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Crystal ball gazing

04 July 2017

Take a look at the future and you find our what is important now - eCommerce, concerns about finite warehouse space, Brexit, automation and robots et al - the following Special Report give managers an insight into the challenges that are here now and on the horizon, with some ideas as to how you may plan for them.

What will the world of logistics look like in a couple of years? Will drones with stock orders fly through storehouses, will robots deliver ordered goods to the final customer and will truck drivers activate 3D printers in their trailers to manufacture the order during transport?

Who knows? But we have canvassed far and wide in the warehouse and logistics world to get some ideas of what might happen.

There’s some great, intelligent predictions here. This feature also helps highlights a wide variety of solutions that will help you future proof your warehouse and logistics operations in the face of these challenges. 

Visions of what lies ahead

Alexey Tabolkin, CEO and founder of Eiratech Robotics

Let’s fast forward to 2027… Having tried to meet the demands of the online market through the traditional warehousing model, many have failed to meet the challenges of staffing, small order picks, one and two hour delivery. Costs rose, clients got disgruntled and business moved on… 

Those that did recognise the challenges and faced them back in 2017 with a different approach, have now grown dramatically. Operating on a 24/7 basis, they have enabled retailers stay open around the clock, with same day/’on demand’ delivery times and accurate dispatch guaranteed.

The warehouse of 2027 is a quieter, darker and cooler space, as operators have made the switch to full automation, staffed by robots. Robots now deliver unmatched efficiency, guaranteed 24/7 shift patterns, and reliable performance and production costs.  Gone are the back-breaking, 12-15 km shift jobs, to be replaced by more creative, customer-facing, interpersonal, service and IT personnel roles.

The requirements of the robot workforce differs greatly from those of a traditional workforce. Investment in property is now maximised: outside the warehouse fewer parking spaces and hence smaller carparks are required, leaving more space for productive inventory and storage, while inside there is less requirement for bathrooms and canteens. Other requirements, like lighting and heating also lessen significantly, while a reliable electricity supply for wireless routers and for recharging stations are critical for robots’ power and communication needs.  

Every available centimetre of warehouse storage capacity is now fully utilised, as robots like AGVs require mere centimetres clearance on either side of shuttles as they pass one another on their way to or from the dispatch area, or via self-organising one-way systems. The robots are unwavering, and they never deviate from their course even by a centimetre, so aisle widths are standard throughout the facility. In the unlikely event of a breakdown or blockage, the robots simply reorganise away from it until it is corrected.

Equally important for robots in our 2027 warehouse is the layout of the premises. Robots like AGVs work best if the storage space is all on one level, while the floor surfaces themselves are also critical. While the latest generation of AGV robots often require nothing more than fiducial stickers placed on the ground to guide them around the warehouse, they do require a smooth, level, hard surface on which to run, so carpeting or rough warehouse flooring has all been replaced with something more suitable.

In return for this reorganisation, the robots deliver unmatched efficiency, particularly if - like AGVs - they are allowed to run in secured, dedicated aisles. AGVs happily run all day until it is time for a recharge, and the first order they fill is as accurate as the last, with no variation in between. Their efficiency might be compromised however if they have to share their workspace with other warehouse workers. In that instance, safety considerations require the robots to slow down or stop when they encounter human co-workers.  

This loss is known as the ‘efficiency gap’, and is at its greatest when dealing with so-called ‘co-bots’ which travel from zone to zone, collecting goods for dispatch from pickers as they go. Clearly, in a shared work space, safety requires a slower pace, and a stopping mechanism when they encounter ‘softer’ co-workers. AGVs, with their dedicated work space however, encounter no such ‘gap’, and allow pickers to work to the speed of the robots, rather than the other way round, often increasing pick rates by up to 6 fold.  

The robots are ‘self-organising’, so as well as bringing the goods to dispatch in the correct order for dispatch, they also recognise which goods are most popular, and store shuttles containing those SKUs closer to the picking area than those with less demand, further increasing efficiency, and identifying which shuttles are low on stock and require replenishment.

The new technology has also helped the trend of bringing smaller and smaller warehouses closer to population centres, as lowering costs and ‘robotics as a service’ offers enabled access to automation technology  for smaller enterprises, right down to ‘mom and pop’ stores and e-stores operating out of much smaller premises. Now, in every town, on every high street, orders placed moved through automated systems to warehouses where items are stored, mobile robots will identify, pick and pack the chosen item and deliver it to a dispensing location where it will be accessible through a vending slot for the particular courier or collection agent to pick up the item.

Welcome to the warehouse as vending machine.

Paul Le Blond FCILT, chair, Logistics & Transport Technology Group, CILT

In road transport, there could be safety benefits from autonomous control, given that many accidents are caused by the driver, although the safety of automation has yet to be proved, particularly on roads also used by pedestrians, cyclists and others. There may also be capacity advantages, if automatic control enables vehicles to travel closer together, particularly on limited access roads or with vehicles with similar performance characteristics – for example, truck platooning. However, there may be adverse consequences in terms of increasing the number of vehicles seeking access to limited capacity, and the adverse effect on public transport if non-drivers are attracted to automatic vehicles. It is therefore recommended that Government support should be focused on the implications of such technology, rather than on the technology itself. Government should develop a framework within which autonomous road vehicle technology should be allowed to operate where it is beneficial to society, rather than be driven by the technologies that are being promoted.

David Jinks MILT, head of consumer research, ParcelHero

Amazon has been patenting some strange ideas recently: flying warehouses not least among them. However, there is a technology stampeding over the horizon that has far more practical applications, and could be arriving on a large scale far sooner than we might think.

3D printing could have big implications for warehousing, with many SKUs simply becoming redundant as they are replaced by ‘instant’ delivery. And 3D printing is not just for small items that can be produced on a domestic 3D printer. We also expect 3D printing stores to spring up on our High Street – in much the same way every street once had a photocopier shop.

Meanwhile Amazon has upped the ante still further and quietly patented technology that will enable its Amazon Logistics trucks to print items en-route to customers; adding another plastic string to the 3D printing mix, and again reducing the need for warehousing storage.

3D printing will, literally, bring a new dimension to warehousing and logistics – removing the middle-man and bringing nearer the era of instant gratification for consumers.

Such a move will have its upsides, reducing city centre deliveries and therefore cutting congestion. But it will mean the supply chain model we follow today will have to be re-built from scratch. Our report 2030: The Death of the High Street reveals that in just 13 years’ time we are likely to see 3D printing stores on our High Street, as well as autonomous delivery droids and other vehicles fulfilling the final mile.

Rob Wilson, major accounts manager, Carrylift

The warehousing environment that we know today will have evolved dramatically by 2027. Why do I say this? Advances in battery technology (not Lithium, that is fast becoming yesterday’s technology). The latest wonder material (graphene) it is a potent conductor of electrical and thermal energy, chemically inert, and flexible. It is also considered eco-friendly and sustainable, with unlimited possibilities for numerous applications. Chargers that reduce full charge cycles from 45 minutes to 5 minutes, are due to be on the market by 2020 latest. We’ll also see the internet of things, connecting lift-trucks with the rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence. We are not looking at the automated or semi-automated warehouse, we are looking towards a smart automated distribution portal (for the physical movement of product) that links the entire supply chain from raw material, to delivery into the hands of the consumer.

