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Revolutionizing Warehousing: From Ancient Storage to AI-Driven Efficiency and Innovation

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Revolutionizing Warehousing: From Ancient Storage to AI-Driven Efficiency and Innovation


The warehousing industry has undergone a remarkable transformation over the years, evolving to meet the ever-changing demands of global trade. In this article, we will explore the history of warehousing, types of warehouses, the types of products being stored today, and fundamental advances such as refrigeration, container shipping, and the rise of e-commerce. We’ll also delve into the modern era of warehousing, the role of computers and specialized software, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), and future trends in warehouse automation.

A brief history of storage

Warehousing has a rich history dating back to ancient civilizations, when goods were stored in rudimentary facilities. The Industrial Revolution marked a turning point, with the introduction of more organized and specialized storage facilities. The arrival of the railroad and interstate highway system further revolutionized the industry by improving transportation and connectivity.

Types of Warehouses

Warehouses come in various forms, including:

  • Public Warehouses: Facilities that provide storage space to multiple clients on a rental basis.
  • Private Warehouses: Owned and operated by a single entity, generally for its own storage needs.
  • Distribution Centers: Focused on the efficient distribution of products and order fulfillment.
  • Cold Storage Warehouses: Specialized facilities for the storage of perishable and pharmaceutical products.

Types of goods that are stored today

Modern warehouses house a wide range of products, including:

  1. Consumer Goods: Electronics, clothing and household products.
  2. Perishables: Food, pharmaceutical products and medical supplies.
  3. Automotive Parts: Engines, tires and other components.
  4. E-Commerce Inventory: Products sold by online retailers.
  5. Industrial Equipment: Machinery, tools and raw materials.

Innovative points in storage

  1. Invention of Refrigeration: Refrigeration technology allowed the storage of perishable products and the expansion of the food industry.
  2. Oil and gas pipeline transportation: Efficient pipelines and storage facilities transformed the energy industry.
  3. Invention of container shipping: Standardized shipping containers revolutionized global trade by simplifying cargo handling and reducing costs.
  4. Rise of e-commerce: The exponential growth of online retail required adjustments in warehousing to accommodate order fulfillment, returns, and fast shipping.

The modern era of storage

Today, the storage industry relies heavily on technology and innovation. Computers and specialized software are essential to optimize storage and distribution processes. The four main types of software used in the storage industry include:

  1. Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) – Streamlines inventory management, order processing, and pick-and-pack operations.
  2. Transportation Management Systems (TMS): Facilitate efficient transportation planning and route optimization.
  3. Inventory Management Software – Track stock levels, replenish inventory, and reduce carrying costs.
  4. Supply Chain Management (SCM) Software: Improve overall supply chain efficiency and coordination.

Featured Storage Software Examples

  1. SAP Extended Warehouse Management (EWM): offers comprehensive warehouse and distribution management.
  2. Oracle Warehouse Management (WMS): Optimizes inventory and labor productivity.
  3. Blue Yonder (formerly JDA Software) – Provides end-to-end retail and supply chain solutions.
  4. Manhattan Associates: Specializes in warehouse and transportation management.
  5. HighJump (now part of Korber) – Offers a suite of supply chain management solutions.

Use of AI in the storage industry

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making significant advances in warehouse industry, with usage terms including:

  1. Predictive analytics: AI analyzes historical data to forecast demand, allowing for better inventory management.
  2. Warehouse automation: AI-powered robots and autonomous vehicles improve efficiency and reduce labor costs.
  3. Staff training: AI-powered simulations and virtual reality help train workers more effectively.
  4. Shipment Tracking: AI enables real-time tracking and monitoring of goods during transportation.

Benefiting from AI service companies

AI company can help warehouses implement AI solutions. We offer expertise in AI technologies, development of custom AI models and integration into existing systems, leading to optimized operations, cost savings and increased accuracy.

