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LogiMAT is the biggest annual intralogistics exhibition in Europe. Picture MODEX, ProMat and a couple of other U.S. supply chain and material handling shows rolled into one. It is hosted in Stuttgart, Germany where ten large halls are filled with exhibitors to showcase everything from tape and cardboard boxes to AI-based warehouse optimization software. I like to attend LogiMAT every couple of years to see what is going on in Europe’s supply chain marketplace and uncover emerging trends in warehousing that might cross the Atlantic to change how North America manages logistics.
There were a ton of amazing technology innovations unveiled at LogiMAT – all presented, valued and justified in a very European-based way. I thought it might be interesting to a focus on these technology innovations and how they will impact warehouse management in the coming years. In my opinion, there are four specific emerging trends in warehousing that are new or have changed over prior years that should be noted.
The number of North American vendors exhibiting at LogiMAT was unprecedented in years past. I could have counted U.S. material handling vendors on one hand the last time I was here. However, this year a few of the big technology vendors, such as Manhattan, were exhibiting. After speaking to several attendees, my impression is there are two things impacting this emerging trend in warehousing. First, the North American vendors are seeing more acceptance from European customers to buy their technology solutions regardless of source, but more because of the capabilities, price, etc. This was noted in a recent KPMG insight, “As we emerge from the COVID-19 slowdown, many businesses recognize the need to better equip their supply chains by identifying alternative trading partnerships. They are actively seeking a broader list of suppliers, alternative markets/customers and alternative transport and logistics providers.” The second reason for this emerging trend in warehousing is the increase of European customers expanding their online research before making purchase decisions. This leads to non-European vendors getting more exposure and inquiries about their solutions. Naturally, LogiMAT is the perfect place to connect with these prospects. I think this is a great trend as technology vendors can learn a lot from the European marketplace and bring those lessons back to North America.
Digital twins are quickly becoming an emerging trend in warehousing. While the creation of a digital simulation of the supply chain has been a topic of conversation for a long time now, this is the first time I saw digital twins all over the exhibition. The key thing is that these twins are no longer something separate or discrete, but embedded in the main solutions being offered. For example, warehouse management system (WMS) vendors showing digital twins of the warehouse with areas of activity or backlog highlighted. This is an extremely valuable technology shift for anyone responsible for a smooth-running supply chain. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this emerging trend in warehousing continues to evolve.
Automation has been a warehouse trend in Europe for several years, and despite its growth in North America, we are still a long way in terms of adoption and use. An interesting software sector that is growing in Europe is automation optimization software, i.e., software that runs outside of the warehouse automation that optimizes single or multiple types of automation to create more throughput and increase efficiency. One example I saw was a solution using AI and forecasting to manage where totes are stored in an ASRS to create faster and more effective order fulfillment.
Notably the most unusual emerging trend in warehousing I want to share is a new item in warehouse personal protection equipment (PPE), namely personal exoskeletons. These are interconnected back and knee supports with pressure alarms connected to the joints. These exoskeletons are designed to fulfill two roles. The first role is to assist warehouse personnel with lifting boxes and cartons and the second role is to fire an alarm when the device detects a user attempting to lift more than the recommended weight carton. Exoskeletons are marketed as the next level in injury prevention in the warehouse. Something to look out for in our warehouses in North America.
As always, walking around LogiMAT never ceases to surprise and intrigue me. If you get the chance, I highly recommend a trip over to Stuttgart just to have your preconceptions challenged and see how European businesses are managing warehouses and the supply chain.