption by up to 35%. This, combined with the new warehouse’s smaller footprint, reduces heat loss, meaning less energy is required to cool the building. The system is controlled by Körber’s warehouse control system (WCS) which interfaces with the customer’s SAP HANA system.

The investment allows BigBlue to expand its operations within their property, as well as also addresses the company’s health and safety concerns at the site.

These are just two of many projects that show the growing need for automated warehousing in Southeast Asia. According to Chai Win Thian, CEO Automation Asia, Körber Business Area Supply Chain, manufacturers are now also looking to improve their sustainability as consumers seek this. In this interview with FoodPacific Manufacturing Journal, Mr Chai adds more on the state of warehouse automation in the region:


Chai Win Thian, CEO Automation Asia, Körber Business Area Supply Chain


Could you share some of your observations about warehouse automation use in the F&B sector?

In this challenging environment, success is based on agility, efficiency, and excellence. Up until the pandemic, warehousing had been highly dependent on human labor in the region. But over the last two years, we have observed a significant penetration of automation in the sector. With the uncertainty that COVID-19 created, food and beverage warehouses require increased storage and throughput to fulfill the growing demand. With more people working from home, consumers are also spending more on food and beverage products for home consumption during this period. Prior to the pandemic, access to labour to work in the warehouse was already an ongoing challenge to business owners. It is important to deliver high quality across the entire supply chain, driven by labor availability and the cost of human errors. Hence, automated solutions play a significant part in this remodel solution. In addition, companies are deploying automated technologies to create safer work environments by reducing human interaction while enhancing and increasing quality and productivity.  

Are there hard lessons from the past year, and how has the pandemic impacted the supply chain? 

As many countries now learn to live with COVID-19, they are also on the path to economic recovery.  Many companies are finding it challenging to bring back the workforce as the demand for goods and services increases. This is especially the case for organisations that had to downsize their operations when their business was badly affected last year. Many of these companies realised that they cannot conduct their business the same way they did before the pandemic and are now looking towards automation for the solution.

The other big impact that we see on the supply chain is the longer lead times and increase in cost across many verticals brought about by this pandemic.

The pandemic taught many business owners that just depending on human labor alone is risky. The supply chain providers had to rethink their warehouse layouts to enable physical distancing between workers which also affected productivity. This unprecedented stresses on supply chains, especially food and beverage which saw immediate impacts, resulted in disruptions. The companies faced a challenge to upscale their throughput with the existing infrastructure but with reduced labour capacity. By contrast, the higher automated processes/operations did not face the same level of disruption compared to manual operations. To win the supply chain battle during the pandemic, required resilience, strong risk management processes and digital and automation capabilities are some of the strategies that can prepare us to respond better to such situations.

What new trends will shape automated warehouse in the Southeast Asian region in 2022?

We see the demand for cold storage services continue to grow in the ASEAN region and companies continue to face a very tight labor market with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of labor to work in a sub-zero environment has always been very tight and it is now made worse. The recent investments from our customers such as BigBlue Logistics Corporation for the very first automated high-bay freezer warehouse in Cebu, Philippines and Sineurope for a multi-deep automated high-bay freezer warehouse in Singapore indicate the growth in need for a temperature-controlled environment for integrating supply chains and creating value addition to customers.

In addition, sustainability and energy efficiency remain a high priority, especially for facilities storing products in a temperature-controlled environment. As a result of these challenges, it is expected that a lot of F&B players across the globe are going to automate their logistics and warehouse facilities at a faster pace compared to a few years ago. 

What can companies expect from Körber in 2022?

In the year ahead, our focus areas would be Food & Beverage and Cold Chain. Compared to 2021, in 2022, a higher CAGR is expected in the ASEAN region for these sectors. We aim to address the various capacity, throughput and storage density challenges with our diverse automated storage and retrieval solutions. We are also happy to share that Körber is expanding its team in the region rapidly to service customers better with the plan to establish offices in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2022 due to demand. We always strive to deliver future-proof solutions to our customers worldwide and be a partner in their journey to digital transformation.

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