The technological advances in the connectivity of machines and smarter algorithms will be further complemented by the physical development of the lift-truck. Handling equipment will be 80%+ electric powered and virtually maintenance free, resulting in dramatically lower running cost and unprecedented availability. We could even see the surface of the machine coated in a graphene solar photovoltaics material that charges the truck while being operated. As we reduce the need for operators to physically interact with the equipment damage will be reduced, safety increased and productivity, coupled to cost control, more predictable. 

Emile Naus, partner and technical director & Roger Platt, principal at LCP Consulting

A significant amount of time is taken up by non-value added processes. For example, the time taken to walk around a manual warehouse can be much higher than the time actually picking products. Goods-to-Person picking will become much more prevalent in the future, removing unnecessary motion and improving picking productivity from 100-300 picks per hour to 800+.

Demographics changes in Europe will make it harder to recruit, and the continued introduction of stricter health and safety legislation will put pressure on reducing labour hours. Both factors will drive further automation and the implementation of exoskeleton support for operators.

The actual space utilisation of a warehouse is pretty low, considering the requirement for access aisles, space between products, and actual height and size of the building. As space becomes more expensive, automation will be used to increase the storage density, with the ability to go higher and remove the requirements for safe operating access.

As businesses continue to offer faster delivery propositions to customers, the pressure on warehouse and transport operations will continue to grow. In the same way that automation has removed non-value activities, it will also remove time-adding activities. Automation will create opportunities for ‘single touch’ processing of orders.

Previously, warehouses were an intermediate point in the supply chain. Now, they are often the fulfilment point for a customer order, and therefore any mistake becomes a customer service issue. Automation, but also the increased use of RFID will reduce the mistakes or at least identify them prior to dispatch. Automation will also create opportunities for customisation. 

Finally, the boundary between warehouses and production sites will blur. Warehouses will increasingly be the place where final customisation is done. For some products, 3D printing will become the norm, creating bespoke products when customers order them.

This doesn’t remove the need for good people, but it will change what those people do.

Simon Brown, MD, Translift Bendi

There doesn’t seem to have been many changes in mechanical handling equipment over the last 50 years. A few landmark designs stand out after the original counterbalance trucks, such as reach trucks, then VNA, articulated trucks (of which Translift Bendi played a huge part), and so on.

Most of the leaps and bounds of recent years have been in IT based systems, leaving the mechanical side to languish.

The traditional technical downside of the forklift is the lack of lateral stability created when the vehicle is turning, travelling or tilting the mast.

Bendi, and other articulated trucks overcome this lateral stability problem, even on uneven ground, by increasing the weight of the machine/load in a 4:1 ratio and a dramatically improved use of the stability triangle. Traditional VNA stacking solutions use a trilateral “turret’ head arrangement. However, with these trucks, stability is achieved through mirror flat floors, hard tyres combined with a weight to load ratio of 5:1. 

So, with both of these solutions, as the trucks ability to store in smaller spaces increases - so too does the weight and thus the cost which limits the appeal and use of VNA storage.

Bendi’s new SpaceMate's 'bridge concept' overcomes this issue and results in zero lateral tip or ‘over turning moment’ and therefore eliminates the required weight and resulting costs.

The concept is very simple:  As lift trucks are already stable in the conventional lifting direction the SpaceMate uses this stable platform to create a bridge between the forks of the forklift truck and the pallet racking adjacent to the forklift.

The load is then moved across the bridge to the racking. The bridge is then retracted back onto the aisle. Subsequently, neither the forklift truck nor the pallet racking is put under any overturning moment.

This new concept to forklift trucks, and mechanical handling in general, could make a significant change to the design of materials handing equipment in the future.

The SpaceMate is at present an attachment. However, the general principle of the Lateral Support Bridging could be incorporated into the design of VNA machines, removing the tri-lateral head and associated ballast weight – thus dramatically reducing their costs. Other applications will benefit by adopting the principle, such as tyre storage in stillages, coil storage, material and roll storage and list goes on…

The SpaceMate principle can also revolutionise shelf storage systems. Present legislation results that items above 25kg cannot be manually handled and therefore are often placed onto a pallet and stored in pallet racking with some form of forklift. The SpaceMate's bridge principle can overcome this in a much-simplified format, enabling lateral stacking of loads above 25kg into compact shelving areas in a very, very narrow aisle.

The SpaceMate principle may also be fitted to AGVs, giving them sideways stability without becoming big and cumbersome.

Translift have seen a gap in the market and plan to get the concept of LSB with the first concept in the form of the SpaceMate but plan to role this concept out into the wider materials handling market to make a long awaited core change in the MHE industry.

Laurie King, principal consultant at Crimson&Co

You can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for the warehouse now—businesses need to adapt their picking, handling, forklift and storage technologies to cope with the evolution of retail, turning the warehouse into a fast-response, smaller shipment environment.

Businesses need to work on their management systems to future proof their warehouses for the medium term. A new generation of workers are entering the workplace who are more tech-savvy. This means switching from intense clunky software, to more user-friendly, mobile device applications that require less training. 

There is a growing trend in augmented reality. AR (pick by vision) goggles could allow workers to pick to a higher standard and fast pace. The idea is that a worker will wear these AR goggles which are programmed to the layout of the site and will become visual picking tools.

A new breed of Warehouse Execution Systems is emerging which is challenging the traditional role and demarcation between Warehouse Management Systems and Warehouse Control Systems. These WES are based on “waveless picking” using sophisticated algorithms to optimise orders, staff, automation and processes within the warehouse, rather than relying on traditional batch picking routines.

Likewise, retail systems are challenging the traditional warehouse concept by exploring how to fulfil e commerce orders from stores in addition to the warehouse. These systems are using merchandise planning and order management capability to provide wider inventory visibility and more delivery options.

These kinds of multi-technology systems are the future.

The very ground is shifting beneath your feet

Kevin Mofid, head of industrial research, Savills

The impact of technology combined with changing consumer habits means that increasing amounts of warehouse space is required. However, different retail business models, legacy supply chains, differing approaches to technology and penetration of online retail by country means that there is no “one size fits all” model that can be applied to warehouse design or location.

The three pillars of modern retail; choice, availability and speed of delivery will mean that more storage space will be required close to population centres. In the medium term, this will mean more warehouse space in the way that we currently understand the asset class. However, in urban environments a balance will have to be struck by developers, local authorities and residents. Increased political will to build more residential units will have to tempered by the realisation that increased populations need a supply chain, which in turn will require increased logistics real estate. We expect to see more and more examples of logistics led mixed-use in urban environments.

Technology, however, will impact in a number of ways. Increased stock visibility will mean that orders could be serviced from an existing retail footprint, but the rents associated with retail real estate will mean that huge stock levels must still be sorted in a warehouse.

Countries where e-commerce is set to rise dramatically, combined with an urbanised population, will see the greatest potential for change. However, countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, where labour is cheaper and land is in greater supply could be the net beneficiaries should the supply chain centre of gravity shift east, driven in the most part by the increase in autonomous vehicles and truck platooning.

Sid Holian, MD, Bis Henderson Space

There is evidence of an emerging disconnect between what landlords and investors expect, in terms of length of lease and size of warehouse property, and what tenants are readily prepared to commit to. And this gap in expectations is set to grow over the next ten to twenty years – that is, unless a new way of approaching the problem can be realised.

In recent years, rapidly changing markets, growing uncertainty – with issues such as Brexit – and the fast expansion of eCommerce have changed the very nature of business, placing a heavy requirement on organisations to be flexible and, above all else, agile. Online retailers in particular, are being challenged by competitive pressures for ever faster services and more complex options relating to delivery, pick-up and returns. All aspects of business planning that are leading tenants to look for shorter leases with more flexible terms.

