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Simon Duddy

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Impressive innovation on view 26/11/2019

AI and big data are not yet able to cut through the chaos and unpredictability of online retail.

So said a speaker at last month’s TGW Fashion Expert Day event in Austria which I was delighted to attend.

The automated intralogistics provider says this means warehouse automation needs to be flexible enough to deal with the unpredictable demand. With this end in mind, TGW has designed its automation solutions to be channel independent.

That is, one system will handle any combination of orders regardless of whether the ultimate destination is to store, wholesaler or to the consumer’s front door. One example is Puma, which has a new DC opening in Germany in 2021 (By the way, Puma have been busy in Yorkshire too).

At the core of the system is TGW’s FlashPick for automated single-item picking. It will have 713,000 storage locations, with some 122,000 SKUs. The plan is to ship 74m units per year, with a B2B Peak picking 13,500 cartons per hour, and the B2C peak picking 124,000 pieces per day.

Modern counterbalance truck

Linde has released its new counterbalance truck, which innovates in terms of performance, fleet management, truck power and connectivity.

Linde’s fleet management software Connect will be included as standard, an increasingly common move, as Toyota now issues its fleet management software I_Site on all warehouse trucks. The new Linde forklift is the start of a new form factor, which will apply to all Linde counterbalance models under 5 tonnes loading capacity, regardless of the power source used.

This should lead to fewer components used and manufacturing savings, giving scope for lower cost trucks.

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Be ready for on the spot inspections 01/10/2019

As Halloween approaches, be aware that scares can come in many guises.

A company was recently fined £100,000 for poor warehouse safety practice - http://bit.ly/2Hi1Fxg

What stood out here was there was no incident.

It was enough for someone to spot the poor practice, report it, and for the HSE to prosecute the possibility a serious incident could occur.

At last year’s SEMA Safety Conference, Terry Mallard, health and safety inspector at Birmingham City Council, warned attendees about this very point. He explained: “I have come across businesses where I suspect practices are unsafe and have carried out on the spot inspections. Remember, it is not necessary for someone to have been injured for them to be served legal notice.”

The next SEMA Safety Conference is coming up soon on Halloween (Oct 31) - see details here - http://bit.ly/2oSbGef

It would be great to see you at the event!

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Smart warehouses 02/09/2019

Writing about warehouse robots this morning has got me thinking about software and AI.

The On-demand automation story details what happens when robots meet the cloud, according to analyst IDC.

The IDC research highlighted a key challenge in the supply chain.

‘The biggest source of waste in the supply chain has always been non-value-adding (or value-destroying) movement of material; for example, when a product is moved between locations and no improvement that the customer is willing to pay for is made. Essentially, any moving of a pallet, a case, or a single item that costs more than the value added by the movement can be viewed as waste.’

IDC says autonomous mobile robots are built to reduce this waste in the supply chain and in the process free up people to focus on adding value.

‘In addition to wasted movement of material, human movements can be considered waste as well. Anytime a person is used to scan something, push a cart through a facility, or perform other low-value tasks that can be automated with AMRs, it becomes an opportunity to increase operational performance with the help of AMRs.’

That is true but regardless of the carrier, be it human, robot or mechanical vehicle, or some combination of them all, it is the software directing them that will be most responsible for reducing waste. After all, a poorly directed robot will still make a lot of wasted movements.

If you are in discussions with robot providers, it is definitely well worth spending at least as much time on the software and artificial intelligence the firm is using as the hardware. And don’t forget the human resources they will devote to implementation and support.

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A whole lot of metal… 05/07/2019

If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, you no doubt well remember how prevalent metal-heads were. There they were, big, greasy hairballs, on every street corner, with ghetto-blasters and denim jackets with band patches. All spandex, pimples and loud, rock anthems from the likes of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and maybe even Black Sabbath.

A whole lot of metal… a bit like the modern automated warehouse. It can be a problem. Operators get frightened by all that metal. First of all, the more there is, the more it costs. Secondly, large automated warehouses have historically tended to be inflexible and the worry is that if order volumes and profiles change enough, you could end up with a white elephant.

Witron touched on the first challenge recently when it spoke about key challenges facing the retail sector, saying it was aiming for ‘compact design, as well as short and transparent material flows, minimising the conveyors required’.

I think this is a key point. Economy of design and flexibility are both needed for warehouse automation to continue its growth.

Robotic single item picking is often thought of as the holy grail of automation. I think it is important, but I wouldn’t call it the Holy Grail. Sooner of later, robots will be more efficient at picking than people, but will it really mean a revolutionary change? After all, people are pretty good at picking.

I think the real holy grail of warehouse automation is a system that does not require enormous new infrastructure to boost efficiency, and can be overlaid on the existing warehouse.

Maybe we are seeing early signs of this in robotic automation that can learn to navigate any environment, and in software-based systems that can direct and co-ordinate a wide variety of different types of equipment and processes.

