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Ingredients to success 21/11/2018

Warehouse manager Nicki Milner explains how ingredients supplier Muntons got to grips with space constraints, rationalised the forklift fleet, and deals with health & safety. HSS editor Simon Duddy reports.

Muntons is a leading player in the supply of malted ingredients to the food and drinks industry and is a great example of a company where warehousing is not the driving passion, but is absolutely vital to success.

“At Muntons, warehousing is not the core business, but my guys are the last people to touch the product we manufacture before it goes all around the world, so they’re critical,” says Nicki Milner, warehouse manager, Muntons.

Muntons is based at a 46 acre site in Stowmarket, with eight separate warehouses on the site, each serving different functions and parts of the plant.

Nicki explains: “The biggest challenge is being at full capacity. This is testing for the warehouse team as capacity has not grown in line with production. We fit a quart into a pint pot and are very creative about how we store product.”

One of the storage facilities is based on a VNA layout. It is currently 96% utilised and its 1,100 pick locations are served by a Linde K13 VNA truck.

“We are very pleased with this warehouse, it’s working very efficiently. We recently updated our Linde VNA truck. The technological improvements have been notable. The old truck was 10-11 years old and we initially got it on a 7 year contract and extended it.

“Myself, a warehouse supervisor and an operator went to visit two suppliers. We were very impressed with the Linde demo centre in Basingstoke. It was the operator’s choice essentially.”

Muntons also uses a Bendi articulated forklift to serve a double deep rack set up, which stores home brew kits for a major retailer.

Looking ahead, Nicki says a consolidated on-site warehouse that leaned more heavily on innovative technology could take the operation to another level. This may become important if Muntons continues to grow its already substantial export business. 

In the malt warehouse, the firm uses reach trucks in a wide aisle configuration. This old grain store has stanchions, which the racking had to be built round.

Muntons also utilises a temporary warehouse from Aganto. The firm hired this in 2012 and bought it 3 years later, as it worked out cheaper in the long run.

Nicki says: “When we started the wholesale operation, we used the temporary building to get packaging slightly nearer to production. I really am a fan, the service from Aganto was second to none. If we had the space I would put up a few of their buildings.”

In addition, Muntons stores product off-site on 3PL premises nearby when necessary. 

Looking ahead, Nicki says a consolidated on-site warehouse that leaned more heavily on innovative technology could take the operation to another level. This may become important if Muntons continues to grow its already substantial export business.

Forklift rationalisation

When Nicki took on the role of warehouse manager, she made rationalising the forklifts a priority. Muntons is now a DHL Lead Logistics Partner, with DHL managing forklift procurement as part of the arrangement.

“Yes, there is an on-cost but with DHL as partner, it frees us up to focus on core tasks. It also allows us to tap into DHL’s superior purchasing power.”

Muntons acquired a Jungheinrich forklift fleet through the arrangement. The fleet comprises ten gas trucks, two electric reach trucks, two electric counterbalance trucks, one electric pallet lifter and one electric pallet truck. The fleet is a mix of new and used equipment. 

“Getting the new trucks was a great opportunity to ask ‘what do we really need?’ We had too many trucks. Part of the issue was that each cost centre was responsible for hiring trucks previously. 

“We also made sure we got trucks with correct mast heights etc, making sure the fleet was fit for purpose.”

Safety vigilance

Nicki has worked in warehousing for her whole adult life and says higher standards in health & safety is the biggest change she has witnessed.

“When I started working in warehouses in the early 1980s, operatives would think nothing of shimmying up the racking and being lowered on the forks of a forklift. You just don’t do that these days. People criticise health & safety but it is my number one priority as long as it is applied with common sense.”

Muntons has a lot of different vehicles on-site and around 100 workers with forklift driving qualifications. The policy in the warehouse is to move operators around the different vehicles so they don’t get bored, and so there is less chance of them becoming complacent to dangers in the workplace. Job rotation also helps reduce staff turnover.

Continuous improvement

On the face of it, the job of warehousing and handling at Muntons is simple – to deliver packaging to production teams, and take away the filled packaging at the end of the process and store it. But warehousing is always changing, says Nicki, and many improvements have been made over the years to increase efficiency and keep up with production.

