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Simon Duddy

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The Safer Logistics Zone 19/04/2018

Recently, the team delivered our seminars at the Safer Logistics Zone, part of The Health & Safety Event at the NEC.

 We’d like to thank our partners for their fantastic presentations and especially thank sponsors Toyota Material Handling UK and A-Safe for helping make the Safer Logistics Zone possible.

The Safer Logistics Zone is a key part of the overall campaign and we are looking to extend it further.

Next stop Multimodal!

Safer Logistics will be exhibiting at Multimodal on the UKWA Pavilion, in tandem with partners UKWA, FLTA and Mentor Training. If you are at the show, come by and say hello!

Further news on the safety side, we have a comprehensive look at the warehouse safety measures brought in by multinational office supplier ACCO at its warehouse at Halesowen in the Midlands, as well as a look at how it builds a positive, global safety culture.

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KFC not exactly a zinger for DHL 20/03/2018

In October, DHL was awarded the contract to supply food to the UK’s KFC outlets, and the food company’s supply chain director Jens Hentschel said: “To date there has been little variation in foodservice logistics, but we have specifically chosen DHL and QSL for their reputation for innovation in logistics across other industries. It’s an ambitious plan, but by working closely with DHL and QSL we’re confident we’ll be able to deliver against our strategic ambitions.”

What a difference six months makes.

Whatever innovations were planned, it’s now clear that many supply chain basics were not met. Without inside knowledge, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong at DHL.

A number of possible factors have been suggested from mis-managing the changeover process, to underestimating the complexity of the tie-in with the order software provider QSL, to underbidding on the contract and allocating insufficient resources to follow through.

Perhaps there was also over-confidence that DHL’s  competence in general logistics would carry through seamlessly to a niche area such as food logistics. In terms of brand damage, DHL will take a bigger hit than KFC.

I’d imagine consumers are pretty forgiving when it comes to fast food. When weighing up whether to indulge in a zinger burger, the fact that some KFC outlets were closed recently won’t figure much. But people have longer memories in logistics, and are often risk averse.

The one positive for DHL, as I see it, is this isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect from them. This shows a strong core brand. That said, this is a serious setback for DHL in terms of breaking into new, niche logistics arenas such as food. We have comment on KFC’s logistics crisis here.

One interesting point raised by a consultant was the suggestion DHL’s Rugby facility did not initially have the correct licence to handle food, which led to food being dumped. This spooked me a little bit as I’m thinking about how the country will adjust to Brexit.

If we have a cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit, logistics operators will need to very quickly work out which regs and charges apply, and this could lead to delays, and perhaps even product wastage.

Let’s hope sense prevails before March 29, 2019 and logistics operators are briefed beforehand and given time to make an orderly transition.

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New tech to tackle downtime 19/02/2018

There is always enthusiasm around new technology but for me, the more interesting time is when such technologies find a market rationale.

Lithium battery technologies have been emerging for a number of years now, but with the first big fleet in the UK investing in it, it seems to now have found a solid business case.

Fowler Welch have a number of reasons for investing in Linde lithium-ion powered forklifts, but the main driver was reducing downtime.

The food transport specialist has a number of very busy locations and works its trucks hard.

Too often forklifts were not pulling their weight due to issues around lead-acid batteries, and how they were managed.

In fact, operational meetings came to be dominated by battery problems and the company decided enough was enough.

Fowler Welch is looking to lithium-ion powered forklifts to have much better uptime and so far the outlook is good.

Lithium-ion technologies are said to be longer lasting, with manufacturers often claiming that ten year lifetimes will be possible, with less power degradation over time than with lead-acid batteries.

They are also maintenance-free and faster to charge.

This saves time in itself, and without battery maintenance, the potential to introduce error during maintenance is removed.

This is a significant step, but lithium-based solutions won’t be optimal for everyone.

Lead-acid has been around for a long time and works effectively, particularly when accompanied by joined up battery management and a methodical approach to maintenance from warehouse staff.

The threat of Amazon

Much of the talk at The Delivery Conference this year was on Amazon and the growing threat it poses to the rest of the retail industry. This got me thinking. Is Amazon too big? Is it time to break it up?

There is precedent. Standard Oil was broken up into 34 companies in 1911 after being judged by the US authorities as having a monopoly.

However, while there is no doubt the scale of Amazon is having a massive impact on across logistics, logistics property, retail and other sectors, it’s hard to see this happening to the retail behemoth any time soon.

The main rationale for breaking up a company is to promote better prices for consumers. And, say what you want about Amazon, its approach is driving value for consumers.

