Advancing work quality and operational efficiency in warehousing through automation

“Contrary to reports of technology taking away jobs, I think technology is actually creating careers,” in warehousing believes Jonas Swarttouw, NewCold’s vice president of customer & business development for North America

This interview was conducted at Reuters Events: Supply Chain USA (May 17-18, Chicago, 2023).

The debate over adopting automation in logistics operations is figuratively a tussle between the management’s drive for increased efficiency and the workforce’s need to maintain their continued relevance in the value chain. That said, evidence suggests that automation can enhance the quality of work for the logistics workforce, as it creates avenues for skill development and upward mobility in the career ladder.

The warehousing industry is a stellar example. Automation is gaining in popularity within warehouses, as demand for capacity has catapulted the need for improved efficiency in operations. Regardless, the value for skilled labour has seen a parallel increase, explained Jonas Swarttouw, the vice president of customer & business development for North America at cold chain logistics major NewCold.

“A traditional warehouse has a lot of dependency on hourly labour. If you look at the warehouse of the future with high levels of automation, the opportunities for people to join the company at an hourly position and cross-train themselves to a white-collar position is significantly greater,” said Swarttouw. “Automation will be the future in terms of creating exciting career opportunities and labour loyalty. Contrary to reports of technology taking away jobs, I think technology is actually creating careers.”

However, automation is not yet universal, with the industry hamstrung by available infrastructure that is relatively old. “Some warehouses are 60 years old,” said Swarttouw. “Historically, they have been developed in locations and in technologies that are not really suitable anymore to deliver to expectations users have today. This gives an opportunity for companies to rethink the way they design, develop, and operate warehouses.”

At NewCold, the focus is squarely on helping companies rethink their supply chain strategies. This becomes particularly critical when these firms reach a pivotal moment, realizing that their existing infrastructure no longer suffices in meeting their ambitions for delivering high-quality service to their customers at a competitive cost.

“We can be a partner to help you design the warehouse, create the right scale and right capabilities at the right locations, and operate to get the highest level of automation that is economically feasible. This will ultimately deliver high services at a lower cost,” said Swarttouw. 

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