For the future, Nicki feels Muntons needs a warehouse manager with a more technological background. For herself, Nicki would like to progress to an advisory role in the near future.

“My passion is on the health and safety side,” she says. “I feel I have learned a lot over the years and my experience can be of use in helping companies raise standards in the warehouse.”

A struggle to be taken seriously

Nicki Milner went into warehousing in the early 1980s and entered management in the early 1990s. Somewhat depressingly, Nicki says not much has changed for women in logistics in the intervening years.

“I was the only female out of 12 operation managers in the organisation I worked for previously. In 15 years with that company, there was only one other woman operations manager.

“In 11 years at Muntons, I’ve had one lady come to an interview, and I didn’t employ her, because a gentleman had better experience. We have only two authorised female forklift drivers out of 100 on site.”

The HR team at Muntons is actively trying to get more women into the production side of its business.

“They approached a local college, who said no women are signing up to logistics courses. Perhaps at that age it’s just not seen as an opportunity?

“When I was a kid my mum wouldn’t let me play with Meccano, so when I saw a warehouse it felt like a big Meccano set to me. Within six months I was building the racking. That was my real passion at first.

“I didn’t choose logistics, I got a job as a picker and took to it. I loved the way you could organise things and make the warehouse more logical and efficient.

“As a woman, you do have to try harder though, it has been a struggle to be taken seriously.”

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Budget a ‘lost opportunity’ 30/10/2018

The Freight Transport Association has labelled the last Budget before Brexit as a ‘lost opportunity’ for logistics.

Christopher Snelling, head of UK Policy, at the FTA said: “More could and should have been done to help the logistics sector at such a critical time in the nation’s trading history. It is a lost opportunity.
“The £420m to repair potholes is a drop in the ocean when you consider that work that will cost more than £8billion is needed to rectify years of under investment in our road network. The damage caused by potholes to the UK’s logistics fleet is adding unnecessary cost to the operation of vehicles tasked with keeping Britain trading, and FTA is concerned that the funding released by the Chancellor will mean that operators will continue to incur these unreasonable costs at a time of extreme trading pressure.

“The freeze on the Heavy Goods Vehicle HGV VED for 2019-20 is to be welcomed, and FTA is particularly pleased to hear that the government is set to maintain the difference between alternative and main road fuel duty rates until 2032. This will support the de-carbonisation of the UK transport sector and give operators confidence to invest in alternatively fuel vehicles.”

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett urged the Government to start improving the road network now.

“We are already heading towards another cold winter and the potholes resulting from last winter’s freezing conditions still need to be fixed before they get even worse.”


  • £30bn package for England's roads, including repairs to motorways and potholes
  • 30% growth in infrastructure spending
  • Annual investment allowance to be increased from £200,000 to £1m for two years
  • Business rates bill for firms with a rateable value of £51,000 or less to be cut by third over two years
  • Contribution of small companies to apprenticeship levy to be reduced from 10% to 5%
  • £900m in business rates relief for small businesses and £650m to rejuvenate High Streets
  • Extra £500m for preparations for leaving the EU
  • The personal allowance threshold to rise from £11,850 to £12,500 in April
  • The higher rate income tax threshold to rise from £46,350 to £50,000 in April
  • National Living Wage increasing by 4.9%, from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, from April 2019.

Parcel price comparison site ParcelHero welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement that he will cut business rates by a third for all High Street retailers in England with a rateable value of £51,000 or less, and that he will not be introducing a rumoured online sales tax on goods bought online. However, it warned the claims Hammond’s budget dividends will not be impacted by a hard Brexit do not ring true.

“There is a lot for retailers and consumers to applaud in the budget; but speaking as a business at the coalface of customs borders, we believe the new tariffs and delays a no-deal Brexit would create would make today’s announcements unsustainable,” said ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT.

In contrast, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General praised a ‘rock-solid budget’.

“It recognises the enormous contribution enterprise has made to balancing the UK’s books through jobs, pay and tax and responds to many of the recommendations that firms have made.”