The extent to which automated technology and methodology can be overlaid on existing ‘caveman’ era warehousing and yet be robust enough to work and pay dividends in tiers of efficiency, that is the holy grail.

Check out our upcoming Automation & Robotics feature in the July / August issue for more discussion on key topics such as this. Get in touch with Angela Lyus for advertising opportunities at alyus@western-bp.co.uk

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Energy flashpoint looms in warehouse 17/06/2019

Energy has rarely been a major concern in the warehouse. That might’ve been different, for a number of reasons. First, it could have been an environmental priority. In 2006, The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change suggested the corporate world was finally getting behind the drive towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way of doing business. But a few years later the recession hit and the momentum faltered.

Nowadays, ‘green issues’ are perceived as the priority of young people. For businesses, the focus is more on cost and while firms often unveil ‘eco bling’ projects, it does not always filter down to on-the-ground reality. In the last decade, if you wanted to make an environmental gain, you had to make sure it saved money too. This has served some technologies such as LED lighting very well. But while some energy bills have been coming down, others have been on the rise, to the extent that continuity of supply could be emerging as a real issue.

Recently, at the Warehouse Technology Group Live event in Manchester (full write-up next month), Kevin Mofid, director of research, Savills highlighted this. He spoke about a 2 million sq ft fully-automated warehouse that was planned, which would use ‘almost as much energy in a year as Lincolnshire’. He asked the audience: is anyone coming up with innovative energy solutions? A large scale distribution centre needs 3-13Mva, which is roughly equivalent to that needed for 10,000 three bedroom homes.

Mofid said: “If you add in electric vans and cars, energy supply will get out of hand. We advise you to think about it now, consider how to secure power supply, or think of off-grid solutions. There are also many National Grid substations with low power supply, that will require upgrade to facilitate major warehouses. If you are thinking of locating a new warehouse in England and look at a venn diagram of energy, labour and land availability, there are few places where they meet optimally.”

There are certainly instances of companies trying new things to save energy. In this issue we have a case study featuring a cold chain firm that has made the most of its electricity by carefully responding to demand and feeding energy back to the grid for profit when it can.

I also interviewed Jason Hibbs, MD of HVAC firm Jet Environmental and he outlined the increasing challenge of maintaining temperature control in ever larger, and more automated warehouses. Jet is looking at the next evolution in energy saving by using predictive analysis. This means taking into account weather forecast data and altering controls proactively, using nature to save on cooling.

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Kicking the can down the road 24/04/2019

Neither the UK nor the EU are particularly known for decisiveness. Perhaps the only thing they really share over Brexit is a deep-seated fear of being blamed if they do make a decision… and it all goes wrong. 

Thus, it’s not a great surprise that businesses face further uncertainty as we still don’t know quite what kind of Brexit we will have, when it will happen, and there is even a chance (a small chance) that it won’t happen at all. For politicians, it is, as always, much easier to say what they don’t want, than it is to take a chance of what they do want.

This means businesses must remain agile. I had a recent chat with Andy Butters, MD of temporary building specialist Aganto, and he made a lot of sense as he explained his company’s outlook to Brexit, and how he is helping companies hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Safer Logistics

Just last week (at the time of writing), our parent company Nineteen Group held The Health & Safety Event at the NEC. For the fifth year, I chaired the Safer Logistics seminar area, and we had more than 600 people attending the sessions, which tackled topics such as forklift training myths, safer rack management, helping HGV drivers operate safely at night, looking out for the potential failure of ageing cranes, and understanding the dangers repetitive work can pose to forklift operators. Thank you to our partners CILT, FLTA, LEEA, RTITB, SEMA and Southalls, and special thanks to sponsor Toyota Material Handling UK.

I also recently attended the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) Awards for another fantastic and exciting night. We are so proud to be the media partner for the event, from taking a role on the judging panel to publicising the event and enjoying the night itself. From Page 24 you can read about all the winners from the night, from the innovative products scooping highly coveted Archies, to the teams being rewarded for going the extra mile on safety, and the individuals recognised for service at the end of distinguished careers as well as those highlighted for promise at the beginning of theirs.

Your warehouse: service & repair

Also check out our new feature, which highlights an excellent viewpoint from Siemens on effective monitoring and maintenance of automated warehousing - set to become an increasingly important issue. This feature also sees a report on an A-Safe customer day, and how Mainmark fixed the subsiding floor of a warehouse.

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How to fit a quart into a pint pot 21/11/2018

Brexit has only exacerbated spiralling demand for warehouse space. The eComm boom had already greatly increased the need for warehousing, and we are still stewing in the hangover of the recession where years passed without new spec build warehouses coming online. But there is no doubt Brexit has brought this into sharper relief.

Consultancies are now telling companies to stockpile products in case of problems and delays with importing, which is particularly likely if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit. This flies in the face of years of advice on running supply chains lean.

This is a good time for you to review your logistics and storage operations. Can you better utilise the warehouse cube? Should you invest in temporary buildings? Should you explore cross-docking? In this issue, we have no shortage of space-saving solutions for you to consider, as we provide in every issue.

