How is the drive for warehouse automation impacting the jobs sector?
Post Covid and the continuing shift to e-commerce, (supplier-to-consumer delivery model) Global warehousing space has exploded with projections of worldwide numbers of warehouses reaching 185,000 in 2025, rising from 167,000 in 2023. This global demand for space is being echoed in the UK but the exit from Europe has exacerbated the demand with many transport, logistics and warehousing companies looking to re-shore their businesses.
Data from ONS suggests that the UK has seen an increase of 88% in transport and storage sectors, from 2011 to 2021, with the West Midlands seeing the majority of the expansion, and now branded as the Golden Logistics Triangle.
Businesses are attempting to get as close to their customers as logistically possible and this is compounded by the need to reduce their carbon impact, pushing rents up and placing increasing pressure on the local workforce. Transport and Storage is now the largest industry in parts of West Midlands, East of England and Yorkshire and the Humber. This being said, the challenges faced in finding staff, to meet the needs in the sector, are falling well behind the growth in premises and availability of work.
This is forcing the implementation of automation technology with companies like Kivnon to celebrate in July this year the production and installation of the 5000th mobile robot, this business launched in the UK in 2017 and provides innovation in AGV (Automated Guided Vehicles) these vehicles are guided by software and predestined paths around a facility.
Automated Guided Carts – often found in sorting, storage and cross-docking applications to reduce the reliance on labour.
Unit Load Carriers – Moving pallets or tote-loaded multiple items.
Heavy Towing Carriers – used in places like large print facilities and move heavy loads over longer distances.
Forklift and Towing AGVs – large warehouses needing movement of stock from heights.
Tugger AGVs – the movement of heavy loads in a factory or plant taking in predetermined stops.
In Conclusion, the challenges faced in finding good staff in the warehousing and logistics sector have been the driving force behind the innovation in AGV and the opportunity to reduce headcount and the need for human labour. This has tended to impact the larger facilities initially but we could see this eventually moving into the independent SME space if the availability of high quality staff doesn’t improve in the UK.