Watch For These 3PL Warehouse Management Trends

February 8, 2023 - Lou Farrell

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The third-party logistics (3PL) market has experienced ongoing growth in recent years. The market’s success is no surprise, especially considering the simultaneous online shopping boom and how people expect to get their deliveries in increasingly shorter time frames. However, the upward market progress also necessitates better 3PL warehouse management. Let’s explore some of the relevant emerging trends. 

The Use of Technology to Facilitate Communications

Streamlined and seamless communications are critical for the success of any 3PL business. That’s why there’s a growing demand for shippers and carriers to use products like real-time communications platforms.  

Ongoing communications between 3PL providers, shippers and others in the supply chain make it possible to identify problems early. Then, there are more opportunities to address those matters before they get out of hand and become more challenging to solve. 

Carriers must provide data about their capacity availability while shippers give details about volume demands. Many types of 3PL software help such communications happen without hassle. Then, if a company selects a cloud-based solution, those responsible for 3PL warehouse management can stay abreast of new communications from wherever they are. 

A Push Toward Ever-Faster Order Fulfillment

Since many online shoppers expect to get their orders within a few days, it’s no surprise that 3PLs must focus on ramping up their order fulfillment speeds. A 2022 survey from Extensiv found that 60% of 3PLs fulfill orders less than 90 minutes after receipt. Then, nearly a third of respondents can shorten the time to less than 30 minutes. Only 22% of companies said they could do that when polled for the previous year’s survey. 

That growing segment of companies fulfilling orders faster than before puts pressure on the rest that still need to catch up. This trend also highlights the need for 3PL warehouse management specialists to identify bottlenecks that could slow down order fulfillment efforts and restrict growth. 

It’s also useful to track relevant metrics in 3PL software. Doing that can reveal whether specific changes meant to increase speed got the desired outcomes. It also helps managers verify whether they’ve met specific benchmarks. 

The Automation of Repetitive Tasks

Error reduction is a significant part of 3PL warehouse management excellence. However, even the most conscientious workers make mistakes. That’s particularly likely to happen when people must work increasingly faster to meet customer expectations. 

However, those overseeing 3PL warehouses often look to technology to help people do repetitive tasks with better accuracy. In one case, decision-makers at 3PL provider Mahindra Logistics Limited wanted an intelligent case-counting system that could tally the inventory and track damages. 

The company worked with a provider that developed a machine-vision system that integrated with programmable logic controllers (PLC). The solution achieved better than 99% accuracy in counting and inspecting inbound and outbound boxes for flaws. Moreover, supervisor productivity increased by 50%, and the people in those roles no longer had to oversee the counting and quality checks. 

The Use of Drones for 3PL Warehouse Management

Companies have begun exploring how drones could improve last-mile deliveries. Those aerial vehicles don’t suit all types of cargo. Most areas that permit drones for commercial use also restrict where they can fly and impose weight limits. However, the application of drones in the logistics sector doesn’t end here. 

Many 3PLs now use drones to assist with inventory control. Some products on the market get details about up to 1,500 locations per hour and send the data to the warehouse management system (WMS). Some drone models also feature optical character recognition (OCR) to grab label data and package types. Such data can tell 3PL workers about the number of boxes versus pallets, for example. 

Drones are also a valuable part of 3PL warehouse management because they increase security. Consider how, as of June 2022, contract 3PL provider GXO Logistics had already completed more than 12,000 safety missions at one Indiana facility with robots and drones. 

The company reportedly relied on the technology to get real-time site data, investigate and turn off triggered alarms and do video-verified security audits. The technology immediately alerts the appropriate team members after detecting problems. 

More Investments in Data-Driven Analytics

Meeting 3PL warehouse management goals requires having reliable information that leaders can use to make critical decisions. That’s one of the primary reasons more leading companies are spending more on platforms that enable benefitting from data-driven analytics. 

One Chicago-based 3PL struggled with the accumulation of data from aggressive growth and acquisitions over several years. People at the company recognized that the compiled data could allow for saving money, increasing profits and making customers happier. However, they needed help using the data effectively and turned to a service provider to get it. 

The result was a centralized data platform that provided real-time analytics. Company leaders could then identify growth opportunities and areas for improvement. The 3PL also became so competent in using data that it began offering self-service analytics to customers. 

A Bigger Emphasis on Sustainability

Even though many customers want to receive their goods quickly, some may deprioritize speed in favor of sustainability. That’s a takeaway from a 2022 Blue Yonder survey of consumers in the United States. The outcomes indicated 86% would wait longer to receive their goods if doing so improved sustainability. 

A significant percentage (40%) of those polled agreed stores should require people to reach order total minimums to qualify for getting things shipped to them. That approach would encourage shoppers to buy multiple items per order. The alternative is making several smaller orders. That’s typically less sustainable because it involves more packaging supplies and emissions from delivery vehicles.

However, a 2022 study from NTT data revealed only 17% of 3PLs considered themselves leaders in environmental, social and governance (ESG). Then, 41% believed they achieved average performance when meeting their ESG targets.

Those results show there’s room for improvement. However, more clients who use 3PLs will likely notice the trend of more customers preferring sustainable options. They’ll then begin prioritizing 3PL companies that focus on sustainability. Such businesses then have opportunities to capitalize on sustainability as a competitive differentiator. 

Making Robots a Part of 3PL Warehouse Management

A labor shortage has affected warehouses, making it more challenging for those facilities to grow and scale to meet emerging needs. However, some decision-makers realize that robots could become a significant part of 3PL warehouse management. 

One robotic automation platform on the market helps users do high-volume e-commerce orders seven times faster and with half the physical effort. That’s a great example of how robots don’t necessarily replace human workers. They often supplement them. 

It’s a good idea to get employee feedback before moving forward with this kind of automation. Getting details about which tasks workers find most tedious, error-prone or dangerous may help leaders create a shortlist of duties to automate. 

Automation only suits some types of work. But, the companies deploying it can usually strike a balance between what humans do and what the robots can feasibly accomplish. 

How Will You Improve 3PL Warehouse Management?

Being a leader in the often-challenging world of 3PL warehouse management means staying open to ideas for improvement. Studying the trends above and others like them will give you the necessary knowledge to see changes on the horizon and effectively prepare for them. 

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Lou Farrell

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