What’s more, in a bid to be even more responsive, retailers are starting to look for stockholding points closer to the customer – so, nearer to large conurbations. Placed on the outskirts of cities, a network of small units will offer competitive advantage by allowing for same day deliveries. This structural shift in what is required by the market will play out in how landlords and developers respond over the next 20 years.

The issue is, for landlords and developers there is still a strong desire to secure leases of between ten and fifteen years on large warehouses. Being risk-averse, they just want one tenant for a long-term contract. However, this low-risk approach restricts the market they are able to tap into and stands in the way of large potential gains.

In the future landlords and developers will increasingly need to be more in-tune with what tenants now require, and so will have to work a little differently. By looking to split large warehouses into smaller units and by offering shorter leases, flexibility can be created for these agile businesses. 

It may be that shorter leases will require a little more effort in finding a pool of possible new tenants, but flexibility is exactly what the market is calling out for, now and for many years to come.

Rafe Colenso, MD, CopriSystems

With organisations expected to react ever faster to changes in the market, technology and customer expectations, temporary and portable structures be the long term solution. Especially when compared to the massive investment and commitment in a permanent building that may only be fit for purpose in the short term.

The days of the five year plan using slow moving market variables are now possibly consigned to the past. With organisations unable to rely upon past assumptions, now is the time to incorporate uncertainty into both successful and prudent future planning equations.

The multiple benefits for choosing a temporary building include a simpler planning process, with a quick installation of a prefabricated building to a tangible asset that is flexible with the business; it can be reconfigured, portable not just within the current operation but with the business wherever it may potentially move.

Temporary does not mean a one size fits all building, all CopriSystems buildings are bespoke. Designed after consultation regarding your business’ particular requirements but also considering the layout of your site to maximise your space and streamline operational logistics.

CopriSystems structures are manufactured using hot-dip galvanised steel to protect from corrosion and can last indefinitely.  The frames can be covered with either, or a combination of, a single PVC-coated polyester fabric that is self-extinguishing, resistant to abrasions, UV damage and designed to last more than 20 years, or traditional steel cladding. The buildings can be supplied with a huge range of fittings including flooring, internal walls, lighting, additional insulation, commercial doors and dock levelling equipment. CopriSystems offers a full turnkey service and finance options.

Temporary buildings can offer organisations flexibility at every level, while delivering an immediate economical solution for the present and also offering the added benefit of adaptability with any subsequent future plans.

Software is leading the way

Francesco Soncini Sessa, partner and Pat Barlow, manager, Logistics Reply

The most recent game-changing concept for the warehouse in terms of technology has definitely been use of The Cloud. This has allowed WMS to metaphorically break outside the four walls of its physical borders – in other words, WMS has progressed to become a holistic view of the entire supply chain.

For example, at manufacturer level – the need to compress lead times to the retailer will inevitably result in having to extend his “warehouse software” coverage back to suppliers of raw materials via supplier portals in order to pass the consumers’ and retailers’ visibility/availability questions back up the supply chain and demand that stock appears on the incoming manufacturer/retailer radar as early as possible… resulting in total visibility of stock being mandatory from raw supplier source, via manufacturer, to retailer down to consumer at delivery location.

In that complex-integrated-holistic ‘WMS’ centred around supply chain, the latest tool that is appearing is Blockchain technology which will verify authenticity of product provenance, transaction authenticity, and process ownership up and down the entire supply chain.

The warehouse of the future can no longer be a monolithic packaged software, but rather an engine of business services and functionalities that supports activities all around the supply chain.

Mark Eccleston, technology and VNA sales manager, Crown Lift Trucks

The future will see increased integration of fleet management, WMS and labour management software, to help end users drive efficiencies. Our own APS (Auto Positioning System) provides a link between the WMS and our InfoLink forklift fleet management software. This kind of software link-up will become more common and more seamless in the warehouse of the future. We’ve had InfoLink for over 10 years and you will see us continue to take that to the next level.

Lee Thompson, sales and marketing director at Exact Abacus

It will come as no shock that customer expectations are a key driver in the fulfilment industry and with the big players like Amazon and DPD being able to deliver same day, it’s presenting a significant challenge for independent providers who are trying to keep up. 

The only way these retailers will be able to compete is to put a more choreographed system in place. Supply chains will have to become tighter and processes will have to speed up if businesses are to contend, on any level, with companies like Amazon. 

The future for warehousing and fulfilment lies in the creation of a common business language;  a software platform that is used from the moment a purchase order is raised through the manufacturing, shipping, customs and warehousing phases up until the moment of delivery. 

Having a clear system will make each stage of the supply chain accountable to the next and create a more streamlined process whereby there are fewer time lapses, in turn creating a slicker warehouse environment with a better use of space. 

Currently businesses can experience a two or three day lag between a delivery arriving at a warehouse and the product being sent out to a customer, this is usually a result of simple process falling down in the supply chain. Something as basic as no matching purchase order can dramatically slow down the booking in process.

Better communication through a universal language or system would mean the warehouse would be expecting the delivery exactly as it arrived and fulfilment could take place in a matter of hours instead of a matter of days. This would also ensure that more orders could be fulfilled in a shorter time frame increasing the profitability of the warehouse and allowing retailers to meet consumer expectation of same or next day delivery. 

Regina Schnathmann, Beumer

Logistics is an industry where the influence of the digital transformation process is particularly strong. This is because digital logistics offers considerable potential when it comes to costs and speed. The smart integration of digital technologies can especially make intralogistics more efficient and safe. The customer is at the centre of all development of digital business models. Close and iterative co-ordination with and involvement of the customer is therefore a key prerequisite for digital transformation.

eCommerce is still driving huge changes

Allan More, distribution centre manager, fast fashion retailer Quiz

Things have already really changed - the logistics model of major retailers is completely evolving. Many retailers are moving away from the old hub and spoke model to a cross docking model - which is what Quiz is doing. The ethos is to get stock through the supply chain and into stores as quickly as possible. The old way just isn’t conducive to fast delivery, as it has too many stages. 

Stock that is delivered to our distribution centre at 6.00am is on its way to the store by 4:00pm that afternoon. The future is definitely favouring this cross dock model. Consumers want change, and a responsive logistics model is needed to deliver this. Part of this could involve having more and smaller depots within your region to offer quicker delivery.

It’s about making sure the customer gets exactly what they want, when they want. In the future, this will mean using our store estate to fulfil eCommerce orders. That’s something that is on the roadmap for us.

We will also see developments in software with regards to picking and packing, enabling the warehouse to pick within smaller and smaller windows. We expect to see industry-specific solutions, for us, automatic sorters for garments could be important.

Andrew Tavener, head of marketing, Descartes Systems UK

One of the biggest trends we see coming in the future is logistics flexibility to deal perfectly with customer requirements, wishes and expectations. For example, imagine you sit on a bank in the park enjoying the sun and you think how great it would be to have a good book in your hands, not an eBook, a normal paper book. You pick your smartphone, order the book you would like to read, and after a few minutes the courier delivers the book to your place. We call this customer benefit 'shop and deliver everywhere'. This vision is based on flexible and highly efficient logistic and delivery processes. 

Today Descartes pixi* customers can process single item orders in less than a few minutes via intelligent automation. We call this process ‘One scan shipping process’. 