Predictable future trends in automation

The future of storage will see greater automation and efficiency, with trends such as:

  1. Robotics: More robots and Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs) will help in picking, packing and transportation.
  2. IoT Integration: Internet of Things will provide real-time data to improve inventory and asset tracking.
  3. AI-driven decision making: AI will play a critical role in optimizing warehouse operations, from demand forecasting to
  4. Sustainability: The warehouses will focus on energy efficiency and sustainable practices to reduce their environmental footprint.


The warehousing industry has evolved significantly, adapting to the changing landscape of global commerce and e-commerce. Today, technology and software solutions, combined with the power of AI, are ushering in an era of efficiency, precision and innovation. As warehouses continue to automate and optimize their operations, they are prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future, revolutionizing the logistics and supply chain landscape.


Efficient Warehouses Fit Sustainable Operations

Sustainability has become an important issue for warehouse management in the US. Reducing the environmental impact of operations is a big challenge that can be overcome by improving process efficiency. In many cases, this is achieved by implementing warehouse automation. Efficient, automated processes need less energy, emit fewer greenhouse gases, and can do more within compact facilities. However, by choosing an automation partner that also champions sustainability, warehouse operators can truly maximize these benefits.

Hans Jongebloed, Senior Postal and Parcel Expert at Prime Vision, a global leader in computer vision integration and robotics for logistics and e-commerce, looks at sustainability challenges facing US warehouses and how the company reduces environmental impact.

Sustainability considerations for warehouses

A good place to start the journey to a sustainable warehouse is the facility itself. Solar panels, modern insulation, and a renewable energy supplier can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of operations. Placement is another factor to consider. A giant warehouse in an area of great natural value is undesirable aesthetically and ecologically, but logistics also play a part. Locating a compact warehouse in an optimal area for local deliveries, with good road connections, away from nature hotspots, minimizes environmental damage and traffic pollution.

Sustainability also applies to people. Thankfully, the days of warehouse workers walking miles carrying heavy loads week after week are almost behind us. With robots and other material handling solutions, personnel are no longer subjected to this level of manual labor, ensuring a happier, healthier workforce that is more willing to stay on.

While these sustainability goals can be reached, a particular industry challenge illustrates how warehouses can further improve the efficiency of operational processes and reduce environmental impact.

The point of no return

We’ve all indulged in clothes shopping at some point, and many of us choose to do it online. However, while an outfit can be easily tried on at the store, e-commerce customers do that at home, presenting warehouses with a big sustainability problem: returns. Millions of them.

One US logistics company stated that the CO2 cost of returning e-commerce purchases was similar to the output of 3 million cars.[1] While e-commerce returns have dropped slightly compared to 2020 and 2021, they still amounted to $ 203.22 billion in 2022 (18% of total online purchases). The decline is expected to continue, hitting 14.7% in 2026.[2] Despite this trend, returns will continue to be a challenge for e-commerce businesses in the US.

Returns are a big sustainability issue for e-commerce, as they constitute a high volume of products swimming against the stream of the normal shipping process. First, the item needs to travel back to a distribution center (often different from where it came from), generating transport emissions. Then, it is a long, cumbersome manual procedure to identify the product, check its condition, and sort it properly. This often requires large numbers of personnel, generating extra CO2 from commuting. If an item can’t be recycled or resold, it ends up as landfill, producing unnecessary waste. Needless to say that in the era of unlimited free returns, all these processes can also create extra costs for sellers.

This is clearly an area for improvement. However, enhancing the efficiency of the process flow offers a solution not just for returns, but any warehouse operation.

Automation equals efficiency

Naturally, automation is one of the main answers to this efficiency challenge, and thankfully, increasing efficiency always has a positive impact on sustainability.

Using the returns example, being able to quickly check products with computer vision systems, transport goods to appropriate areas for resale or recycling with robots, plus spot trends and areas where processes can be improved with analytics software can greatly expedite operations. Furthermore, it requires fewer personnel to function. By harnessing renewable energy to power automated equipment, warehouse operators can also mitigate the impact of the electricity demand, delivering these efficiency benefits sustainably.

Automating warehouse processes in this manner allows fulfillment and returns to be conducted on a reduced timeframe, within a more compact site, all while minimizing emissions, energy consumption and, effectively, lowering the operating costs. This means that sustainability goals can be met at every level of operations. However, choosing the right solutions can also bring additional benefits.