On investment proposals, Carolyn added: “The Chancellor has come up trumps with a bumper package to spur firms to invest more into their factories and machinery, with the improved Annual Investment Allowance and incentives for spending on buildings.”

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500,000 sq ft warehouse development launched in Harlow 22/10/2018

Icon Industrial has officially launched a 505,000 sq ft warehouse and logistics development in Harlow.

The first phase of speculative development at the scheme named Icon Harlow, is to comprise two highly specified new units of 68,100 sq ft and 96,827 sq ft. Each unit will contain up to 50m yard depths and 15m eaves height and offer two and three storey Grade A office accommodation.

Construction starts on phase one of the development next month, with the units expected to be available for occupation from Q3 2019. Phase two of the development will provide further build to suit units of up to 200,000 sq ft.

Icon Harlow is situated within the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, located 30 miles north of central London and 9 miles from the M25.

Firms based in the vicinity include DHL, FedEx, Wincanton, GSK and Bunzl.

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AB InBev opens robo-warehouse in Wales 11/10/2018

The automated warehouse has space to store 23 million pints of beer at its largest UK brewery in Magor, South Wales.

The world’s largest brewer plans a global roll-out of the warehouse technology, making Wales the starting point for the technology expected to cut its carbon impact.

The new facility was opened by local MP for Newport East, Jessica Morden.

Robotic cranes in the 80,000 cubic metre warehouse operating across six stories and 9 miles of racking will be able to retrieve any one of the stored pallets in under 60 seconds.

The warehouse’s technology was delivered by automated material handling specialists, Consoveyo.

Carbon footprint

The warehouse’s technology will reduce the brewery’s carbon footprint by 605 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent to the electricity consumption of 600 homes[i], by reducing transportation between warehouses. It builds on several investments at the Welsh brewery, including a CO2 recovery system and a waste-to-energy power generator.

The investment reinforces the brewer’s commitment to its 2025 Sustainability Goals, which includes the target of a 25% reduction to carbon emissions across its value chain against a 2017 baseline – the equivalent of taking more than 1.5 million cars off the road each year.

Commitment to Wales

Lloyd Manship, Brewery Manager for AB InBev said: “This investment demonstrates our commitment to Wales. It means we can get our beer out and into stores and pubs faster and more efficiently than ever before, that’s ultimately good for us, our customers and the environment.

“I’m proud that this technology is a global first for AB InBev and look forward to seeing its implementation all over the world.”

Jessica Morden MP, Newport East, said: “I am delighted to see one of the region’s biggest local employers continue to grow and expand, and to meet the engineers that will be operating the facility.”

The new warehousing builds on a series of investments into the brewery’s environmental performance. These include a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generator that converts biogas produced from the brewery’s by-products into clean energy, a CO2 Recovery Plant, which has made the brewery self-sufficient for carbon dioxide, and a 20% reduction in water consumption over the past five years, driven by investment into water recovery technology.

As part of the brewer’s sustainability ambitions, it recently introduced a new accelerator programme in a bid to support emerging start-ups with an ambition to tackle some of the world’s greatest sustainability challenges including climate change, water scarcity and circular packaging. This will see AB InBev invest up to £75,000 in each start-up selected for its accelerator programme; the 100+ accelerator. The global brewer is looking for start-ups with ambitions in 10 areas including water stewardship, climate change, product upcycling and the circular economy, farming yields, responsible sourcing and greener logistics.

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Flour mill closure threatens logistics’ jobs 01/10/2018

The closure of Hovis’ Southampton mill with the loss of up to 70 jobs could have serious ripple effects that threaten a number of logistics jobs across the UK.  

Hovis announced that the Southampton flour mill will close at the end of 2018 and would see the separate warehouse and logistics operations working for Hovis at DHL Bawtry (near Doncaster), DHL Southampton and DSV Belfast cease at the end of the year.

Unite the union expressed ‘serious concern and dismay’ at the level of proposed job losses at Hovis as well as at DHL Bawtry where it has 200 members, DHL Southampton (31 members) and 18 at DSV Belfast. It is not clear at this stage how many Unite members are working at these sites on the Hovis contract. 