Within this process single item orders can be sent immediately by just one barcode scan. If you also reduce the packing process, which is not necessary anymore in our example, you can hand over articles in about 5 minutes to the courier. Intelligent routing systems like Descartes home delivery solution complete this process. Once the appointments are taken the solution is seeking the best routes to minimise costs and use the fastest delivery option. We will see this as a first step in big cities or congested areas, where online-vendors have central warehouse possibilities and could use bicycle couriers and drones for delivery.

Edward Hutchison, MD, BITO Storage Systems

The future of order picking for home delivery is likely to see some manual aspects being replaced by automated goods to picker systems.

There’s an evolutionary path that often sees retailers starting out with manual operations for fulfilling home delivery orders. As volumes grow and business becomes more established, some form of mechanisation is added into the process. Once firmly established and volumes and service levels scale beyond the productive reach of manual processes, it’s time to consider automation. For example, BITO recently provided a large number of pick stations for a market leading home delivery e-tailer, which is moving towards automation for order picking to reduce walking distances for staff. It uses Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to pick up a bay of shelving and take it to a pick station where the items are picked.

There will also be a demand for low cost automation. This will involve simple technology that is easy to implement and it will enable the redeployment of people tasked with carrying mundane containers on a regular basis to more useful functions. BITO’s LEO Locative system is a good example of this. This driverless intralogistics transport solution that can take totes between picking stations, is easy to implement, adapt or remove and does not require any permanent fixtures.

At any stage on the e-tailer evolutionary path there will be a need for flexibility and to rapidly scale up operations during peak. Stepping stone solutions will also help retailers in the transition to automate home delivery picking process. A good example being a combination of ‘middle-ground mechanisation’ and intelligent software that provides a first step on the automation ladder, while at the same time giving scalability and agility. This, of course, is vitally important in the fast evolving home delivery sector.

The software creates a dynamic ‘pick and put’ process – a waveless batching system that removes the need for sortation equipment. By considering picking and putting as part of a continuous integrated process, it can create a dynamic batching solution without the need for a picking buffer. The software can continuously monitor resource utilisation and dynamically adjust work orders and flows to reduce cycle time, labour and unit costs. This helps to minimise the peaks and valleys associated with traditional wave-based fulfilment solutions.

At BITO, we are seeing an increasing trend towards batch picking and efficient consolidation with very ergonomic packaging stations. We have been working in projects with an automation supplier that provides ‘put wall’ picking systems to fulfill home delivery orders. This involves picking several orders at once and taking them to a ‘put wall’, which is a bay of shelving that allows the picker to consolidate the items into containers, such as BITO XL open-fronted containers, in pigeonhole positions for each order. Once an order is complete the light switches on to inform the packer on the other side of the shelving that it’s ready and waiting. The packer can then pull the container holding the complete order through for it to be packed as one delivery.

Richard Jones, Co-founder, CommerceHub

Drop shipping is becoming widely recognised by brands and retailers as a way to expand their assortments without making large capital investments in inventory and warehouse space without increasing costs. 

Third-party logistics warehouses can come to the rescue of brands and drop shippers by helping them load balance their inventory geographically and deliver their products quickly and cheaply.

Drop shipping could be the answer for many retailers and brands, who will only see increasing pressure to provide larger assortments and faster, cheaper shipping. But, retailers need to balance those pressures against the need to control their own identity and maintain their own customer relationships outside of the Amazon ecosystem. In any event, retailers cannot currently build enough warehouses or invest in enough inventory to sustain the kinds of growth necessary to ensure their survival, so other options will need to be looked at.

Ruth Oxley, marketing manager, Aganto

The evolution of consumer shopping has revolutionised logistics. The monster of instant shopping gratification has put inordinate pressure on logistics - and in particular warehouse space, which in turn can result in customer expectations not being met.

Furthermore, Amazon and other retailers rapid acquisition of warehouse space and property across the UK are leaving little new warehousing space for other businesses; and much of what is left is too expensive or struggles to meet the needs required.

Aganto provides a seamless solution to this increasing problem. One of the UK’s leading suppliers of temporary buildings, Aganto offers a range of temporary industrial structures to provide additional warehouse and storage space in the most flexible, convenient and versatile way possible.

We can install warehouses of any size in just days - added to existing warehouses or as a separate structure onsite. Whether it is a loading bay canopy to protect goods in and out, retractable tunnels to cover walk and transport through ways, or simply to store and distribute pallets, Aganto’s range of temporary buildings can be applied for many functions and for all sectors.

Companies can gain cost effective extra space in just days, and on flexible rental or purchase terms, as part of the bespoke and personalised package from Aganto. With so many uncertainties, not just in business but in the wider world of unstable socio-economic troubles, Aganto’s proposition of temporary industrial buildings that can be installed and dismantled when you want them to, suitable for your financial situation, and no long term investment or commitment, are ideal for the transitional and fleeting world in which we live. 

We said last year we can futureproof your business - time now to take us up on it. The next chapter for us all is uncertain, but keep the wheels of logistics-and other industries- ticking over with temporary solutions. 

If not some retailers will have to raise delivery charges or be unable to extend operations.

Space is planned but at what cost? Aganto benefits businesses by being so versatile to the needs of a business. In this rapidly evolving society we live in, we can’t even plan for tomorrow never mind tomorrow’s warehouse. You can however be reassured that our low risk, low-commitment and low key solutions are the perfect intermediate solution for your business if you need space or additional coverage.

Craig Ryder, director, Go Supply Chain

Factors are mounting to make congestion a critical urban logistics issue, not least the rapidly expanding urban population. London, which stands apart as a global ‘megatropolis’ is forecast to be knocking on the door of 10 million residents by 2024. They are living and working in an increasing number of buildings converted into multi-tenanted developments and new, mixed-use skyscrapers. These densely populated buildings generate multiple deliveries but often lack a consolidated loading bay and internal delivery system, resulting in delivery drivers parking vehicles while making time consuming treks to find the apartment or office.

It is likely that tomorrow’s logistics will see an increase in traffic and environmentally friendly delivery vehicles, such as cargo bikes and electric vehicles, which can negotiate congestion and low emission zones during the last mile or two.  We may also soon see self-driving autonomous vehicles, equipped with ‘intelligent’ mapping systems, that will be able to anticipate congestion and dynamically reroute accordingly.

Stephen Burton, MD, Windsor Materials Handling

E-commerce has profoundly changed the way the warehousing and logistics industry operates. As online orders have risen, more distribution centres are opening in urban areas to accommodate an efficient last mile delivery. 

Downtime has always been an important KPI for equipment users, but the pressure on retailers is inevitably being forced further down the supply chain. What may have been an acceptable turnaround speed in the recent past, may be unacceptable in the near future. 

Each of our locations operates as a standalone branch, which means our customers don’t get put through to a call centre when they need to speak to us. Our clients can rely on us to ensure a knowledgeable service manager based local to their facility will take their call and rectify their issue as soon as possible.

David Newcombe, MD, Hörmann UK

As the Bob Dylan hit goes… ‘The times, they are a changin’. Never has that phrase from the 1960s been more relevant for the retail industry than right now in 2017. The evolution of e-commerce has, without doubt, been one of the biggest logistical challenges of the 21st century for warehouse operators. It is more important than ever to adapt operational processes in a way that provides reliability, efficiency and flexibility. Over the last year alone, Hörmann has helped numerous parcel delivery companies, both large and small, to adapt their delivery methods to meet new expectations.