Sustainable approach to automation

At its facility in Richmond, Virginia, Prime Vision is working not just to provide products that enable the efficient, sustainable running of warehouse operations but is also reducing the carbon cost of the solutions themselves.

Robots are a critical component of a modern automated warehouse but are complex pieces of equipment that are intensive to produce. Consequently, Prime Vision focuses on reducing the impact of maintaining robots. A repair-rather-than-replace approach helps improve sustainability, but when a robot is beyond repair, Prime Vision rescues as many parts as possible to be used as spare components. Good-quality parts are fitted to other robots or used for in-house research – effectively recycling the components. Inspections identify and separate sub-par components, so there is no risk of fitting the robots with inferior parts. Localized repair facilities further ensure that spares and maintenance personnel can reach customers without generating the excessive carbon emissions associated with long-distance travel.

Software is another area of focus. Maintenance can be carried out remotely, so nobody needs to drive to site to carry out updates. Prime Vision also continually optimizes its software to run more efficiently, which reduces the number of servers required. Expanding on hardware and helping customers to collate facility computing power in an optimal, well-monitored space can save additional energy during installation and operation. Prime Vision applies new IT developments too, like hyper-converged infrastructure. Such cloud-style solutions with high scalability

and efficiency can eliminate the need for large quantities of servers on-site, allowing customers to downsize infrastructure while adding the required flexibility.

Choosing the right partner

Ultimately, to save the planet, the whole supply chain must work together to achieve the most sustainable logistics operations. This includes cooperation between warehouses and the companies that supply automation solutions to them. While the increased process efficiency enabled by robots, computer vision, and analytics software can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of warehouse operations – there is the provider to consider too.

Prime Vision is dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of its products and operations. A dedicated sustainability team continually assesses carbon footprint, identifying focus areas and actively lowering the company’s emissions. Along with its solutions and local presence, this ensures that while Prime Vision contributes to improving the sustainability of US warehouse operations, like its customers, it is also working on reducing the impact of the overall supply chain.

green warehousing

Meeting Sustainability Goals with Green Warehousing

Warehouses are essential for many businesses. They also keep the e-commerce industry running. At the same time, warehousing has a significant ecological footprint and environmental impact. To be sustainable, warehouses need to adopt green practices. This is where green warehousing offers an opportunity for sustainability-minded businesses. 

What is green warehousing?

Warehouses protect products in storage. Done properly, warehousing reduces the risk of contamination, spoilage and waste. Another important aspect of warehousing is having products in the right place to meet demands or requirements.

Warehousing requires a lot of resources and generates waste that is not always recyclable. Storage space, packaging materials and much more are needed to fulfill orders. Lighting, climate control and other activities related to daily operations consume energy and costs. Warehouse operations also create non-recyclable waste.

Green warehousing involves reducing energy consumption with sustainable practices and materials. This might include, for example, creating a distribution network that reduces transportation. It also focuses on managing inventories and moving goods and people across warehouse floors in an efficient way. 

Thinking about green logistics beyond warehousing

An eco-friendly warehouse is the main component of any green warehousing strategy. Green warehousing is just one element of a sustainable approach to shipping and distribution. Businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint should think about a broader green logistics approach.

Sustainable warehousing is just one part of the supply chain. Businesses should consider how raw materials are sourced and how products are manufactured. Sustainability can be achieved, for example, by processing materials and producing products in an energy-efficient way. Eliminating waste during these steps in the supply chain is also key.

Green logistics also involves improved product distribution. This might involve eco-friendly packing materials and processes. For example, space can be optimized in containers and on pallets when transporting products. This reduces fuel consumption during shipping. 

The benefits of green warehousing

Cost savings are one of the main benefits of green or sustainable warehousing. With lower consumption, energy bills will be reduced. These savings can be used to invest in more environmentally-friendly upgrades or other aspects of your businesses. That said, the benefits do not stop at cost savings.