Unite called for an urgent meeting with Hovis to examine the business case for shutting the Southampton site, which has been operating since the 1930s, Hovis claims that Southampton mill, which includes the research and development unit, is ‘significantly loss-making’.

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Poll says warehousing now 'most appealing asset class' 28/09/2018

74% of real estate asset controllers say distribution and logistics is now the most appealing property asset class, according to research from law firm CMS.

This is in stark contrast to a sharp decline in sentiment towards the retail sector, which has fallen from being favoured by 35% in 2016 to just 7% in 2018.

Research compiled by FTI Consulting on behalf of CMS surveyed 353 real estate investors, developers and advisers, controlling combined assets worth £400bn to examine their views on the key factors driving the market.

Ciaran Carvalho, head of real estate, CMS UK, said: “UK logistics has benefitted from a tide of international capital. Global players have been captivated by the transformative impact of e-commerce on the sector. Its appeal is clear, with online fulfilment requiring about three times the warehousing space of traditional store bound models."

91% of real estate professionals said that demand will continue to increase in the UK.

However, both real estate professionals (85%) and retailers (83%) feel strongly that the future health of the logistics industry depends on securing a balanced trading agreement between the UK and EU.

Both real estate and retail specialists foresee continued high demand for both large out-of-town warehouses (76% and 72% respectively), however there is a discrepancy of views in relation to small, centrally located warehouses facilitating last mile delivery (86% and 55% respectively).

Since land is so scarce and expensive near towns and cities, the vast majority (88% real estate and 80% retail) think it is inevitable that warehouses will have to become ‘vertical’ or grow taller to accommodate demand.

The need to speed up and increase the volume of deliveries, largely due to the rise of e-commerce, is driving the key trends that are transforming the sector.

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Don’t wait for the fog to clear 11/09/2018

Supply chain experts urge firms to prepare now for possible disruption.

With increasing supply chain disruption possible as Brexit looms, coupled with the challenges of the seemingly unstoppable rise of eCommerce, supply chain experts are urging companies to be proactive.

As we get closer to the date when the UK leaves the EU, the scenarios of No-deal Brexit, or Hard Brexit are distinctly possible. 

Alan Braithwaite, senior adviser to consultancy BearingPoint, says: “Tariff and non-tariff impacts will be shocking for some sectors – with food and automotive the worst hit by a hard Brexit. For instance, a hard UK-Republic of Ireland Border could have massive implications for the food and drink sector – as 9 million tonnes of food and drink (4.9million in and 4.1million out) moves across this border each year.”

Right now, firms need to adhere to the maxim of ‘proper planning prevents poor performance’ as waiting for the ‘fog to clear’ is no longer an option.

Alan continues: “We have been advocating this for the past 18 months, but business has been stubbornly expecting it all to be sorted out. It’s highly risky for companies and their logistics providers to rely on generalisations, as the combination of tariffs and supply chain risks/opportunities will be company specific. 

“As there will be opportunities as well as exposures; the first step is to understand the company specific landscape. This can be done by mapping the extended supply chains (customers’ customers to suppliers’ suppliers), classifying the flows and duty exposures, understanding the market structure and capacity, and modelling the outcomes and identifying structural opportunities. Developing this map before the final negotiated outcome will enable an agile response when the ‘fog clears’.”

Businesses are being encouraged to seek Authorised Economic Operator status pre-Brexit to protect their supply chain.

Comprising an internationally recognised quality mark, an AEO accreditation indicates that a company’s role in the international supply chain is secure, and that its customs controls and procedures are both efficient and compliant. 

Although not mandatory, it provides quicker access to simplified customs procedures and, in some cases, the right to ‘fast-track’ shipments through customs.

Consultancy SCALA is offering an end-to-end service to manage the AEO accreditation process. 

Dave Howorth, director at SCALA, said: “With focus and correct management, the AEO Accreditation process can be completed within six months. So, the time to act is now. 

“Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we can expect to see disruption to UK/EU cross border movements, alongside existing non-EU import/export movements being affected as HMRC is overwhelmed with handling UK/EU movements. Therefore, those hoping to minimise disruption to their supply chain post-Brexit should seriously consider applying for AEO accreditation – sooner rather than later.”


Online retail continues to claim High Street victims. House of Fraser wasn’t the first and probably won’t be the last, but it is still quite shocking to see these big names fall by the wayside. It looks now as if Sports Direct, which purchased House of Fraser out of administration, will seek in the long term to serve the remaining House of Fraser stores via its existing Shirebrook distribution centre. It has been suggested that in the short term XPO Logistics, the old logistics provider of House of Fraser, will continue to supply stores and fulfil online orders, but that in the longer term, the old House of Fraser warehouses at Milton Keynes and perhaps Wellingborough also, will close.

This is effectively a logistics consolidation, however and abrupt and painful for those who will lose jobs and for XPO Logistics, who, it is reported, was owed substantial sums of money when House of Fraser went into administration.

It has been a fraught negotiation for all parties and could be seen as a a setback for the idea of increased collaboration across the supply chain. For a long time, collaboration has been championed by supply chain professionals seeking to add efficiency to logistics. This is a brilliant idea and it makes perfect sense to supply chain and logistics managers who are primarily concerned with keeping the machinery of UK plc moving as smoothly as possible. No one can argue with its logic. 

But business is not always motivated primarily by logic. It’s more about chasing profit, and that doesn’t always lead to logical or pleasant places. Trust is a key building block of collaboration, and when big brands collapse in acrimony it certainly undermines trust and makes firms wary of exposing their business to excessive risk.


In the grocery sector, the growth of the discount and convenience sector is eroding major retailers’ market share, according to new research from SCALA.

The study says it could also come at a cost to suppliers. The research found that traditional major retailers’ share of product volumes has declined in recent years - with volumes down nearly 5% since 2015.

The erosion is a result of the emerging growth of discount retailers - expected to see an increase of 49.8% to their value over the next five years.

Convenience stores are also expected to see a healthy growth in value (17.7% by 2022), as they leverage their appeal to younger shoppers and those looking for food-on-the-go.

In contrast, traditional supermarkets are only set to see a value increase of 5.9% over the next five years.

Dave Howorth said: “While increased competition is positive for consumers, for the logistics sector, there are serious implications.

“Ultimately, more stores, growing networks and greater convenience comes at a cost to suppliers and the logistics businesses powering the supply chain.”

Scala’s UK Logistics Report found that major retailers are responding to the threat from the discounters by seeking benefits from consolidation, which again is impacting the supply chain sector.

Howorth continued: “The major retailers have, for some time, been looking at what the discount retailers do well and have initiated processes to rationalise product ranges and simplify their businesses to better manage their costs.

“The recent Sainsbury’s / ASDA merger and the tie-up between Tesco and Carrefour highlights this approach to making cost reductions, but the resulting impact to manufacturers could be detrimental.

“The impact of rationalisation on the logistics sector is two-fold. It may well help suppliers reduce logistics costs for supplying to major retailers, through larger loads and fewer delivery points. However, with retailers now requesting more bespoke products and pack sizes, the knock-on effect for manufacturers is added complexity, and therefore cost.”

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Warehouse manager wins HSS survey prize 07/09/2018

Congratulations to Nicki Milner, warehouse manager at Muntons, who won £100 in Amazon vouchers in our Tomorrow’s Warehouse Prize Draw.

In July, Handling & Storage solutions surveyed its readers to understand how they anticipate trends changing in the future and the results from the online survey, sent out in July 2018, make fascinating reading.

There was a strong consensus in some areas, with respondents looking expectantly towards new technology such as automation and lithium-ion powered forklifts. 74% of respondents saw Automation as an important future technology. Furthermore, 56% of those surveyed are actively considering lithium-ion powered forklifts in their investment plans.

One thing is certain, there is a need for flexible logistics that can quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

Click here to read the TOMORROW’S WAREHOUSE Special Report.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the survey!

