423: Navigating Future-Ready Warehousing with Mark Wheeler of Zebra Technologies

We are thrilled to welcome Mark Wheeler, the Director of Supply Chain Solutions at Zebra Technologies, to today’s episode of The New Warehouse podcast. Zebra Technologies is at the forefront of developing state-of-the-art solutions to optimize productivity and efficiency in the warehousing industry. Mark joins us to delve into the game-changing findings of Zebra’s recent Warehousing Vision Study. Continue reading and tune in to the podcast for some actionable insights that could redefine how you approach warehousing.

The Pulse of the Industry: Shaping Future-Ready Warehousing

Mark explains, “We’ve been doing the vision study for a number of years now, and it has become an annual study, mostly due to the dynamic nature of the warehouse market that we’ve seen over the last five years.” The study’s value lies in its snapshot of the current state and its ability to track changes over time. By interviewing around 1,400 respondents globally, the research covers a broad spectrum of perspectives. In recent editions, the study expanded to include warehouse associates and decision-makers to provide a well-rounded perspective of what’s happening in the industry. 

Mark highlights one particularly insightful point from this year’s study: “We’re in a really interesting time, with regard to the warehouse market, with kind of a little bit of a pause in the rapid growth that we saw in the previous years.” The pause Mark refers to appears to be a temporary blip rather than a trend. 

While some major players are rethinking their expansion strategies, the underlying growth drivers, like e-commerce, are still robust. Technologies like RFID are gaining significant attention, showing that the industry is not standing still but evolving. Mark underscores the industry’s emphasis on “supply chain visibility and incorporating things like over-the-road visibility and yard management visibility into operations.”

The Path to Warehouse Automation

The shift toward warehouse automation has gained momentum due to evolving supply chain dynamics and the relentless growth of e-commerce. As Mark articulates, the path to automation involves multiple layers:

  • Understanding Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for setting operational goals
  • Prioritizing labor optimization through wearable technologies
  • Implementing intelligent mechanization for routine tasks
  • Investing in sensor technologies for enhanced operational visibility

These elements align technology with evolving service demands and operational efficiencies.

As the industry pivots, the focus shifts from merely expanding capacity to optimizing for cost and service. Companies are reassessing their physical locations, operational scale, and technology investments. In this transitional period, the emphasis is on a balanced approach that harmonizes labor, technology, and location to meet market demands. This adaptation represents a strategic step toward a more sustainable and efficient future in warehouse management.

Supply Chain Visibility in Future-Ready Warehousing

Achieving visibility enhances overall efficiency by providing real-time insights into the movement of goods, shipments, and inventory. It eliminates the frequent back-and-forths between departments and reduces uncertainty about shipment arrivals and the location of products within the yard. Enhanced visibility translates into better coordination and minimizes errors, significantly improving the supply chain operation.

Mark notes that RFID technology, in particular, is becoming a cornerstone for achieving supply chain visibility. Companies increasingly prioritize this technology as it benefits inventory accuracy, loss prevention, and overall operational effectiveness. Beyond RFID, the drive for better visibility pushes the adoption of various edge technologies and sensors. These technologies not only alleviate labor burdens but also add a layer of precision and speed to supply chain operations. Considering the increasing complexity and pace of the e-commerce landscape, the focus on inventory accuracy and visibility has become the top operational challenge, surpassing delivery speed. Investing in technologies will bring more visibility into supply chains, which is foundational for future success.

Key Takeaways on Future-Ready Warehousing

  • The shift in focus from rapid expansion to operational efficiency and technological integration suggests that the industry is moving towards a more sustainable and tech-driven future.
  • Companies are no longer solely focused on grabbing market share and space. Instead, they are actively re-strategizing, considering optimal locations, facility sizes, and effective technology implementation for automation and modernization.
  • Strategic investment in new technologies is crucial for operators to adapt and thrive in the evolving supply chain landscape.

Listen to the episode below and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Guest Information

For more information on Zebra Technologies, click here.

To connect with Mark on LinkedIn, click here.

For more information about Zebra Technologies, check out the podcasts below. 

Episode 325: Zebra’s Vision Study

Episode 313: Zebra Technologies at MODEX 2022

EP 255: 2022 Predictions from Zebra Technologies

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© The New Warehouse.
All rights reserved.