Consumer loyalty

More and more consumers are making conscious decisions about their purchases based on environmental and social impacts. A company’s actions on sustainability are increasingly tied to consumer loyalty and preferences.

Products making environmental, social and governance (ESG) claims, for example, averaged 28% cumulative growth over the past five years compared to 20% for products that made none. In North America, 70% of consumers value brands that operate sustainably.

Employee satisfaction

Many workers are concerned about environmental ethics and impacts. A UK study found that 65% of workers are more likely to work for a company with a strong environmental policy.

A company’s sustainability record can impact decisions about where people want to work and can impact a company’s turnover rate. Adopting sustainable practices like green warehousing can be important in attracting and retaining talent.

How to adopt green warehousing?

Green warehousing requires commitment at all levels. Some changes like recycling packaging materials are relatively low-cost. Other changes like sustainable construction or improved lighting will require investments. In the longer term, these changes will result in lower energy costs and other benefits.

Designing a sustainable space

The design of a warehouse is essential for sustainability by reducing the building’s carbon footprint. This might include powering the space with renewable energy like solar panels and using sustainable building materials. Rainwater infiltration systems also help reduce water consumption.

Introducing green spaces reduces energy consumption and indoor temperature changes. Placing plants on the roof of an uninsulated building reduces energy consumption from heating by up to 5% during the winter and from cooling by up to 33% in the summer months.

Green spaces like green roofs, walls and interior decoration also provide additional benefits. Outdoors, they create ecological diversity for wildlife. For workers, green spaces create more welcoming areas for breaks. 

Updating your warehouse fleet

Choosing the right equipment to transport goods is another important step in green warehousing. Electric equipment is a green alternative to using equipment powered by propane or natural gas. This reduces emissions by avoiding the use of fossil fuels.

Multi-purpose forklifts also reduce carbon footprints since they help reduce the number of vehicles needed in a warehouse. Attachments can be used for different tasks on the floor while reducing the space required to store vehicle fleets. Forklift manufacturer Combilift, for example, found its customers created up to 50% more storage space with a multi-purpose forklift.

Updating warehouse lighting and ventilation

Proper lighting is a must to ensure warehouses are safe. Switching to eco-friendly options like light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and automated lighting helps with energy consumption. Thanks to their high efficiency and directional nature, LED lights are increasingly common in industrial and commercial settings. They also last longer and use at least 75% less energy.

Improving ventilation in a warehouse space also helps improve efficiency. During the winter, heating travels upwards and leaves the warehouse floor cool. This can be uncomfortable for workers and require the heating to be constantly on to maintain a more comfortable interior temperature.

Industrial high-speed, low-volume fans help address this problem by redirecting rising hot air. In the summer, they also help circulate cool air. These fans will help increase comfort and reduce energy use.

Using sustainable materials and recycling

Warehousing requires a lot of packaging. It is not surprising that this creates significant amounts of waste each day. Introducing a recycling program ensures that packaging materials are disposed of correctly.

Reusing pallets and storage materials also helps reduce waste while also cutting costs. Keeping materials out of landfills also means companies reduce disposal costs.

Space optimization

Storage optimization and inventory control help increase efficiency on the warehouse floor. For example, storing products in a way that minimizes space ensures you make the most of your warehouse.

When it comes to inventory, properly labeling, packaging and storing products minimizes damage. This decreases the risk of spoilage and waste. Stacking products on pallets also helps forklifts move them effectively.

Transitioning to green practices in your warehouse

For businesses looking to save and reduce the environmental impacts of their operations, green warehousing is an important element of any sustainability approach. From changing the machinery you use to upgrading lighting and ventilation, green warehousing helps businesses reduce energy consumption and waste. At the same time, these practices can improve a company’s bottom line by attracting consumers and talent while reducing costs.


Tips for Warehouse Managers to Improve Ergonomics and Safety

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 21 reported fatal warehouse injuries in the U.S. in 2020. Reports also show 2.7 million reported cases of warehouse injuries and illnesses in the same year. 

With the numbers presented above, it’s crucial for warehouse managers to build and implement programs to ensure ergonomics and safety. These two concepts go hand in hand as ergonomics aims to guarantee the safety of all warehouse staff while increasing their efficiency at work. 

