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The warehouse of the future

A guest article by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics about future challenges of modern warehousing and how they can be managed.

Fraunhofer | Institut | Material flow | Warehouse | Logistics | Logistik Life | Wanko | | Article by Tobias von Preetzmann; wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft, Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik IML, Kira Schmeltzpfenning, wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik IML
Das Lager der Zukunft
FLIP® - Flexible Lifter for Intralogistics and Production (© Fraunhofer IML)

Never before has technological development progressed as quickly as it does today. In logistics in particular, this technological progress offers enormous potential for the future, which must be exploited in order to meet the challenges of the future. An ever broader and faster changing product spectrum with volatile demands, increasing individualization and shorter response and delivery times, globalization and urbanization result in an ever increasing freight volume and higher performance requirements of the warehouses. On the other hand, there is a growing shortage of skilled employees due to demographic change.

More work with less manpower can only be achieved to a certain extent by optimizing existing processes. Performance increases beyond this point require the use of new processes and technologies that are fit for the future. This is precisely where the question "What does future viability mean?" arises. Considering the general conditions mentioned at the beginning, a warehouse with future-proof processes and technologies must be able to cope with the challenges that arise due to changes in the environment and the market. The warehouse of the future must therefore have a high degree of flexibility, both in the general storage capacity and performance as well as in the individual handling processes, in order to be able to react quickly to changing circumstances.

Flexible and scalable storage and conveying technologies are suitable for this purpose, which enable short-term, temporary increases in performance through plug & play procedures. Classic automated small parts warehouses (AS/RS) with stacker cranes are being replaced by AS/RS with shuttle solutions in favor of scalability. Storage technologies such as the AutoStore® system provide compact storage in a small footprint and offer the ability to expand capacity and speed on the fly. The Skypod system from Exotec Solutions combines the advantages of an automated guided vehicle system with shuttle-based storage technology. The mobile robots remove goods containers from shelves up to 10 meters high and transport them even outside the warehouse technology all the way to the order pickers.

Applied research institutes such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML are also working on storage and conveyor technology that can completely dispense with the surrounding infrastructure, the fixed steel structure. With the help of SAM, the "Stack Access Machine," for example, individual containers can be removed fully automatically from piled-up stacks in the future. FLIP® (Flexible Lifter for Intralogistics and Production) is another driverless transport vehicle for low-infrastructure logistics. It has an innovative load pick-up concept (patent pending) that can pick up containers and container stacks from the ground with minimal actuator effort.

Current developments show that "the less infrastructure, the more flexible the warehouse can adapt to changing requirements!"

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