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Automation and peak

05 February 2019

Emile Naus, a director at BearingPoint, on a new generation of automation.

Is automation able to keep up?

“Traditionally, this has been a weak element of an automated solution. Typically, the automated system had to be scaled for peak (with inherent issues with the investment) or a manual add-on was required. We are now seeing a new generation of automation that is much more scalable and that can keep up better with peak. This is particularly important given the growing challenges in finding a suitably trained team to deal with peak periods.”

Are there flexible automated solutions that can be ramped up and scaled back?

“It is not quite that simple, but newer technologies that are less reliant on major infrastructure tend to be more scalable. Often that still means having some excess equipment during non-peak. It will be interesting to see if the industry would develop a PAYG approach to handle these additional capacity questions.” 

How do they compare to highly manual operations?

“One of the key challenges in operations over the last few years has been the ability to bring in trained operators for peak. Whilst manual operations are inherently flexible, they are only flexible if you can find the right people.”

Is automation a viable option for 3PLs?

“3PLs have not traditionally invested heavily in automation. This is a direct consequence of their business model and the relatively short contracts with most of their customers. There are some signs that this may change, for instance XPO are investing in automation. The reality is that automation will continue to increase in importance, as the technology matures and the pressure on labour availability continues to increase.”

Do you predict any software breakthroughs?

“The use of advanced analytics is still at its infancy, but there are some interesting cases around optimising product flow, planning and deploying resources and monitoring and predicting breakdowns.”