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Staggered approach to automation investment

25 March 2021

Aztek Logistics operations manager Duncan Pannell outlines how the independent 3PL is preparing in stages for a more automated future, with semi-automated solutions.

As customer demand continues to reach new heights, 3PLs are being required do more for less at no extra cost; a situation all too familiar for warehousing, a vital part of the supply chain.

The only way is up in terms of high-bay vertical shelving to optimise space and technology innovation is constantly required to increase its reach – literally. 

A report released in October 2020 by estate agents, Knight Frank, projects the boom in online retail sales will drive demand for 92 million sq. ft of UK warehouse space by 2024. This prediction reinforces the need for meticulous warehouse planning, where automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) could provide a solution both quickly and efficiently. 

As the sector embraces the fourth industrial revolution, integrated WMS are the key drivers for going above and beyond. 

The past two decades have seen WMS advance considerably, as a result, picking and packing times have got faster, paperwork has decreased and the scope for human error has reduced significantly.

For the big names with scale and long-reach, this innovation is something which has long been implemented, however in order to remain competitive, independent businesses are now embracing these advancements.

With the challenges of 2020 shocking retailers into the growing importance of eCommerce and the need for a more robust supply chain, businesses are looking for a diverse range of suppliers, including more local and independent businesses. As a result, there has never been a greater need to remain competitive, and with the advantages a bespoke warehouse management system brings, many can’t afford not to embrace automation.

Through investment in the Internet of Things (IoT), warehousing companies can leverage data to forecast peak periods, identify risks and glitches in the supply chain as well as provide real-time updates on weather and other external factors which may affect the pick-up or drop-off of consignments.

To accompany data-led decision making in the planning process, automation, through the likes of Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) trucks and an electronic passing of pick notes straight from the customer’s request to the vehicle doing the picking, enables frictionless transactions. By making this investment, large amounts of admin and employee time can be saved, as well as erasing space for human error.

For smaller independent companies, both investment in new vehicles and a warehouse management system may be beyond financial reach, however, this does not mean that all hope is lost. Companies could follow in the footsteps of Aztek Logistics and make these investments in stages. For example, over the previous three years, Aztek has invested in VNA trucks which are pre-programmed for more advanced warehouse automation, ready for when Aztek makes the next step in its upgrade. This kind of purchase enables a business to future proof one step at a time. Like many businesses, Aztek is embracing automation which aids its employees in both efficiency and time yet does not look to replace them.

This staggered approach also enables employees to be trained in stages, rather than as one huge learning curve, reducing the likelihood of a wider skills gap developing across the supply chain. 

Here at Aztek, the next five years for us will be key in how we position ourselves in the market. Through taking measures to implement greater automation across the board we are able to provide our customers with full track and traceability, as well as streamlining their service. 

As we look to our next investment and implementation of a new integrated warehouse management system, we will be driving change through real-time transaction processing and further optimised storage. 

We are in a unique position in this industry as the innovations and developments taking place are far more advanced than that of other sectors. Through embracing these technological improvements and continued adaptions, we are able to influence other sectors on Industry 4.0, encouraging the adoption of automation and big data into day-to-day working.

For more information, visit www.azteklogistics.co.uk