Chris Hoskin, head of marketing, MetaPack

There is an inexorable shift towards delivery velocity and the use of delivery as a brand differentiator. Retail logistics operations, therefore, are turning to technology to help them manage every stage in the delivery process. At the front-end, retailers are using delivery platforms to expand the range of options to consumers, behind the scenes, logistics managers are reliant on technology to monitor the ebb and flow of orders into the warehouse, picking, packaging and labelling and despatching to meet delivery expectations.

Automation is the future… isn’t it?

Jon Buckley, commercial director, Toyota Material Handling UK

The automation of warehouses is a hot topic in industry right now and it’s often talked about in the context of huge, complex systems with many different elements handling thousands of items at dizzying speeds. That vision however only represents one aspect of automation and Toyota believes you don’t need to be a large multi-national company or have complex processes in order to benefit from automation. Automation can be simple, yet still aid warehouse productivity. 

It is actually perfectly sensible and quite reasonable to tackle automating warehouse processes on a discrete basis. For many SME organisations, their first touch point for automation might be identifying a repetitive material handling task such as moving stock from A to B to facilitate pick face replenishment or moving product from the end of a production line. It is in circumstances like this that are the perfect opportunity to introduce simple automation, such as Toyota’s new TAE050 automated guided cart.

Able to carry loads of up to 150kg and tow loads of up to 500kg the TAE050 is a compact load carrier (of the type often described as a ‘turtle’), that is both cost-effective and easy to install. 

Toyota Material Handling sees a future where AGVs are increasingly common and that they will work in harmony with both humans and other available systems such as automated stackers and reach trucks, the TAE050 AGV is an important but simple step in that direction.

John Boulter, MD Retail, UK & I, DHL Supply Chain

For automation to be successful, businesses need to tailor the technology to their specific needs. Tactical modular solutions such as collaborative robots are particularly well-suited to co-packing and customisation, as the robots are highly adaptable and can be programmed to take on a range of specific tasks during peak periods. Self-driving vehicles, or AGVs, can assist in warehouses where heavy and large products need to be moved around, without the need for impractical conveyors or large vehicles.

If businesses opt for full scale automation, they need to consider whether technology can be retrofitted into legacy structures or whether there needs to be a greenfield deployment. As it can take six to seven years for businesses to see a return on investment from full scale integrated automation projects, business leaders need to carefully plan ahead to truly benefit from the increased efficiencies it can bring.

Matthias Heutger, SVP strategy, marketing and innovation at DHL 

The development of advanced robotics is one technology trend that will have a profound and positive impact on society. Despite innovation elsewhere, logistics has stubbornly resisted innovation and renewal through robotics. According to research, around 80% of warehouses have no supporting automation whatsoever. Even in the most advanced hubs, it’s not uncommon to find upward of 1,000 employees unloading trucks and sorting items. Yet this is rapidly changing and businesses need to consider the benefits of adopting these technologies to empower workforces and reduce inefficiencies. 

Many robotics innovations address challenges through more effective collaboration between people and robots. Working alongside their human “colleagues” to – quite literally – do the heavy lifting, robots can now identify, pick, manipulate and place items in a warehouse environment that is not designed around robotic ways of working. It is still early days but together they are laying the foundations for a logistics supply chain that is faster, safer and more productive. 

Alex MacPherson, solution consultant manager, Manhattan Associates

The growth of warehouse automation has been constrained due to the risks associated with any large-scale investment, but we anticipate this changing. Innovations to support the growth of eCommerce, particularly around the deployment of Put Walls to consolidate multi-line orders that are picked separately, are pushing this.

Following the recent depreciation of Sterling, Eastern European workers are less attracted to working in the UK and therefore the warehouses will see a decline in available labour from one of its primary resource pools in the last decade. Additionally, the likes of Generation Z and millennials do not aspire to work in warehouses and these factors may therefore force retailers down the robotics route sooner than expected as they try to combat limitations in labour. Undoubtedly the huge peaks created by Black Friday and other promotional activity provide retailers with a huge challenge in fulfilment that MHE could provide some of the solutions to help overcome.

Market research firm Tractica says that in 2021, companies worldwide will spend $22.4 billion on warehouse robots.

David Bowen, warehouse product manager, Linde Material Handling

The demand for automated industrial trucks is growing steadily. Customers are looking to deploy semi or fully automated solutions. Over the past few years, we have adapted our product range to reflect this. In 2015 Linde launched the first robotic industrial trucks in the market under the umbrella Linde robotics with the Linde L-Matic HP robotic stacker and the Linde P-Matic robotic tractor.

These are just 2 examples of the many automated trucks we now offer, and we’re looking to develop this line further. We expect that by 2025 almost a fifth of our forklift trucks will be automated. We have been working in close collaboration with robotics solutions provider Balyo since the launch of our first automated truck and will continue this collaboration for a further 10 years.

Simon Barkworth, UK managing director for Crown Lift Trucks

Automation is advancing now. We’ll see this trend continue but our core values will remain as no matter how good the technology, the forklift has to be reliable.

Our investment in advanced and practical technology is high. Semi-automated solutions such as QuickPick Remote have been both technologically innovative and have had practical benefits in a lot of warehouses.

It's about having flexibility as well. A lot of automated solutions aren’t particularly flexible, so I do think there is a real place for a dual mode truck, that can be used both manually and automated.

That said, I think we'll see more automated warehouses with fewer people in them. Who knows what Brexit means from a recruitment perspective? It's tough now, and it’s likely to only get harder. The value of reducing head count is going to grow, no doubt about it.

Peter Ward, CEO, United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA)

The logistics industry has historically relied on an increased labour force to meet the needs of new client contracts but automation and robotics are coming and you ignore them at your peril.

A number of factors are driving this trend and, of course, Brexit is one of them.

The combination of falling unemployment levels, minimum wage rises and a potentially reduced labour pool from the post-Brexit EU has changed the cost equation.

As a result, automation is stepping closer into the economic justification zone for more logistics operators who are juggling higher volumes, a growing demand for faster order fulfilment and greater value on the one hand, with rising staff costs on the other.

Traditionally, automated handling technology has required a relatively high level of investment over an extended period of time before it has secured a return. This has largely been at odds with the shifting client base of many third party logistics providers, but there are signs that the 3PL/client relationship is changing.

The traditional reluctance to invest in automation results from 3PL client contract durations of, typically, three years, by which time any return on investment in an automated system would only just be starting to become manifest.

Where good relationships between 3PLs and their clients have already become well established we are now seeing contract renewals of five and even ten year durations, which makes the payback on automation viable and more attractive. 

Tracy Brooks, Hyster

There is an increased desire to talk about automation because it is becoming more affordable and more flexible. The technology is accelerating very quickly so the next five years will be interesting as these technologies advance and companies battle for technical advantages over each other. 

Driverless transport systems have until now primarily been used for highly repetitive tasks, such as transportation of small parts. We anticipate that narrow aisle trucks (VNA), reach trucks and low level order pickers (LLOPs) will increasingly be used in automated transport and in the putting away and extraction of palletised goods. 

This may involve full, or partial, automation of the truck using induction loops, camera systems, lasers, GPS or a combination of several systems. There is a trend towards affordable automation where a truck can perform the mundane tasks, yet have the ability for operators to manually use the machine to perform additional tasks which might not be appropriate to try and automate.

Kite Packaging

Brexit could lead to shortages in staff and qualified personnel within certain industries. We believe warehousing efficiency could become somewhat a problem as a result, which will require industries to look for ways around this to ensure they are not effected. Automation and semi-automation is one vital area warehouses should look to.

