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No shortage of ingenuity

25 May 2020

At the time of writing we are entering a new phase of the pandemic. The Government is not exactly rushing people back to work but is certainly trying to get some sectors such as manufacturing and construction moving again in a meaningful way.

Getting back to work should help arrest the economy’s freefall and will hopefully pave the way for a broader relaxation of the lockdown, with retail to come perhaps in the summer, and the possibility of schools re-opening before the end of the term. But it is a fragile situation and we don’t have a lot of data to base decisions on. We have a fair grasp of the number of deaths, but crucially we don’t know how many people have been infected, because testing has been very limited.

Therefore we can only really guess at how infectious or deadly the coronavirus is. As I said, we are moving into a new phase, but daily death tolls will be watched closely and the need to frequently make transitions from phase to phase could become a key part of this, We need to be prepared to tighten the lockdown as well as further loosen restrictions, according to the reality we are presented with.

Flexible response

One thing is for sure, the logistics sector has responded with speed and flexibility to the emergency, which we dealt with in the last issue. In this issue, I’d like to highlight the suppliers that have adapted their solutions quickly and intelligently to deal with the unprecedented dangers logistics businesses now face.

BS Handling is a systems integrator typically associated with automated warehousing, but it has very quickly developed a system for cleaning and sanitising premises, cutting down the risk of transmitting infections.

Another fast mover is ASG Services, which has quickly rolled out a range of robust safety signage and floormarking solutions to help you adapt to the pandemic (Page 57).

COVID-19 social distancing solutions of a different type are being developed by CopriSystems. The bespoke structures manufacturer is quickly developing tunnels and walkway covers, complete with electronic doors, to help companies manage people entering and exiting a building while maintaining efficient operations within social distancing constraints. The structures can be used for safe queuing, social distancing, additional storage and logistics space as well as testing stations and decontamination zones.

Automation & robotics

We have seen a long trend towards greater automation and robotics in logistics, and the pandemic has only increased this trend. It was very interesting to hear consultancy BearingPoint say warehouses that invested early in automation have adapted best to the crisis. And obviously with shops closing, the online market has become even more important still. It’s hard to say what the new normal will be, partly because we don’t know if the path out of this criss will be swift and abrupt, or if it will be prolonged and bumpy.

But for sure, if you are a retailer and you are not investing in online, and probably in automation too, then you’re just playing dice with your future. We have a feature on Automation & Robotics in this issue. I was delighted to speak to Crystal Parrott, VP of Dematic’s Robotics Centre of Excellence, one of the technology leaders in the field. It provided a fascinating snapshot into the use of picking robotics in logistics, with insight into the fast developing world of micro-fulfillment, the limits of grippers and much else.

We’ve also noted an increasing trend towards the use of AMRs, or mobile robots, in the warehouse. This was pioneered by Kiva Systems (bought and widely deployed by Amazon) and the tech’s IP has now opened up considerably. We are seeing a lot of manufacturers and they have been busy signing up UK partners in a bid to crack the local market.

 
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