The value of
“warehousing” of some kind has been known from our earliest history. Since
premedieval times, civilizations have stored food in periods of plenty to
provide nourishment when there is scarcity. The book of Genesis in the Bible
tells how Joseph became a hero in Egypt by showing the people of the country
how to warehouse agricultural surplus for famine years.

The origin of warehouse is difficult to
pinpoint. With the discovery of new shipping trade routes by Europeans, need to
store products and commodity was felt that lead to the development of
warehouse.  The first known commercial
warehouse was built in Venice, that later became a major trade route center.
During first Industrial revolution, transportation between port cities and
inland cities occurred mainly by railroad. Freight cars and trolleys were used
as warehouses on wheels. By the end of World War I, mainly hand trucks were
used for material handling in warehouses and stacking was done by hand and stacking
heights were up to 8-to 12-foot range. With the development in mass production
of forklift truck and introduction of wooden pallets, during World War II, stacking
height of merchandise increased up to 30 feet, nearly a 300 percent increase.
Warehousing system has continuously evolved throughout the history, growing
from local storehouses during the middle ages to multi-million-dollar
facilities. Since the last decade of the 20th century, traditional warehousing
is declining continuously with the introduction of Just in Time (JIT)
techniques which aims to increase the profit by decreasing work in process

warehousing involves a great deal more than the stockpiling of foodstuffs. As
civilization has developed, warehousing has become broader, more diverse, more
complex and with the rise in the trend of internet, e-commerce, mobile
communications and urbanization, a revolution in retail has emerged as a
result, changing the nature of the warehouse. Many warehouses are switching off
their lights and going dark. Dark warehouse is a term that is used for
warehouses that do not require lights for regular/general operations. Such
warehouses operate without any human interventions with the help of
technologies such as autonomous guided material handling equipment, automatic
identification and warehouse execution systems; hence these are fully automated
warehouses. Recently the trend of dark warehouse is increasing among
supermarkets and online retailers. Freezer warehouses, cold storage and sectors
such as pharmaceuticals and beverages where sub-zero temperature conditions do
exist; are the places that require humans to work under adverse conditions, are
highly suitable for the application of dark warehousing. Dark warehouse
application becomes easy for operations having low variations. Advancement in
technology has made it possible to utilize the warehouse space properly by
increasing the vertical storage capacity. Technology such as Automatic
retrieval systems, stacker cranes make it possible to work in narrow aisles and
stack palletized cased goods to and from the racks up to height more than 100
feet of the ground. Fully automation will provide error free operation, right
alignment of goods along with optimum storage space and zero waste because of
proper material handling. Goods can be easily tracked from point of origin to
shipping point hence real-time inventory control.

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Beside all the
development in the material handling technology in the last decade,
implementation of dark warehouse is facing many challenges. Main challenge in
the widespread adaptation is high initial investment cost primarily related
with automation. Another barrier to the wide adaptation is requirement of the
flexibility for e-commerce companies to handle large variety of products.
Instead of adopting fully dark warehouse facility companies may prefer zones of
automation. It is also difficult to completely remove the human interventions.
For example, conventional warehouse can send back mislabeled or torn packages that
can be repaired by workers, but it is not feasible in the dark warehouses.

As “Every coin
has two faces” dark warehousing also has some risk associated with it. Highly
dense storage with narrow aisles, are often conductive to fire spread. Large
and tall warehouses increase the potential fuel load that directly Impact on
fire loss experience and fire protection system Increase in vertical storage
capacity may overload racks and increases the potential of roof collapse for
racks that support the building roof.

Amazon, Walmart
and Big basket has already taken initiative to adopt dark warehouses. Recently,
Walmart has opened its first dark warehouse in Bhiwandi, India and Big basket
has announced to establish about 10 warehouses in it’s network in metro cities,
first one commencing in Gurgaon. With the development of the automation and
robotics industry, initial investment cost will surely go down but still it is
a long way to go for dark warehouses to take over storage facilities. There is
no doubt that the organization which will be able to light-out its warehouses
will gain the momentum toward  more
efficient supply chain, leading to gain supremacy in the market.



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