The conference also featured a wide range of speakers offering interesting advice. One was Accenture Strategy MD Harry Morrison, who urged end users [in the context of Brexit uncertainty] to think of ‘no regrets’ moves such as increased investment in automation to mitigate costs in the future.

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The elephant in the room 17/01/2018

As with many things that are heavily hyped, there is a lot to unpack in Industry 4.0.

In essence, it’s about the increasingly pervasive use of IT in industry and logistics. This isn’t that interesting in itself. The data generated by this IT is more important. Indeed, the data is in itself, not that important, it is how this data can be used to create insights that will count for businesses.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, smarter automation, 3D printing etc are also significant. But many expert commentators are emphasising that processes and people are more important than technology.

In essence they warn that technology in itself is limited, so don’t think that a certain new tech, or investment will provide a magic bullet. All good common sense.

There’s also a lot of related issues, such as commodification of hardware, and the continued rise of China as a sophisticated industrial power. All of this means that manufacturers are more likely to need to develop advanced solutions, or software and service extensions, if they want to maintain high-margin globally competitive businesses.

This last point is key. It will be possible for UK manufacturers to ignore the hype and continue as normal. But in the long term it may become impossible to do so without becoming essentially a budget, me-too business.

I think all of this will have an impact on the logistics world. It will bring disruption. The good news is that won’t be on the same scale as the disruption seen by the retail world with the growth of eCommerce, and indeed having gone through a sharp process of profound change in one sector, the logistics world should be ready and able to adapt to new challenges.

We have a Special Report on Modern Manufacturing, see here.

Its another excellent month for innovative product launches. For example, Narrow Aisle’s Warehouse Systems division has launched Flexi Easi-Change – an intelligent forklift truck battery charging and management system. ROI looks particularly attractive on multi-shift operations. For more details click here.

The upcoming IntraLogisteX show is also proving to be a rallying point for product innovation. We have a preview as part of our Connected Supply Chain feature. 

New solutions to the market include an Excel spreadsheet-driven box sorter that is said to be one third the price of an average sortation system. The is a collaboration from Red Ledge and Stockrail International. Red Ledge RedRail is said to sort most items that can be scanned at a rate of 500 to 1,000 boxes an hour.

Also in the January issue look out for a UniCarriers pedestrian pallet truck series with a central tiller arm, and semi-automated order picking trucks equipped with t-mote remote drive from Toyota.

Lastly, 2018 is shaping up to be the biggest and best yet for The Health & Safety Event at the NEC, 10-12 April 2018. The H&SS Safer Logistics Zone will form a key part of the Show, with its own dedicated Exhibitor Zone & Seminar Theatre.

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Early indications suggest Cyber Weekend bigger than ever 29/11/2017

Despite worries over Brexit and the Chancellor unveiling a gloomy set of predictions in the Budget, there has been a massive increase in parcel deliveries over Cyber Weekend, even exceeding predictions, according to carrier management platform MetaPack.

MetaPack is responsible for processing a huge number of parcel deliveries on behalf of the UK’s retailers and carriers.

The company saw a 26% year-on-year rise in delivery volumes processed across its platform over Black Friday and Cyber Weekend. 

This is an interesting early metric, suggesting eCommerce is far from running out of steam.

MetaPack expected to see a rise in delivery volumes of around 20%, but after shipping a total of 11 million parcels on behalf of European based retailers and brands between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the company confirmed that the increase was far higher than predicted.

These figures reflect other industry intelligence which indicates that while shopping on the high street on Black Friday fell away, eCommerce sales rose.

IMRG has said that the amount spent on UK online retail sites on Black Friday alone was up 11.7% to £1.39bn.

Of that spend, 39% was completed on a smartphone, with the device taking the highest share of sales against desktop and tablet.

This stronger-than-expected performance was achieved in spite of a number of factors that could have exerted a negative influence on growth, such as Black Friday falling relatively early (before payday for some). In addition many retailers ran their own discounting campaigns over varied times.

Even on Monday 13 November, a full week before Black Friday week began, there were 12 Black Friday-specific and 66 non-specific discounting campaigns live among the 210 retailers tracked.

Craig Summers, UK MD, Manhattan Associates added: “If retailers are to make the most of Black Friday, they need to make sure they are giving customers a reason to shop in store. They need to offer a truly omnichannel retailing experience by offering the same deals and the same quality of experience in store as online to lure consumers.