Check out the shuttle-based storage system a food firm has installed across multiple temperature zones. Pharma firm Cultech bought itself more space to keep pace with growth by deploying a permanent, steel-clad building and two extensions at its Port Talbot location. A specialist forklift can help you make the most of yard space and make cross docking more efficient.

Making the most of space is also a key concern for Muntons, a food ingredients firm based in Stowmarket. By the way, Muntons warehouse manager Nicki Milner won the reader’s prize (£100 of Amazon vouchers) when we surveyed the readership about future innovations for our Tomorrow’s Warehouse Special Report. It was great to follow this up with an interview at Muntons in Stowmarket and see the warehouse and logistics operations first hand. Nicki has developed a broad range of strategies to make the most of space at the plant, allowing the firm to grow considerably in recent years, particularly via exports. As she says ‘we fit a quart into a pint pot.’

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Last chance to prepare for Peak 22/10/2018

Even if you are well prepared for Black Friday mayhem, often a little tweak is required to make this critical period go smoothly. Whether it is extra manpower, some equipment to help load more efficiently, or to add some flexibility to operations, or indeed extra MHE, or handhelds to ensure the staff you’ve hired are fully productive, you can’t afford to mess around and miss targets at this time of year.

One possible quick response is rugged IT hardware firm Renovotec offering Black Friday discounts on orders. Taking a step back, definitely have a look at the kind of tech solutions that can drive efficiencies and much better service in the long run. If you are confident these peaks are here to stay for your business, then these solutions make sense.

For example, BITO has launched the U-Turn container which is designed to help logistics operations such as e-commerce fulfilment, through features such as smaller sizes (suitable for the larger range, smaller unit numbers profile that is typical in much of eCommerce), as well as being designed for easy use with automated handling systems.

Speaking of automation, another example is how Dematic helped a beauty brand consolidate two very busy distribution centres, one of which was managing peak volumes of 88,000 packs a day, and the other fulfilling eCommerce orders of 142,500 items per day. This was achieved with a blend of picking solutions coordinated by smart software. And having spoken to a wide variety of automated equipment suppliers over the years they are unanimous that software is the difference maker. 

The Timber sector has its own challenges. It might not to subject to the same towering peaks of demand, but handling and storing long and awkward loads needs careful thought, design and the right solutions. In this feature we highlight some standout products and systems, such as BS Handling’s design of a pallet conveyor system specifically for a timber firm, integrating specialist features such as a baling machine, a robot arm for the movement of packed bales, and a shrink wrapping machine with turntable into the process. We also see how Baumann has tweaked its sideloader range.

There are many other examples of kit to help with Peak, or specialist verticals such as Timber, as well as a multitude of other materials handling challenges on this website. We hope you get something out of it that sparks debate in your office, and helps you reach your goals, whether it is upping your game in terms of customer service, getting raw speed up, or simply saving cash.

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House of Fraser impasse highlights limits of collaboration 16/08/2018

These are uncertain times at House of Fraser for staff, customers, and suppliers. HSS editor Simon Duddy says it's a setback for collaboration.

The high-end retailer went into administration and was bought by Sports Direct.

This is not the end of the story, however.

What we are seeing now is a scramble as parties seek to maximise opportunity and minimise loss from the collapse.

For example, House of Fraser’s logistics operator XPO Logistics wants to get paid what it is owed, whereas Sports Direct wants to avoid costs where it can.

Equally other retailers are rumoured to be looking to out-bid Sports Direct on prime House of Fraser sites. 

It’s chaotic and it is cut throat. There will be winners and losers. That’s business. It is fundamentally adversarial.

For a long time, collaboration has been championed by supply chain professionals seeking to add efficiency to logistics. This is a brilliant idea and it makes perfect sense to supply chain and logistics managers who are primarily concerned with keeping the machinery of UK plc moving as smoothly as possible.

No one can argue with its logic. 

But business is not motivated primarily by logic. It’s more about chasing profit, and that doesn’t always lead to logical or pleasant places.

Or if you are a logistics business, how far can you go in sharing information and processes with a customer, knowing that one day, they may hit the rocks and leave you arguing over millions in unpaid bills?

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Tomorrow’s Warehouse - Survey Results Revealed 24/07/2018

The world is changing and logistics and warehousing has to move with it.

We’ve asked our readers how they anticipate trends changing in the future and the results from the online survey, sent out in July 2018, make fascinating reading.
There was a strong consensus in some areas, with respondents looking expectantly towards new technology such as automation and lithium-ion powered forklifts. 74% of respondents saw Automation as an important future technology. Furthermore, 56% of those surveyed are actively considering lithium-ion powered forklifts in their investment plans.

One thing is certain, there is a need for flexible logistics that can quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

Click here to read the TOMORROW’S WAREHOUSE Special Report.
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Simon Duddy is an experienced B2B editor and has worked across a range of titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Heating & Ventilating News and Arabian Computer News.