Semi-automatic and automatic equipment in packing operations and also focusing on products that are space saving and packed in a way that makes them easy to handle will mean a lower labour requirement.

Steve Richmond, director - logistics systems, Jungheinrich UK 

Automated solutions in the warehouse are growing – hybrid systems in particular.

As logistics become increasingly integrated into business models and in meeting customer demand for a documented journey of deliveries and returns, warehouse automation technology, or partial automation, is becoming a necessity. This is not only to keep up with higher volumes, but to ensure required data is automatically accessible and ready to integrate with the rest of the business.

The key drivers for any organisation investing in automation are efficiency, productivity and reduced costs. However, what we are also seeing more of, especially within the warehouse environment, is an increasingly holistic approach to automation. Some organisations may not be in a position to overhaul entire systems and processes and instead are looking at where automation can create the greatest opportunities to drive efficiencies. 

One of the most popular options is to build racking higher and unlock available vertical space. Embracing automation in this way future-proofs existing warehouse locations.

People still have the power… for now

Peter Harvey MBE, chief executive, FLTA

Technology moves at lightning speed, particularly in warehousing, logistics and transport. Automation has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and for good reason. Perhaps, it’s biggest benefit is how it affects a site’s overall safety. We’re seeing more and more companies making the switch to automation, but we are not seeing it where its benefits will be felt most: among SMEs who, statistically, are more likely to be involved in accidents. 

For them, it’s not a practical or affordable option at present, so they must continue running their small fork lift fleets in real-world situations.  

In the short term, the only way to make significant and lasting change is for management to take ownership, by influencing company culture and behaviours at all levels – from shop floor to boardroom.

It’s up to each of us to look ourselves in the mirror every morning and ask: “How can I make a difference today?”

Ute Filippone, business manager EMEA & UK, I.D. Systems

Tomorrow’s warehouse will be governed by the IoT – but what does that mean? We are all thinking of fascinating technologies – whether it be pick-by-light or laser-guided transportation robots – but what about the human factor? In an outstandingly interesting presentation during a conference late last year, I heard somebody speak about the streamlined processes in a DC, at the same time mentioning that one part of it could not be automated: the returns. And I am positive there will always be areas of work within a warehouse withstanding automation.

So, yes, machines and robots will be doing a lot of the boring, hard and repetitive work, but there will never be a deserted warehouse. Therefore, man and machine must communicate more than ever. Current technologies include warehouse management systems from various providers and fleet management systems as our company, I.D. Systems, offers them. The future will ask for one platform where all information is combined and the main indicators are visible at a glance, with the ability to drill down to the last piece of information on the last truck.

The data provided by all of these systems should result in a collective intelligence, e.g. of the MHE in a warehouse.

Dave Wort, business development manager, SEC Storage

One issue that we believe will become prevalent in the world of warehouse storage is the availability of a labour workforce from the EU following the UK’s Brexit decision. 

The uncertainty surrounding labour is instigating a thought process among our clients over how they can increase efficiency and optimise their warehouse, with a view to not being so reliant on a traditional workforce.

This is giving opportunity to invest in new technology such as conveyors, dynamic systems, sortation systems and AGVs. It is however important to understand that there is not a one size fits all solution and warehouses should be prepared to challenge their existing processes to increase efficiency.

Having worked with a number of different industry sector clients, the intelligent application of more traditional storage systems following systematic analysis of physical SKU size, number of SKUs and order profile can help an organisation achieve efficiency gains, enabling them to be more competitive in this uncertain post-Brexit climate.

Laura Nelson, MD, RTITB

There is no doubt people will still play a big part in most warehouses in the future. After all, automation won’t be for everyone. However, training will be an even more important factor for businesses, as operators complete highly complex tasks using future technologies to carry out jobs faster and more efficiently. We will see training aids develop to increase trainee engagement. For example, we are already seeing lift truck simulators assisting with Basic Training, but they should never be considered as a replacement for this essential stage.

Lynn Parnell, logistics technology consultant, Logistics Partners

Tomorrow’s warehouse will feature a core skilled human workforce whose productivity and accuracy are augmented by various autonomous and collaborative robots. Many warehouse operations struggle recruiting the number of flexible operatives they need and it is feared that Brexit will make this worse. Robotics is advancing rapidly with an increase in the focus on Artificial Intelligence including machine learning, autonomous decision-making and swarm logic. The software and communications technologies are also evolving to allow faster exchange of data. The warehouse of tomorrow will include robots that autonomously move goods around the warehouse and pick and pack the majority of items with only a few lines picked by the human workforce. Where humans are still picking and packing, robots will bring the shelving to the human, rather than humans walking around the warehouse, and the humans will wear robotic exoskeletons to assist them with picking heavier items.

Mark Stent, engineering concept centre operations director, Yale

The people in tomorrow’s warehouse will be a demographically varied and potentially transient workforce.  This means that human-truck interaction will need to be increasingly intuitive.  There will be more focus on the load rather than the mechanics of driving the truck – where it is, where it needs to be and the most efficient way of getting it there.  It is likely that single operators will interact with multiple machines and be integral to dealing with unusual or complex tasks.  Automation is likely to move tasks from driving to planning, installing, monitoring and delivering timely service to the customer.

Future-proof your warehouse now

Simon Dixon, MD, Hatmill

Cost pressure will intensify on warehouses as the growth of eCommerce continues coupled with a lack of willingness of consumers to pay for faster and faster response times. The advanced use of data will become essential to drive increased efficiency. Leading warehouses are already using analytics tools, such as Crystal reports or Tableau to extract base data from WMS and use it to analyse layouts and rate of movement data to optimise pick flows. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The use of RDT guns, voice terminals etc. allows the harvesting of currently latent data. The value in this data is enormous. It can help management teams identify patterns of where delays are occurring between tasks. One example could be in the loading function where a trailer availability pinch point occurs at the same time each day. This can show the delays incurred by a loading team, this can then have a value put on it and compared against the cost of additional trailer spot hire. There are many other examples where this data can help solve long term productivity challenges, such as pick face replenishment delays, difficulties in dealing with certain supplier deliveries etc, etc. These delays or productivity constraints can all now be quantified and management action taken as the cost and the benefit can be identified and understood. 

However, the above makes this sound simple, in reality there are a number of, often difficult, steps required to make this a reality in a warehouse.

1.    A WMS with data terminals that capture time stamped activities

2.    An analytics tool that can access and harvest this data

3.    An ability to use the analytics tool and understand, interpret and convert the data into a useable format – identifying clear root causes and subsequent improvement actions

4.    A management approach that is happy to be data led, rather than relying upon the ‘experience’ of supervisors and line managers

5.    A continuous improvement culture that is constantly and relentlessly looking for how to eek out the next 1% of productivity improvement

Of the 5 critical success factors above, only 2 are technology based. 3-5 are all about people and their ability to be data driven in their behaviours. So whilst the data revolution continues to increase pace, it is perhaps unsurprising that performance cannot be improved without the right skills, attitude and approach amongst the people. So it’s not how big your data is that counts, it’s what you do with it.

Anssi Laitinen, senior marketing director, EnerSys EMEA 

Energy storage and battery technology has a vital role to play in the warehouse of the future as companies within the sector. We predict that more companies will seek to adopt a total cost of ownership approach. When it comes to motive power specifically, this will lead to a greater focus on a battery’s cycle life, rather than just its price tag, and lead operators to ask key questions when seeking to identify the right technology for their application. For instance, how much energy is wasted in charging and discharging forklift batteries? How efficient are the battery chargers I’m using? How expensive is it to recycle different battery technologies, such as lead-acid versus lithium-ion?