"And for those retailers still allowing their stores to compete with online, now is the time to make a change. Retailing in a customer’s eyes is channel-less and therefore the retailers should be seeing this the same way. The stores need to stop viewing the online channel as a threat, and work seamlessly alongside them to offer customers a unified experience, or risk losing them to another retailer.”

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The best of both worlds? 20/11/2017

A significant proportion of the UK forklift market consists of Chinese-built models, but it isn’t a massive chunk. Chinese trucks have certainly improved in quality over the years and rank favourably in price terms compared with European built models. What has tended to let them down is poor support.

Replacement parts are often hard to find, and if they can be found, take too long to arrive. Forklifts are more than pieces of machinery, they are links in a process of supply where continuity is king.

Baoli EMEA, owned by the Kion Group, aims to resolve this issue by combining Chinese manufacture with a back-up operation based in Italy, which can supply spare parts, as well as hold a lot of forklift stock.

You can read more here. It will be interesting to see how they do.

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Building the Matrix: Do you want in? 16/10/2017

“We are building the Matrix,” the man declared from the stage. No, this is not the opening line from some ropey novel, but a speech from the closing keynote at Gartner’s Supply Chain Conference in London.

The man was Gartner’s Kevin O’Marah and he looks a wee bit like George Clooney. His presentation took in brain-machine interfaces, smart dust, 4D printing, Artificial Intelligence and teleportation. Ok, I made one of those up – but can you guess which one? *

One thing was loud and clear from the presentation and from the conference in general. The pace of change is breathless and the future is here, right now. You may ask, what has that got to do with me? With the sheafs of paper covering my desk, a green screen monitor, a bumpy floor in the warehouse, dented pallet racks, and smoky old forklifts.

In answer to that question, one speaker from PepsiCo quoted sci-fi author William Gibson – “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

To continue the sci-fi movie theme, while Blade Runner asks ‘do androids dream of electric sheep?’ – real futurologists are asking do truckers dream of caring for the elderly? Lynda Gratton says the new digital industrial revolution will threaten jobs and change the tasks demanded of people. She predicts that semi-skilled men in particular could see a big shift in roles away from traditional masculine jobs such as driving trucks (or forklifts) to jobs that are focused on softer and traditionally more feminine skills such as as caring for the elderly.

But I suppose one does not negate the other. It is possible to be a caring, giving man who can help take care of vulnerable people, and drive a forklift too. Equally, driving a forklift or a lorry doesn’t make a woman less feminine or caring.

The pace of change is creating an understandable anxiety. In my opinion, a lot of these things won’t add up to much, but some will reach serious tipping points where they can no longer be reasonably ignored. Just look at how IT and the internet have revamped the way businesses operate over the last few decades. As for which trend will have real momentum, don’t look at me, I’m just a guy with a pen and notepad in the audience. But no, smart dust, smart dust is the future (not be be confused with that crackly sweet you dumped in your mouth as a kid) :-).

* Of course it’s teleportation, can get nowt past you!

Stored energy

One way to look at an electric forklift fleet in a distribution centre is as a repository of stored energy. It is unusual to look at it like that, however Fortis Battery Care, due to become Juice Stored Energy next year, see this very clearly and envisage forklifts and forklift battery care being a key part of a facility’s overall energy management plan – not just in terms of trying to save money by running forklifts efficiently, but also by using the stored energy for other functions on-site as and when appropriate. This is said to help drive greater energy independence. These could be exciting times for the warehouse manager who may not be aware of the energy potential of the trucks he walks past every day.

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Government shows its Brexit hand 04/09/2017

The recent Position Paper on customs revealed the Government’s aims in its negotiations with the EU. Some trade experts said it was foolish for the UK to reveal its hand before it had to, but it is likely the Government felt under pressure to provide certainty to businesses looking to plan ahead. The UK may also hope the Paper’s detail on Customs will force the EU to open discussions on this issue before the divorce bill et al is settled.

I think businesses now have as much certainty as they can realistically expect.

It has stated its preferred options, both of which are ambitious, because they are far from the EU’s stated position thus far. They essentially propose the UK have the benefits of being inside the Customs Union, along with the benefits of being outside the Union.

The Government has conceded the EU may not agree to the terms and has said that, in this eventuality, it will take a standalone approach, imposing customs, duties etc upon imports to the UK from the EU from Spring 2019. It is to be assumed that the EU would do likewise to UK imports to the EU.

Again, in terms of businesses planning ahead, there is not much ambiguity here.

One caveat is that the UK has outlined its desire for a transition period to help companies adjust. Implicitly, this may also be used to prolong negotiations.

