Chances are, if you’re currently perusing this text, you’re likely in the position of managing a warehouse, inventory, or transportation of goods. But have you ever paused to wonder about the origins of warehouses? We certainly have.
Throughout history, civilisations used granaries to store extra food in times of scarcity, and modern warehouses have taken their place. However, the Ancient Romans went above and beyond with the construction of the Horrea Galbae, a vast complex of over 140 rooms covering 225,000 square feet near the Tiber River. This facility was strategically built to store the public’s grain supply and imported goods like olive oil, wine, food, and clothing.
The warehouses became a hallmark of the Roman Empire’s ports, as Roman ships could quickly unload their treasures and transport them a short distance for storage. They continued to play a crucial role as European seafaring explorers established new trade routes and brought exotic goods back to their home ports for easy offloading. Civilisations have used granaries to store surplus food for long winters or famine, and modern warehouses are their successors. However, the Ancient Romans took it further with the Horrea Galbae, a massive complex of over 140 rooms covering 225,000 square feet near the Tiber River. This facility was strategically built to store the public’s grain supply and imported goods like olive oil, wine, food, and clothing. Roman ships could quickly unload their treasures and transport them a short distance to storage, as the warehouses became a hallmark of the Roman Empire’s ports. They continued to play a vital role as European seafaring explorers established new trade routes and brought exotic goods back to their home ports for easy offloading.
During the 1300s, the term “warehouse” was introduced in Britain, referring to a place where goods and merchandise could be stored. The word “wares” referred to manufactured products like ceramics and glassware, and the warehouse was a house that kept these items. As England’s influence expanded, warehouses were built in port cities worldwide, becoming essential centres of commerce that transported goods from the coast to the interior. In the late 1700s, “warehousing” became a business practice, and ” warehouse ” became a verb. With the Industrial Revolution and the mass production of goods in factories, the need for more storage space arose, leading to the construction of larger warehouses.
Throughout the history of commerce, warehouses have played a crucial role in the distribution process. Early railways acted as the lifeline that transported goods to remote towns and cities, leading to the construction of more warehouses at transportation hubs. This enabled manufacturers to extend their reach, thus increasing their market share and transforming towns into bustling cities. Further advancements in technology, such as the Second Industrial Revolution and the invention of the automobile, facilitated more growth in transportation and commerce. One of the pioneering businesses that capitalised on this infrastructure was Sears, Roebuck & Co. They used a vast distribution complex in Chicago to store their extensive catalogue of items. However, processing orders manually was time-consuming and error-prone, so automation was imperative to improve efficiency and accuracy.
Since then, warehouses – or big sheds as they are often called – have been built and refined through many iterations, from local storehouses during the middle ages to multi-million-pound facilities that play a critical role in global trade and commerce.
As a result of globalisation and the rapid growth of e-commerce, major corporations such as Amazon, Ocado, Lidl, and Primark require extra warehouse capacity to store their vast array of products and fulfil customer orders.
Logistics companies report that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for online retail. They predict that the growth in online shopping has advanced by three to five years, leading to a greater focus on retail and ‘last mile’ warehouses. As a result of this surge in demand, there is now a significant need for mega-distribution centres throughout the UK and Europe. Distribution centres differ from warehouses because they are part of a logistical network that includes transport and third-party distributors, requiring advanced technology. Warehouse management systems (WMS) and transport management systems (TMS) are vital for efficient warehousing performance. New technologies like robotics and drones are being integrated to enhance accuracy and efficiency.
The advent of new technologies is set to revolutionise the design and construction of warehouses. Expect to see significant changes in the structural and infrastructural design of distribution centres as they strive to meet the requirements of modern businesses. These changes will also support the push for environmentally-friendly sites that benefit and safeguard local communities. Keep an eye out for the latest developments in this exciting field.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the logistics industry. To ensure that businesses, buildings, and supply chains are prepared for future events, applying the lessons learned from this experience is crucial.
A’ just-in-time’ model can be suitable if a company has a dependable and secure supply chain. However, many businesses are contemplating adding backup storage due to the widespread disruptions caused by lockdowns. What other aspects should be taken into account?
To keep up with technological advancements, warehouses must be adaptable and flexible. With lease periods typically lasting ten or more years, it’s essential to anticipate potential changes. We’ll likely see increased demand for locally-based, flexible units of varying sizes that accommodate different property usage needs. Already, warehouses are being reconfigured to suit live/work schemes, and this trend may become more common. Additionally, as our reliance on e-commerce and on-demand services like Amazon Prime Now grows, there will likely continue to be a need for last-mile logistics requirements.
Similar to how supermarkets expanded to smaller local stores ten years ago, there may be a new trend towards smaller logistics hubs nationwide. This will help reduce the carbon footprint of larger suppliers. Warehouses have evolved from their original use as local storage units to multi-million-pound facilities crucial to global trade. With the rise of e-commerce, they are now heavily relied upon for last-mile logistics.
The next step in warehousing is undoubtedly to be an interesting one.
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