Article

Revolutionizing Grocery Warehousing with Automation

By
Surdhani Gupta
July 2, 2024
Robotics in Grocery Automation

At a Glance

  • Market expected to grow from USD 30,879M (2019) to USD 114,923M (2026), CAGR of 19.0%.
  • Automation helps address labor shortages and high turnover rates
  • Matsmart's 149 AutoStore robots increased capacity threefold, picking 6,000 items per hour.
  • Automation enables some retailers to deliver fresh produce within 24 hours.
  • Automated systems like AutoStore use energy-efficient technologies, reducing carbon footprints for environment friendly practices.

Warehouse automation has become an essential strategy for grocery retailers looking to meet the ever-growing demands of e-commerce. As digital grocery shopping continues to rise, the need for efficient, accurate, and scalable solutions has never been more critical. This article explores the various aspects of warehouse automation, its benefits, and the technologies driving this transformation.

The Rising Demand for e-Grocery Solutions

The past few years have seen a significant acceleration in the demand for on-the-day or next-day food delivery services, boosting the eGrocery sector. Unlike traditional grocery stores, grocery retailers must handle order picking themselves, which can involve many items. This process is labor-intensive and eats into profits, with a typical operating margin of minus 15%. According to research by Technology News Industry, the global e-grocery market, valued at approximately USD 30,879 million in 2019, is expected to surge to USD 114,923 million by 2026, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.0% from 2020 to 2026. This rapid growth is driven by increasing consumer awareness of new shopping trends and the rising demand for convenience due to busy lifestyles and work schedules.

To maximize profitability, grocery operations need a robust infrastructure that includes an easy-to-use online ordering platform, an efficient order picking and packing system, and a rapid delivery service. Automated grocery warehouses can help grocery companies achieve these goals in several ways, particularly in addressing challenges like the high cost of fulfillment (reported by 73% of grocers) and logistics (83% of grocers).

Key Benefits of Warehouse Automation

Reducing Human Error for Greater Order Accuracy

Automated systems significantly reduce the likelihood of human errors. By utilizing Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) in combination with digital Warehouse Control Systems (WCS), eGrocery warehouses can achieve consistently accurate order picking. This reduces customer complaints, and returns, and enhances inventory accuracy. 

Accelerating Delivery to Meet Customer Expectations

The pandemic has heightened customer expectations for fast home delivery of various products. Automation, such as robotics-based ASRS systems, reduces the overall footprint of warehouse activities, allowing more orders to be processed simultaneously and improving inventory management. As per an article in supermarketnews.com The future of grocery automation: Four trends in fresh, some retailers have managed to deliver fresh produce from farm to shelf in less than 24 hours thanks to these advancements.

Optimizing Labor Costs

Automation helps address labor shortages and reduces the need for manual labor, which is especially important given the high turnover rates in the industry. Automated systems save space and reduce real estate costs. For example, Matsmart, a Swedish surplus food firm, increased its capacity threefold with the help of 149 AutoStore robots, achieving 6,000 picked items per hour.

Supporting Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming a crucial aspect for consumers and businesses alike. Automated systems like AutoStore use energy-efficient technologies, such as rechargeable batteries in robots, which consume less energy. This not only reduces the carbon footprint but also aligns with the growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly practices.

Enhancing Efficiency in Controlled Environments

Certain groceries need to be stored at specific temperatures. Automated systems like AutoStore can operate efficiently within a wide range of temperatures, ensuring that products remain fresh and safe. This flexibility is crucial for maintaining high standards of product quality.

Advanced Technologies in Warehouse Automation

Warehouse automation encompasses a range of advanced technologies designed to optimize various aspects of operations. Here are some key technologies:

Automated Material Handling Equipment

Conveyor systems, robotic arms, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are used to move and sort products within the warehouse. These systems improve accuracy and reduce the time and effort required to handle items. 

Inventory Management Systems

Advanced inventory management systems track and manage inventory levels in real time, helping optimize stocking levels and reduce waste.