If you’re a warehouse manager, gradually implement the following tips to improve everyone’s ergonomics and safety at work:

Address Ergonomic Issues

Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, affect the tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. When left untreated, MSDs can cause pain in the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck, preventing warehouse staff from working effectively.

Given the nature of their jobs, warehouse staff are often prone to MSDs because they lift heavy items, bend all the time, and reach overhead. Protect your staff from MSD by implementing good ergonomic practices. Good ergonomics in the workplace reduce injuries and lessen muscle fatigue, keeping staff safe and healthy. 

Invest in Picking Assistance Devices

One way warehouses can improve ergonomics and safety is by using semi-automated order processing methods that use technology. This expedites workflows and keeps staff safe from injuries and accidents. 

Picking assistance technologies, such as RF scanners, voice picking, and pack-to-light, are highly effective as they reduce the need for staff during the picking. A computer controls these technologies, and robots or machines automatically perform the task. 

Automate Repetitive Tasks

Warehouse operations usually involve having staff manually complete a variety of tasks. Fortunately, there are now tools that can automate repetitive tasks. 

For instance, instead of letting staff manually handle loading, use automated systems to make the process faster. This also lessens the staff’s risks of injuries and optimizes the work done. 

Automated transport systems, such as autonomous mobile robots and automatic guided vehicles, can also reduce the number of movements made in the warehouse. With these, goods can be transported from one point to another without requiring manual labor from staff.

Cobots or collaborative robots can pick items and place them into their unit loads continuously and automatically. As a result, the staff’s risks of ergonomic problems are reduced as machines carry out the pick-and-place operations. 

Schedule Regular Inspections

To ensure the efficacy of warehouse operations, regular inspections should be scheduled with the appropriate professional or agency. Inspections also prevent issues from worsening and causing injuries and accidents to warehouse staff.

Conducting a thermographic infrared survey can be a great way to identify potential problems in a warehouse. These surveys use an infrared camera to measure the temperature of an area and identify any potential hotspots or areas of high heat. High temperatures can indicate a problem such as an overloaded circuit, a blocked ventilation duct, or a failing air conditioning system. By identifying these areas of high heat, a warehouse can take steps to remedy the issue and potentially avoid a costly breakdown. 

Use the Right Handling Equipment

As a warehouse manager, you should pay attention to the material handling equipment used by the staff. This is important as it impacts the condition of the layout of the warehouse, as well as the number of staff required to complete the task and warehouse ergonomics. 

The material handling equipment you choose should depend on the warehouse’s storage system, the items inside, and the operations performed daily. For example, on an ergonomics level, it’s best to pick small products using order pickers as they’re raised to the desired height. This prevents staff from picking items in awkward positions, which can lead to injuries. 

Train Operators

Any staff working at a warehouse should be properly trained before they can enter the operations floor. Operators, in particular, should be trained properly on how to operate equipment, machines, and other support systems used in the workplace. 

The training provided to the staff should also include risk prevention. It’s crucial for warehouse staff to be aware of the hazards present in the workplace, so that they can protect themselves from accidents and injuries. 

Most importantly, warehouse staff should undergo refresher courses regularly. The best practices in warehouse safety constantly evolve, and it’s important for the staff to stay ahead of these changes. 

Eliminate Falling Hazards

Slip and fall accidents are common in warehouses. Thankfully, these accidents are one of the easiest to prevent. 

For staff involved in overhead tasks, encourage them to use forklift work platforms. Consider investing in structural barrier rails to alert staff assigned or working in hazardous ledges. It’s also important to identify areas where falls most likely occur and take appropriate actions before an accident takes place. 

Take Care of Clutter

Contrary to popular belief, improving ergonomics and safety in the warehouse doesn’t always include complex technologies and strategies. Taking care of clutter might seem like a simple task, but doing it consistently helps you achieve your desired goal. 

Clutter on the floors and aisles can cause slips and trips in the warehouse. Ensure that these areas are tidy at all times to prevent accidents and injuries. Don’t forget to remind every warehouse staff to stack empty pallets and place them in the correct storage areas and dry wet areas as soon as they notice any. 

