Today’s warehouses look very different from those of past decades. Driven by the rise of e-commerce, molded by increased competition, and enabled by technological innovations, the modern warehouse has taken center-stage, handling more complex tasks than just simple storage.
The creation of the modern consumer
The rise of Amazon and e-commerce has given consumers greater choice. As a result, warehouses and fulfillment centers must now handle many different types of materials and products across a variety of stock-keeping units (SKUs). At the same time, these facilities must also maintain peak efficiency in their operations, but without sacrificing operational flexibility.
In order to handle the greater amount and variety of SKUs, warehouses need more storage space. But expanding horizontally often carries too great a cost for budget-conscious directors. In fact, the trend is to reduce warehouse footprints, as doing so can shave up to 65% off operating costs.
One way that warehouses have sought to expand their storage capacity without increasing their footprint is by building taller racking. Whereas in the 1970s, the typical racking height was 20 feet, the evolving standard is a whopping 36 feet. This upward growth provides a particular benefit in space-strapped, expensive areas like Los Angeles.
Another strategy warehouses have used is reducing the space between aisles in order to fit more racking into the same space. This has resulted in the creation of very-narrow aisles (VNAs), which can increase storage capacity by 40-50%.
The consequence of both of these warehousing trends is expanded demand for material handling equipment designed to reach these new heights and fit into these new, smaller spaces. Thus, tall-mast reach trucks and very-narrow aisles machines like articulating and swing-mast forklifts are becoming increasingly popular in the modern warehouse.
How industrial lithium batteries enable warehouses to boost storage space
Lithium-ion batteries are particularly well suited to help warehouses adapt to these dual trends of reducing facility footprints while increasing reliance on specialized material handling equipment.
For one, using li-ion batteries eliminates the need for costly battery storage areas. This allows companies to repurpose their existing industrial battery warehouse space to accommodate more storage area or eliminate future construction costs altogether.
The root reason for this is that li-ion batteries provide greater run times and faster charging cycles than lead-acid industrial forklift batteries. Consequently, they do not have to be changed multiple times per shift, eliminating both the need for spare batteries and the space to store them.
In addition to the space-saving advantage, li-ion batteries have the ability to work across a wide swath of specialized material handling equipment, like the aforementioned tall-mast reach trucks and articulating forklifts.
Labor shortages and budgetary pressure
Another warehousing trend prompted by the demands of the modern consumer is a shift from centralized warehouses to regional hubs. Warehouses have felt the need to make this change in order to improve delivery times, given the expectation of two-day delivery established years ago by Amazon Prime.
However, in moving closer to customer bases, warehouse directors have found two problems—a shortage of workers and higher costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training the workers they do find.
Both of these problems have been compounded recently, given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting pressure has forced facilities to raise their wages in order to recruit and retain scarce warehouse workers, further straining their already-tight budgets.
In order to reduce their reliance on expensive and difficult-to-source labor, while also maximizing productivity to meet consumer demands, many warehouses are increasing their use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs).
How li-ion batteries enable facilities to achieve maximum productivity with automated material handling equipment
AGVs are electric vehicles and thus require batteries for power. And, where lithium battery systems really shine is in their compatibility with AGVs and other automated equipment. There are multiple reasons for this.
For one, li-ion batteries have quick-charge capabilities, enabling longer operating hours without incurring the life-reducing effects of opportunity charging that is associated with lead-acid forklift batteries. In fact, lithium battery cycles can span up to 3,000 charges as opposed to 1,500 for lead-acid batteries.
Additionally, using li-ion power means having a no maintenance battery system, eliminating the need for daily upkeep as is required with lead-acid batteries. And, where problems do arise, an integrated battery management system can immediately alert facility operators so corrective measures can be taken.
The warehousing industry has experienced an upheaval in recent years. Emerging trends have placed unprecedented pressure on existing structures and solutions, forcing a change in the function and configuration of the modern warehouse.
Much of this change has been enabled by emerging technologies, especially next-generation power systems like li-ion batteries. For companies who need to keep up with the pace of modern commerce, adopting li-ion technology solutions can be a major step forward.