The requirement to change and charge batteries is a challenge for the layout and design of the future warehouse. As a result, we anticipate that more warehouse operators will seek to adopt a ZBC (zero battery change) approach, which can be achieved either through on-board chargers (using Valve Regulated Lead Acid VRLA batteries in comparison to flooded ones) or with the help of flexible opportunity charging batteries (Thin Plate Pure Lead or Lithium-Ion). 

There is likely to be wider application of smart energy management systems and monitoring technologies, with analytics and reporting functions to check battery charge and discharge curves and ensure electric forklift trucks are operating efficiently.

David Goss, technical manager, BITA

The majority of warehouse trucks are currently battery powered, and those are overwhelmingly of the traditional lead acid type. Lithium ion (Li-ion) technology offers significant advantages and has been around for a number of years, but take up has been very slow.

Some have argued that Li-ion isn’t suitable for counterbalance type trucks, because their lighter weight requires a corresponding increase in the mass of the counterbalance. However, this argument ignores two important facts: firstly, the overall weight isn’t being increased, so, whether the mass is in the battery or integral to the truck, the power requirement doesn’t change, and secondly, the majority of trucks currently on the market were designed for lead acid batteries, with the Li-ion option added afterwards. This means design optimisation, taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the new technology, has not yet taken place.

The optimised future warehouse will incorporate truck requirements in the initial design specification. The number of trucks required, charge station design and even the power supply to the facility depend on the technology selected.

Darren Wildman, VP of sales, at Apex Supply Chain Technologies

The future success of warehousing and logistics is in using technology to replace current processes which are inefficient and costly. In particular, technology will be essential in helping warehouse and distribution centre staff to better utilise tools and equipment, automating routine tasks. 

We see secure ‘smart’ lockers helping ensure critical equipment is available and ready for workers to use when they need it.

Gary Kirk, project sales director, SEC Storage

We’re seeing huge pressure on warehouse storage. The temptation is to maximise cubic capacity, however our experience suggests the optimal design in most cases balances capacity and operational efficiency. The right warehouse storage design comes after detailed analysis of SKUs and order profiles.

Tobias Raeber, Herchenbach

I think flexibility will be a key topic to be addressed. Business models change, new innovations come to the market, consumer trends shift, and to stay ahead of the game executives are looking for flexible solutions that enable their business to adapt quickly to the current market.

In terms of warehousing and storage space, executives are looking for flexible solutions that give them capacity in the face of rapid change.

Temporary building warehouses, such as the ones by Herchenbach, are one possible solution to overcome these challenges. Already, big companies such as Kühne & Nagel, Lufthansa Cargo, Dachser and DHL have taken advantage of our solutions.

Martin McVicar, MD, Combilift

Statistics from property agencies and warehouse developers all point to a continued shortage of logistics space, the depletion of warehouse sites, particularly in major cities such as London, and the lack of investment in new facilities. Colliers International, for example, estimates that 18 million sq ft of space is required each year in Britain and Ireland, whereas only 3.5m sq ft is actually being built. Coupled with the growth of e-commerce, which is not likely to stagnate any time soon, this shortfall means that costs per square foot will continue to rise, and relocation to new premises in times of growth will be problematic as residential developers take over traditional industrial sites.  

Tomorrow’s warehouse will therefore be under pressure to prioritise maximum use of storage space and selectivity in order to accommodate the highest density of goods in as small a footprint as possible for cost effective operations and best possible ROI. This can be achieved by examining a number of factors, but one crucial aspect is the optimum combination of racking and forklifts to ensure that there are no redundant “dead” spaces in storage facilities - such as those needed by certain types of forklifts for manoevering for example. Trucks that can operate in the narrowest possible aisles for the products they have to move, safely and efficiently, will be more and more in demand in Tomorrow’s Warehouse as handling and storage procedures are re-evaluated. When we first developed the Combilift range of multidirectional trucks we addressed what was then seen as niche market for space saving operations, but this has now become a mainstream requirement which only a very small minority of companies will be able to ignore in future.

John Maguire, commercial director, Narrow Aisle

Internet shopping is making existing warehouse storage formats obsolete and the pressure to speed up e-commerce deliveries, reduce overheads and defend market share is forcing retailers and their 3PL partners to rethink.

Historically, orders bound for grocery retail outlets have been picked and despatched from the distribution centre (DC) as either full pallet loads or mixed loads picked manually onto pallets or in to roll cages.

But now layer picking is seen as a highly cost- and throughput-effective alternative to these two options by retailers and their suppliers alike and as an essential method of leveraging order picking efficiency and eliminating manual handling.

Logistics is at the heart of the new consumer’s online shopping experience and online sellers that fail to recognise this and choose to ignore the benefits that modern intralogistics technology can bring to their warehouse operations are at risk of falling off the pace - perhaps even permanently.

Jason Poxon, packaging technologist, Antalis Packaging

Although sometimes overlooked, choice of packaging has an important part to play in space optimisation. For example, consider pallet boxes. These recyclable palletised containers are not only economical in terms of space, but they can be stacked high so more can fit onto a pallet, are strong enough to deal with heavy loads, and are easy to move around with a forklift. They're also supplied collapsed flat in a single unit.

A more recent phenomenon is the mobile storage rack or ‘shelves that move’. Specifically designed to improve warehouse efficiencies, these clever racking systems are controlled by a remote, whereby users are able to move shelves to access a specific cell. This ensures maximum use of storage volume with the ability to access each object at any time. 

Changing your void-fill may present another way. Opting for a desktop airbag solution, for example, can create the same filling as twelve large bags of polystyrene chips, meaning drastically reduced void-fill on site.

Gary Livingstone, MD, MiniTec UK

It is a sad and often commented view that a qualified and competent engineering source in UK Industry has been in decline now for many years and this has manifested itself in this click and buy culture that the Internet has opened up for us all.

It is of course unreasonable to expect that customers know as much as we do about our products, so it is our duty and responsibility to make our knowledge and competencies as accessible as possible, so customers can get the right solutions.

In the future, there will be an increasing demand for improved space utilisation and reduced handling. This will place greater demands on the manufacturer to offer both standard and customised solutions.

Daniel Took, senior product manager – Professional Products, Kärcher UK

Partial or even full automation in cleaning solutions lags a long way behind the automated MHE curve - despite the fact it’s no new kid on the block. Indeed Kärcher first developed a cleaning robot back in the 1990s! Future digitisation and automation will certainly offer new possibilities for floor cleaning, however always oriented on clear added value. If safety and efficiency can be combined 100% and also realised on small, heavily-furnished areas, then truly autonomous cleaning robots may yet be the trend for tomorrow’s warehouse.

A key part of future-proofing warehouses is cleaning. Keeping your warehouses and yards clear of dirt, debris, litter and leaves is time well spent; dirt and dust kicked up by feet or carried by forklift trucks can easily transfer onto sensitive machinery, production lines and product packaging – potentially damaging stock, expensive equipment, slowing productivity or, for 3PLs in particular, creating a negative impression for your customers. This is particularly so as the warehouse is more and more the last stop before products reach the end user.

Boasting a host of innovations and typical Kärcher attention to detail, Kärcher’s KM industrial sweeper range redefines ride-on sweeping. Available with a range of fuel/power options, canopy versions provide fall protection for use between racking and shelving.