Nicki Milner has held the position of warehouse manager at Muntons in Stowmarket since 2007.

Nicki said: “I have been in the warehousing industry for most of my career and still enjoy the challenges that this type of work brings.

“I found the Tomorrow’s Warehouse survey very topical and it was a great surprise to hear that I had won the Prize. I will be donating the £100 Amazon gift card to our next staff draw, where it will be raffled to raise money for our chosen charity.”

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House of Fraser Milton Keynes DC to close says GMB 07/09/2018

GMB said its members were informed on September 6 that the Milton Keynes depot of House of Fraser will close on November 27 with the loss of more than 300 jobs.

Members of staff were put on a 45 day consultation period on August 17, 2018.

House of Fraser collapsed last month as was bought out by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct. However a stand-off between Sports Direct and XPO – who run House of Fraser warehouses in Milton Keynes and Wellingborough – over a £30 million House of Fraser debt has left more than 600 people facing redundancy and orders at a stand-still.

GMB criticised both XPO and Sports Direct for the job losses.

Alan Costello, GMB organiser, said: “GMB is disappointed by the fact that XPO and Sports Direct are clearly only interested in the stock in the warehouse. They couldn’t care less about our members or their livelihoods. This whole stand off – during which our members have been left in limbo – has been about commodities – not people. Our members have been left by the wayside, while XPO and Sport Direct fight like rabid dogs over the bones of House of Fraser.”

HSS approached both XPO Logistics and Sports Direct for comment.

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Distribution company fine tunes RFID operation 03/09/2018

An RFID tagging project for a major distribution company was at risk of failing without expert analysis of the difficulties. The system was achieving a 99.5% success rate in the outbound lane but only a 70% to 80% success rate in the in-bound lane. CoreRFID was hired to diagnose and help resolve the issue.

The installed system involved the use of UHF RFID readers positioned on the inbound and outbound lanes of the loading bays at a vehicle depot to detect the passage of vehicles each carrying two UHF RFID tags with identical EPC codes mounted on either side of the drivers cab.
The audit involved an evaluation of the current installation of readers and tags and a series of measurements of the current system and the system in a possible revised configuration. 

Observations & conclusions 
The initial examination of the installation revealed a number of issues were contributing to poor performance: 

  • Some vans had different versions of the tags with different performance characteristics on each side.
  • Tags were not always mounted in consistent locations making the location of antennas sub-optimal and in some cases tags were fitted adjacent to metal framing that could result in interference. There were examples of tags using the wrong standard frequency - FCC rather than ETSI compatible (the UK/EU and USA use different tag standards) - and in one case a tag was found that had no active RFID inlay.
  • Tests were carried out looking at the performance of tags on different vehicles in the user's fleet. Using a standardised index of tag read performance 36 different vehicles were assessed in different reader / antenna configurations.
  • Three vehicles had tags that failed to read at all - caused by incorrect mounting of tags - while five others had readability index values close to the limit of acceptable performance. 

Lessons learned 
Reconfiguring the antenna and reader to so-called bi-static mode had the most beneficial effect on performance, improving the performance index by over 10% to a level where the average performance index was at a level that would allow successful operation of the system. 

As a result of this consultancy project CoreRFID provided the client with specific advice on actions to allow the system to achieve its expected performance levels. Recommendations included: 

  • Tag positioning problems to be looked for in a vehicle-by-vehicle audit 
  • Overcoming the differences in performance between old and new tag models 
  • Tag checking to ensure all tags in use are operational 
  • Configuring of reader channels for compatible operation 
  • Avoidance of application features likely to cause performance problems 
  • Configuring guidelines for RFID readers to avoid performance issues and advice on application enhancements to increase success rates and improve the discrimination between multiple readers in close proximity
  • Ensure new / replacement tags conform to frequency standards compatible with readers 

CoreRFID’s technical director Munzi Ali: “RFID is a highly effective system, with the potential to save substantial time and money. But any effective system needs to be correctly installed, through the audit we were able to identify the issues preventing the RFID system from performing to it full capability and suggest ways the user could make full use of its investment in RFID.”

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