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Tom Wilkerson: How e-commerce impacts on materials handling

Wednesday, 11 Jul 2018 ( #881 )
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Tom Wilkerson
Tom Wilkerson is CEO of which offers OSHA-approved forklift training for a wide variety of industries, including transportation, construction, telecommunications, warehouse & storage, logistics, and many others.

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In 2017, e-commerce sales in the United States surged 16%, keeping pace with the recent trends of double-digit growth. Activity from Amazon alone moved the needle in spectacular e-commerce sales figures, but other retailers and distribution companies were responsible for yet another impressive annual performance of the e-commerce sector.

According to most analysts, e-commerce sales should continue to achieve impressive benchmarks. By 2021, for example, global e-commerce sales are expected to reach USD4.5 trillion. That’s trillion, with a "t"!

For consumers and producers, it’s certainly an exciting time. But what about distributors, warehouses, shipping terminals and other logistics-related entities?

For them, it’s a challenging time. With demand at an all-time high, it’s imperative that warehouses have materials handling under control. From more efficient cargo storage methods to streamlined shipping, warehouses require more flexibility than ever before.

How does this affect daily warehouse operations? Strong e-commerce sales figures are having everyone rethink basic warehouse procedures, including:
· Staffing: Materials handling managers, warehouse supervisors and others need to find a balance between handling oversized demand while also paying attention to their bottom line. Due to the e-commerce revolution, it’s not uncommon for warehouses to expand shifts, increase supervisory presence, and much more.
· Equipment demands:   More cargo means more equipment to handle, store, ship, and manage the significant demand. This equipment includes everything from forklifts and manlifts to smaller devices such as scanners.
· Agile, responsive infrastructure:   Materials handling requires not just more space, but "smarter" space. Optimising existing warehouse space sometimes translates to higher shelves, narrower aisles, and generally less wasted real estate. As e-commerce continues to stretch the capabilities of distribution centres, clever planning and management techniques are more important than ever before.
· The automated effect:   Even the best warehouse workers can’t handle the enormous demands that e-commerce activity presents all on their own. A co-ordinated effort between automation and effective personnel can help alleviate the significant demand from e-commerce activity. But here’s something all warehouse management experts should know: robots and automation aren’t obsoleting forklift jobs and other materials handling staff anytime soon. Even with the e-commerce boom, competent employees are – and will remain – absolutely essential to all smooth-running distribution centres.
· The always dependable forklift: Forklifts will continue to spearhead warehouse operations. Today’s lifts are designed to handle a heavy (and hectic) workload. From traditional combustion engine forklifts to quiet-running electric models, warehouses need a reliable and dependable fleet of forklifts – and well-trained operators to ensure safety and efficiency, regardless of e-commerce demand.

These are just some of the challenges – and opportunities – presented by e-commerce demand. How your own warehouse handles these unique hurdles will determine your materials handling operation’s long-term outlook.
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