Seven logistics trends to look out for in 2023
The logistics sector has been characterised by many economic, technological and societal challenges in recent years, and market players have been required to provide a great deal of flexibility and scalability. And while the biggest question at present is how the economy will develop, notwithstanding market fluctuations, one can still see a number of deeper trends. What are the most significant of these that managers will have to prepare for in 2023? Together with Eric Vandenbussche, CEO of Logflow, we've taken a closer look at seven major trends.
1. SMEs are also opting to introduce automation and robotisation
The automation and robotisation of flows of goods in warehouses continues to rise unabated. The rise in automation projects that we have witnessed is primarily due to the many changes that are occurring at a rapid pace, including the growth of e-commerce, labour shortages and the decreasing availability of land.
A new trend is that it is not only the large companies but also the medium sized enterprises that are settling for a comprehensive form of automation, marking a permanent and accelerated automation revolution.
In 2023 we will also see greater interest in robots/automation-as-a-service models (RaaS/AaaS). When robots are rented instead of purchased, they become more affordable for and accessible to companies. That means SMEs and new companies can easily engage in automation and make funds available for further growth.
2. There is a greater focus on elastic logistics chains
The supply chains have experienced highly volatile fluctuations over the last two years due to issues such as the global consequences of the Covid pandemic, the Suez Canal blockage, the explosion of container shipping rates and temperamental consumer demands (such as the rapid acceleration of e-commerce and its subsequent sudden slower growth). As a result, there will be a greater focus on elastic logistics chains in 2023, especially with respect to the ability to quickly shrink or expand logistical capacity according to marketplace changes.
That also has an impact on warehouse automation. The disruptive changes in the industry have resulted in a clear trend towards flexible automation. The latest generation of warehouses exhibit a higher level of automation together with greater flexibility, versatility and scalability. Both storage capacity and the ability of a warehouse to react must be able to be changed in a relatively simple manner on the basis of the changing market.
3. Staff shortages have resulted in the profile of required staff changing
Staff shortages will remain the biggest concern for logistics companies in 2023. Efforts are being ramped up to attract and train more people from disadvantaged groups. Companies are also trying to fill the shortfall using automation. But, as opposed to what was once believed, humans are indispensable, even in an automated environment, which is why robot and cobot-based automation is mostly used to simplify life for the staff.
It does remain essential that people with the right technological knowledge are attracted and that current staff are sufficiently upskilled. That is why companies will be investing more in training in 2023.
The job of the warehouse manager is also changing. Until now, their principal task involved walking around the warehouse and maintaining a good connection with the staff, but now they must also be able to work with high-tech systems and interpret master data.
In due course, the simpler jobs will be taken over by robots, but staff will always be required when it comes to decision-making.
4. The link between production and logistics is narrowing
Manufacturers are continuously growing towards Industry 4.0, which also means changes to how they work with cobots, AGVs AMRs and everything else. That also makes the link between production and logistics an increasingly important one, with the warehouse becoming an extension of a manufacturing centre. The same technologies used in the latter can also be applied in the former, which will have a very large impact on how warehouses are run.
This trend is also boosted by the growing interest in nearshoring, with an increasing number of companies planning to manufacture products locally or closer to their markets, which will help to lessen the reliance on China and reduce the impact of disruptions to the global logistics chains, as well as tackling other issues.
5. The growing importance of qualitative data
As supply chain digitisation rises, so does the emphasis on data intelligence. But it is evident that at present many companies still have insufficient relevant data available and the quality thereof is frequently below standard.
That means there will be a greater focus in 2023 on accumulating and analysing data – a crucial move, given that companies are able to identify patterns and trends through data analytics that can help to improve activities and decision-making.
While AI and machine learning in logistics mean the improved allocation of resources, optimising activities and better customer service, they are long-term goals. The initial focus will be on acquiring and processing sufficient qualitative data.
6. The goal of sustainability is becoming more important
Companies are increasingly considering their environmental footprint, which means that many of them understand that their logistics chains must also become more sustainable.
Wherever possible, solar panels are mounted on warehouse roofs in order to decrease reliance on gas for heating and for other power requirements.
Robot-controlled automation in turn ensures that energy is used in the most efficient manner.
Meanwhile, by making new warehouses taller, land is saved.
A number of logistics companies have also started preparing for the energy transition, looking at ways to use green energy in the future to, for example, charge electric trucks.
7. The need for visibility and transparency is growing
In 2023 companies will be investing more in real time visibility in the supply chain. Disruptions to supply chains witnessed in recent years have been a painful reminder of the need for correct information that is quickly available.
More work will also be devoted to transparency across the supply chain in order to reduce risks. This not only means the risks of bottlenecks and interruptions, but also ethical and ecological risks. Companies wish to avoid being impacted by, for example, shady practices in part of their supply chain, such as human trafficking or environmental damage.