Voice-Activated Picking Systems

These systems allow workers to pick orders using voice commands, improving accuracy and reducing errors. They can be used in conjunction with wearable technology to provide real-time guidance and feedback.

Automated Packaging Systems

Automated packaging systems prepare orders quickly and accurately, reducing preparation time and effort.

Brightpick’s AI-Powered Robotic Solutions

Brightpick is revolutionizing e-commerce and e-grocery fulfillment in warehouses with its state-of-the-art AI-powered robotic solution. Brightpick drives efficiency by automating critical processes such as picking, order consolidation, and dispatching. By providing a comprehensive end-to-end solution developed in-house, Brightpick enables optimized cost management, improved predictability, reduced picking errors, and substantial labor savings.

Brightpick's journey began with the creation of their own 3D camera, an AI engine for robotic picking, and an autonomous mobile robot platform. This technology amalgamation culminated in their flagship robot, Brightpick Autopicker, capable of robotically picking and consolidating orders directly in warehouse aisles. 

The Brightpick Autopicker is the only mobile robot in the world that robotically picks and consolidates orders directly in the warehouse aisles. It can also be used for other important tasks such as goods-to-person picking, stock replenishment, and dynamic slotting. Brightpick Intuition, their software, orchestrates and optimizes the entire robot fleet, ensuring efficiency and accuracy in operations.

To read a detailed article featuring insights from the CEO of the company, please visit Grocery Doppio: Brightpick’s AI-Powered Robots Drive Unprecedented Cost Savings.

Real-World Applications and Case Studies

Several leading grocery retailers have successfully implemented warehouse automation to enhance their operations. For instance an article by McKinsey: Automation in European Grocers’ Supply Chains Has Reached Its Tipping Point mentions that Jumbo operates a 45,000-square-meter, WITRON-automated logistics center capable of performing up to two million case picks per week. Similarly, REWE's automated warehouse can handle up to 165,000 cases on peak days, reducing handling efforts in stores. 

In the eGrocery sector, companies are increasingly adopting micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) to streamline logistics. For example, Albertsons uses Takeoff Technologies to achieve about 800 item picks per hour in its automated micro-fulfillment center. REWE's e-food distribution center, equipped with KNAPP shuttle technology, enhances performance with its 17,000 square meters and 20,000 SKUs. 

Overcoming Challenges in Grocery Warehousing

The grocery industry faces several challenges, including rising labor costs, supply chain disruptions, and the need for sustainability. Automation addresses these issues by improving efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing sustainability.

For example, a modular, scalable automation system can be tailored to fit any facility footprint and expanded as the business grows. This approach allows grocers to introduce automation which will make the biggest impact and gradually expand their implementation.

Future Directions: Embracing Advanced Logistics

The future of grocery shopping hinges on the strategic integration of advanced logistics and warehousing solutions. As discussed in the article by Grocery Doppio “4 Major Players Leveraging Warehouse Automation in Digital Grocery”, by embracing innovations in grocery warehousing and logistics, the grocery industry can navigate the challenges of online shopping, ensuring profitability, sustainability, and enhanced customer experiences. 

Automation is expected to continue evolving, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics. These technologies will further enhance the capabilities of automated systems, making them more efficient and adaptable to changing market needs .

Conclusion

Warehouse automation is revolutionizing the grocery industry by addressing key challenges and meeting the evolving demands of consumers. From reducing human error and accelerating delivery times to optimizing labor costs and supporting sustainability, automation offers numerous benefits. Early adopters of these technologies will enjoy significant long-term advantages, positioning themselves at the forefront of the digital grocery market.

As the grocery industry evolves, embracing advanced logistics and warehousing solutions will be crucial for maintaining competitiveness and ensuring customer satisfaction. Automated grocery warehouses are not just the future of online food retail; they are necessary for grocers looking to thrive in a rapidly changing market.