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Getting flexible on forklift fleets

28 April 2022

The beverage industry is undergoing a prolonged period of change that is making automated models an increasingly attractive option for companies of all sizes, says Paul Freeman.

ACROSS THE beverage industry, SKU numbers have proliferated noticeably in recent years and this has left many manufacturers and distributors struggling to find the space needed to store growing ranges within their existing warehouses and distribution centres.

The need to make the most of every available square foot of storage capacity and move more inventory around the building with optimum efficiency has made the idea of automating key intralogistics functions such as the transportation of loads and the retrieval and put-away of pallets within racking schemes, more and more attractive to beverage distributors and manufacturers alike.

And the case for automation has been further strengthened by the fact that the additional labour that would traditionally have been recruited to safely and cost-effectively handle the rising stock levels within beverage warehouses and DCs, is becoming difficult and costly to attract. Indeed, a recent survey found that nearly half of beverage distributors consider the shrinking labour pool to be the biggest threat to the smooth running of their supply chains.

The beverage industry is also dealing with the fall-out from the pandemic and the surge in e-commerce sales. Consumers have become used to buying drinks – particularly alcohol ­– online and having their orders delivered the same day, but this type of order fulfillment operation requires totally different storage and picking strategies to store replenishment.

"A recent survey found that nearly half of beverage distributors consider the shrinking labour pool to be the biggest threat to the smooth running of their supply chains."

The space constraints generated by the need to hold more SKUs and the shorter pick times and quicker throughput rates needed to meet the delivery expectations of internet shoppers added to the fact that the labour crisis is leaving companies with little alternative but to hire inexperienced warehouse personnel, have heightened the risk of the kind of accidents and damage to equipment, building infrastructure and stock – not to mention the injuries to workers.

So, both soft and alcoholic drink manufacturers and distributors are under growing pressure to optimise storage solutions to make the most of the people and space they have available. Increasingly, this means deploying some form of automation.

Automating those aspects of the warehousing operation that follow a predictable pattern makes a lot of sense and relatively recent developments in automation technology have seen the emergence of flexible and scalable products that deliver a notably faster return-on-investment compared to the type of often costly fixed assets that, at one time, were considered central to any automated warehouse project.

These days adopting automation no longer requires every aspect of the warehouse or distribution centre to be automated – just the parts of it that will benefit most and, as a result, this sophisticated technology is within financial reach of SMEs as well as the biggest players.

So, introducing warehouse automation has become a multi-phased project and by applying a systematic approach to identify the most common intralogistics functions and aspects of the material flow process, systems can be designed that fit the user’s needs and drive productivity, efficiency and lower overall supply chain costs.

AGVs – such as Toyota’s Autopilot series – offer several benefits in addition to delivering lower labour costs, including reductions in product and building infrastructure damage and increased productivity. These notable advantages bring a rapid return on investment. Toyota’s automated forklifts (AGVs), for example, deliver a typical ROI period of between 12 and 36 months.

Toyota Material Handling has successfully delivered more than 270 automated projects featuring over 1,000 automated guided vehicles across Europe.

Paul Freeman, head of logistics solutions, Toyota Material Handling

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