Automation-friendly plastic RTP
28 September 2021
Accelerated growth in e-commerce is driving a greater reliance on durable, reusable transit packaging, says Jim Hardisty.
RECENT STATISTICS show that e-commerce sales, previously sitting at 21.8% of all retail sales, entered 38% in the first lockdown and have now settled down to around 30% — a growth perhaps predictable because of Covid, but showing no sign of slowing. This ever-changing landscape has resulted in a seismic shift in warehousing and distribution models.
John Lewis, arguably the godfather of retail, recently rented a mega-shed; an impressive building with one million square foot of warehouse space and a pallet capacity of almost 20,000, in reaction to online transactions increasing from 40% to a staggering 60% of their total sales. Soaring demand has also dictated that DHL grows its fulfilment process, a task it has undertaken with enthusiasm; increasing the fulfilment side of its logistics by 150% over the past eight months. This includes a new facility designed specifically to cater for direct-to-consumer shipping, which then offers smaller enterprises the freedom to scale up their own business processes.
A report by independent UK real estate consultancy, Knight Frank, revealed that the recent spike in online sales will create demand for an increased number of mega-sheds to the tune of 30 million square feet of space. This figure which will rise to 92 million by 2024 when the forecast shows online sales accounting for 32% of all retail transactions. This takes into account the need for the proportionately larger space required for online sales when compared to retail; warehouses need to be large enough to hold stock and facilitate returns.
Space isn’t the only factor — what’s the point of an expanse of warehouse floor that doesn’t operate efficiently? Automation is an area in which distribution centres have invested, and for good reason. Automation is a valuable asset in warehousing — an automated storage and retrieval system (AR/RS) could reduce wasted space by up to 85% and increase operational resilience by negating the need for overtime pay, training, and management, as well as mitigating the cost of sickness, absence, and the inevitability of human error. Automation can reduce the burden of repetitive and labour-intensive work on humans in a warehousing environment, meeting targets deemed demanding when undertaken manually, which increases pick rates and thus productivity. With automation comes another shift — the move towards a more streamlined transit packaging model.
Plastic RTP is ‘automation friendly’ — its uniform size and weight reduces wear and tear on machinery and it doesn’t don’t have nails or splinters, reducing the risk of damage to machinery.
An automated warehouse inevitably calls for an across-the-board uniformity; robotics can’t be trained to detect the inconsistencies that humans can. For example, plastic returnable transit packaging (RTP) is ‘automation friendly’ — its uniform size and weight reduces wear and tear on machinery and, unlike wood pallets, plastic pallets and boxes don’t have nails or splinters, reducing the risk of causing damage to, or jamming, machinery. RTP is undoubtedly the beating heart of warehouse evolution — quietly mitigating human burden by allowing automation to be implemented with ease; reducing the space required to store stock, thus avoiding the need for further investment in expansion; and negating issues caused by wooden pallets, which usually require human intervention.
Cost-saving, space-saving, efficient and sustainable: watch this (warehouse) space for the beautiful relationship unfolding between automation and plastic RTP.
Jim Hardisty, managing director, Goplasticpallets.com
For more information, visit www.goplasticpallets.com