I think the Government's 'have its cake and eat it' approach - while infuriating to many at the EU - is not as unrealistic as it appears to be at first. In my opinion, the Government's business as usual option on trade (option 1) is fairly likely to come to pass, not because the EU will love it, but because it puts the onus on the EU to change the trading arrangement if it dislikes it. Having not asked for this situation, the EU is unlikely to take the initiative. It will most likely be forced to act only when events push it to do so. What we have seen so far from the EU is that it will be slow, reactive, and measured. Probably. The situation is volatile and things may change quickly, but if Option 1 is de facto accepted by the EU, at least for an interim period, it will be work well for businesses currently trading within the EU.

You can read the full paper here.

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Waterworld warehouses 19/07/2017

Amazon has done it again. In filing a patent for underwater warehouses, the online retail behemoth has radically shifted our concept of what the warehouse could be.

The outlandish idea would see depots submerged underwater, with items summoned to the surface by acoustic vibrations.

Details of the patent, which was filed earlier this year in the US, show Amazon's vision for using lakes, reservoirs and purpose-built pools as fulfilment centres.

It shows a number of ways stock would be handled inside an Aquatic Storage Facility, such as items being dropped into the pools by parachutes or trucks.

As far as I can see there is no mention of water slides. Shame.

But in each case, packages would be contained within a watertight box, complete with an air canister. When the item is ordered by a customer, a noise transmitted under water would trigger the air canister to inflate a balloon to float the package to the surface.

The driver behind the idea is the search for a more space efficient way of storing items. Whether this rationale is strong enough to overcome the many obvious difficulties is another matter.

The concept joins another ‘out there’ Amazon patent unveiled last year, the floating warehouse in the sky served by drones.  

I am beginning to think these ideas may be just noise to distract us from the uncomfortable fact that Amazon is on course to take over much of the available traditional warehousing in key markets around the world, such as the UK.

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Software in the driving seat 26/06/2017

If you want to have a look at the modern face of logistics, you could do worse than visit the distribution centre of fast fashion retailer Quiz in Bellshill, near Glasgow.

On my recent visit, I was struck by its cross-dock operation. Distribution centre manager Alan More describes its role as pausing stock rather than warehouse storage. The aim is to swiftly carry out both store replenishment and online order fulfilment. In this kind of operation, the IT is just as important as the physical infrastructure. Shop managers, the merchandising team and supply chain management have got to be able to communicate seamlessly, and share a single view of stock. As well as installing the automated materials handling equipment for Quiz, systems integrator Logistex played a key role in supplying a WMS and tying this in with supply chain and ERP software.

I also visited Dematic’s new HQ near Banbury recently. It’s a very impressive facility, geared up for hosting clients and attracting talent. It’s like a little bit of Silicon Valley has dropped down to the Oxfordshire countryside. The event featured a rare opportunity to speak to Dematic’s top management and it was interesting to hear them talk about the primacy of software, it is where the innovation is, they say, and where Dematic spends most of its R&D budget. It also means you don’t always have to buy quite so much hardware. If your software can act as an order buffer, for example, then why do it the old way using a physical buffer of conveyors, racking etc?

Arguably Descartes is taking this idea further still, with the release of its Pixi* eCommerce WMS. Ignore the irritating name, the idea is the software will automate man to goods picking and other processes in your warehouse to drive the kind of efficiencies you will need to keep up with consumer delivery expectations. It sounds like it could save money as the software is designed to begin to drive efficiencies with your existing warehouse set-up, without requiring additional investment in hardware.

Indeed, if you have had experiences with new MHE systems, we’d like to hear about it. Drop us a line at sduddy@western-bp.co.uk and let us know. Knowledge sharing is valuable, there is almost always something that can be learned from hearing about the experiences of people in similar situations. In terms of other new products, I’d like to point you towards TCM’s new counterbalance truck, one of a number of new products the manufacturer has or will be unveiling this year.

Also, check out our annual supplement – The Warehouse – which features a dock shelter from Hörmann that is especially designed for vans. We are seeing the cascade of impacts that come from changing consumer shopping habits. More online retail orders leads to do more delivery vans on the road, which leads to more vans being loaded at DCs, which creates the demand for bespoke loading equipment, to ensure vans are loading as efficiently and safely as possible.

And look at that! We’ve got the to the end of the piece without mentioning politics, Brexit, or the General Election. So, let’s leave it there, as I am sure you are hearing enough about our super competent politicians elsewhere!

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Simon Duddy is an experienced B2B editor and has worked across a range of titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Heating & Ventilating News and Arabian Computer News.