Encourage Staff to Listen to their Bodies

The human body can only do much — and attempting to do more even when the body tells you otherwise can result in injuries. With this in mind, encourage staff never to overlook what their bodies are telling them. Remind them of the importance of getting enough sleep, taking breaks, and eating well-balanced meals every day. 

As a warehouse manager, make it easy for your staff to speak to you if they feel they’re unable to complete a task. Moreover, you should be aware of how changes in routine can affect the ability of your staff. For instance, if someone has been lifting boxes for two decades and got injured, don’t expect them to work back up to that point. 

Think Long-Term

Implement the tips mentioned here to ensure that business operations remain optimal due to improved ergonomics and safety. This process is a steep learning curve, but the results will be worth it in the long run.


Three Tactics for an Environmentally Friendly Warehouse

What do buying a new car, picking up a latte in the neighborhood and clearing the table after a family dinner all have in common?

Each of these actions prompts us to think about environment and take decisions about the use we make of recyclable, compostable and biodegradable waste. As a society, we are more and more conscious of the role each of us plays when it comes to the environmental responsibility and take it into consideration when making purchase decisions.

And how about a distribution center? Governments try to remedy the alarming quantity of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the supply chain industry.

Here are 3 tactics you can consider implementing in your warehouse operations, all while taking into account the profitability and efficiency of your operations.

1. Hydrogen fuel cells for forklifts

From a cost-effective standpoint, hydrogen fuel cells may be a superior option to the traditional lead-acid batteries.

These batteries stand out thanks to the longer useful lives than their traditional counterparts. The initial investment and maintenance costs are comparable. The only potential drawback is the cost of the actual forklift model using the new technology. Depending on the model chosen, operators may or may not make a business case for an environmentally friendly alternative.

Hydrogen fuel cells also allow for greater logistical efficiency. The refueling period is relatively fast and results in significant time savings when compared to working with lead-acid batteries. What more, these forklifts travel much faster than the conventional battery-powered ones.

Finally, hydrogen fuel cells emit no GES while operating. They bring you closer to reaching the sustainable development objectives set by your organization.

2. LED technology lighting

The initial investment for LED technology will be higher than for fluorescent lights but with lower annual operating costs. In addition, the life expectancy of LED lights is much longer, and can offer as many as +200,000 hours with variations due to industry differences. Your business may reach the break-even point after only three years following the investment.

In terms of logistical efficiency, the only downside will be the brightness of the LEDs. At some point, the luminosity at your warehouse may fall below acceptable levels despite what LED suppliers may claim.

Finally, the energy efficiency of LED technology is by far more attractive than that of fluorescent lights (80% compared to 10%). In addition, LED lights do not contain any mercury.

Use of wind energy?

How about wind power? Will installing wind turbines be profitable enough to power your distribution center? To find out, you’ll need to evaluate your electricity cost as well as the wind patterns in your area. Add to that the cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining the wind turbines.

Unlike fossil fuels, wind is not a stable source of energy, and logistical efficiency may be affected. This is especially the case when the wind turbines cannot fully satisfy the warehouse’s need for electricity. On the other hand, CO2 emissions from the warehouse’s power supply would be completely eliminated.

Even though the distribution center may not be fully self-sufficient with wind power as the only source of energy, wind turbines are still a good option. Building a hybrid warehouse that relies on both wind power and network electricity is a solid contribution to sustainability.

Which tactic to implement?

All three options discussed in this article are sound from an environmental point of view. They all further environmental conservation.

Each option has to be carefully evaluated with your suppliers. The costs of acquisition, installation, and maintenance must be accounted for. This exercise will allow business owners to manage the ROI expectations and make the right decisions both for the business and the planet.

Going ahead with any of these initiatives will serve well the generations to come.

Generix Group North America provides a series of solutions within our Supply Chain Hub product suite to create efficiencies across an entire supply chain. Our solutions are in use around the world and our experience is second-to-none. We invite you to reach out to us here to learn more.

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.