The EASY operating concept ensures one switch activates the machines’ basic functions and clearly arranged switches with self-explanatory symbols activate other functions. Multiple display languages are available for easy user familiarisation – ideal for logistics environments where seasonal peaks mean training new staff needs to be simple and fast.

Innovations include unique crescent sweeping brush for clever one-step corner cleaning, patented impact protection to defend against damage from obstacles and speed bumps, novel brush position for easy inspection and service access and Power Plus to deliver a boost from the battery - similar to the KERS system on a F1 car - enabling easier uphill driving.

With Kärcher it’s easy to achieve a practical cleaning schedule that won’t adversely impact upon operations. Rising personnel and wage costs are making labour-saving technology more attractive than ever, so if you're someone who'd like to spend more time working and less time cleaning, it's worth looking at mechanisation now.

To help more businesses make the transition to mechanised cleaning Kärcher is currently offering the chance to ‘Clean Now Pay Nothing Until 2018.

Gideon Hillman, MD, Gideon Hillman Consulting
In the not so distant future, one thing that is for certain, is when executed correctly, the combination of automated processes and human labour, can and will increase productivity.

The terminology ‘AI’ and ‘automation’, make this technology sound more futuristic than it is. Automation exists in many warehouses around the world.

While people and robots work in harmony in warehouses around the world, there are of course, still many sceptical of the idea of robots automating the array of warehouse processes. The idea that technology can be used to assist human workers with many simple manual tasks, is not a new concept; the real question is how comprehensive the assistance will be.

Many remain opposed to automation, and argue that, breakdowns, power outages, and downtime to change the set-up for different product profiles all impact on efficiency, and when these events recur, automation is seen as a hindrance, as opposed to an improvement upon warehouse processes.

Warehouse automation however, has been applauded, for cutting the work of human workers with repetitive tasks, and in today’s modern warehouses, robots are doing a lot of work, that would otherwise have required additional human employees; saving time and money over the ROI period.

With digitisation now viewed as the anchor for productivity and growth, we must begin to reconsider the moral, cultural and economic implications of warehouse automation.

Rob Vesty, Pyroban

No matter how advanced lift trucks, warehouse equipment and associated technologies get, unless suitably protected they will continue to have multiple sources of ignition such as heat, static or arcing and sparking components. This is true whether the equipment is driven by a human or is indeed automated, and Pyroban is already seeing fully automated warehouses use explosion protected equipment.

Gavin Clark, commercial director, Snapfulfil

At its heart, warehousing is very simple: identify and receive things, count them correctly, store them and remember where they are, pick the right amount, and ship them to the right place. However, we perform these basic functions in a time when operations are anything but simple.

Increasing operational complexity calls for smart solutions. One facet of a smart warehouse involves the adoption of technology at appropriate times for appropriate uses. A smart warehouse where the management and staff are using their technology to the full will run less expensively; labour will be tightly controlled, informed and efficient with high quality data driving continuous improvements.

With affordable labour already in short supply and potentially more so as Britain prepares to leave the EU, the next big opportunity is to employ light robotics solutions to support improvement in the most labour intensive warehouse operations. Some of the very real and very impressive advances in affordable autonomous vehicles are providing for solutions somewhere between advanced RF-driven, labour intensive operations, and the multi-million pound complete automation of a facility. WMS companies and robotics manufacturers are racing to find and develop the right offering at the right price.

Simon Adams, MD of WERMA (UK)

Back in the day I remember delivering a short training course and my colleague was in top gear explaining to the audience the benefits for LEDs versus filament bulbs and other design features of the product range. One of the audience commented in a loud stage whisper “I don’t know what he is going on about, they are only industrial light bulb after all!” More than an element of truth in the remark though.  Signal devices have always been deployed as warning devices in a myriad of application throughout warehousing.  Often ignored by staff, equally often less than useful if nobody could be bothered to replace spent or broken bulbs the value and benefit of our humble products was often devalued by the technology available at the time.

Moving with the times

Fast forward a few years and the argument in favour of LED signal lights has long since been won.  True, in the early days the costs of LED lights was very costly compared with filament bulbs and few people were easily persuaded by the vastly superior life span.  Several things have changed since then:  Firstly the cost has come down dramatically, secondly; operators are more conscious of the energy savings LED lights offer and thirdly the cost of perpetually replacing broken or defective bulbs has become a quantifiable cost operators need to reduce.

Intelligent systems based on signal lights

Without doubt the biggest difference we have seen in our market place has been through our development of intelligent process optimisation systems based on our core signal technology competency. What has driven this development?  It doesn’t really matter whether you want to trace the origins of such developments back to the Japanese (automotive industry) led move towards more visual shop-floor management techniques and the drive towards reducing wastage by becoming more “lean” in the operation or the German led concept of a fourth industrial revolution Industry 4.0 calling for the increased automisation of systems through more sophisticated IT/Internet based technologies.  (I prefer to call it “evolution” not “revolution.”)

Major driver is reduction of wastage, improvement of efficiency

Here at WERMA we began to realise some years ago that the essential signal/message contained in a traffic light / beacon warning light contain essential data which can be collected and turned into useful and low cost process-improvement aids.  How long was a machine down for?  How often?  Why does it take so long to respond to a stoppage?  These are not new issues but it has become far more important to provide sustainable and effective answers in order to help industry move on and adapt to the changing requirements of our market places.

We now have systems which monitory machine and equipment up and down time, call for action systems used extensively in warehousing applications to keep the process moving without disruption and most recently have introduced an innovative Kanban system to optimise line-side stock replenishment issues.

So, looking back over the years, I can honestly say that Werma have most definitely moved with the times and today provide industry with much, much more than just industrial light bulbs.

Smart cities guide

BSI has launched a new guide for developing project proposals for delivering smart city solutions. PAS 184 Smart Cities – Developing project proposals for delivering smart city solutions – is a guide outlining how a city-wide, strategic-level approach to the development of a smart city programme should be applied at the level of an individual smart city project.

The guide outlines current good practice as identified by a broad range of public, private and voluntary sector practitioners engaged in developing smart city solutions. PAS 184 uses case studies to illustrate good practice in smart city procurement and creating viable, financially robust business cases for smart city projects.

Soft robotics

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director, EU Automation, says soft robotics mimic human or animalistic behaviour to create natural, fluid movements. Soft robots deliver the consistency required and can also do the jobs that may cause human injury, such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), further improving productivity and reducing risk to employees.

Recent discoveries regarding the potential of soft robotics has led to some farmers using the technology in food handling to improve efficiency in the agricultural sector. These robots can plant and cultivate crops without causing damage that metal, computer controlled robotics would cause.

Online food retailer, Ocado uses soft robotics to pick food for deliveries. A robotic hand, controlled by air pressure, grasps the food object sensitively and places it in packaging. This technology is not only more efficient than a human hand, but it also reduces waste caused by bruising fresh produce.

Soft robotics are in the early stages of development and other sectors must invest to allow the mass production and industry-wide use of the technology. To get the best use out of them, manufacturers need to develop the technology to carry out more advanced actions and become more intelligent and autonomous.

Electric charging points

The recent Queen’s Speech introduced the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which could see every petrol station and motorway services being required to install electric charging points.

Alison Bell, marketing director of Venson Automotive Solutions says: “Research we conducted recently found that 85% of motorists would consider buying an electric vehicle, however 69% said that the lack of charging points across the UK would be the biggest deterrent. Hopefully this Bill should move forward plans to invest in infrastructure for electric vehicles, helping more people get on the road to a zero emissions future.”

 
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