08 January 2018

Automation and Artificial Intelligence are Fuelling a Change in Freight and Materials Handling  

From Autonomous Road Haulage Trucks to Robot Fork Lifts - Logistics Technology is Moving Apace

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UK – WORLDWIDE – Anyone who has followed the freight trade press in the past year will know that 2017 ushered in a more serious attitude to automated materials handling in the supply chain. With the development of more, and more affordable, robot products there is a revolution in the field which, having already gained a strong presence in the pick and pack, ecommerce, home delivery parcels market, is now finding a foothold in a wider arena. Add to this the furious growth of the autonomous commercial vehicle sector and the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and these are topics which need addressing by any logistics executive worth his or her salt.

One might well wonder just where we may be at when the planned International Materials Handling Exhibition 2019 (IMHX 2019) takes place at the NEC, Birmingham in 21 months’ time at the NEC, Birmingham, on 24-27 September 2019. A tri-annual event, IMHX claims to be the largest and longest running exhibition in the UK for the logistics and supply chain industries and over half of the available floor space at IMHX 2019 has already been allocated. Event director, Rob Fisher, comments:

“The Barclays UK Logistics Confidence Index 2017 highlighted that the logistics sector is taking all forms of technology seriously and that automation, robotics and AI are going to have a bigger impact than ever before as warehouse operators look to optimise their intralogistics operations over the next five years. Automation, for example, represents one of the biggest opportunities to reduce cost and increase efficiency within a warehouse or distribution centre and the predicted post-Brexit labour shortages are strengthening the case for automation as firms seek to make their operations less labour-intensive.

“High demand and opportunities for further market growth are driving optimism among automated intralogistics solutions suppliers and the bookings we have already taken and the interest being expressed in IMHX 2019 from some of the leading names in the field is clear evidence of the sector’s confidence. UK universities have long been hotbeds for top scientific talent and these institutions are homes to pioneering research and the next generation of innovators in the industry. We intend to make IMHX 2019 a platform where they can demonstrate their ideas alongside the commercial offerings from some of the leading companies in the field.”

This emphasis on new technology will be highlighted in a Future Technology Zone which is being planned to provide an opportunity for the UK's top universities that are working on artificial intelligence, robotics and automation to demonstrate some of their logistics-related projects. Commenting on the amount of interest already engendered in the forthcoming show Dave Berridge, secretary of the Automated Material Handling Association (AMHSA), pointed out how the falling cost of associated equipment is increasing demand, saying:

“Demand is being fuelled by the availability of funding and advances in technology that are increasing the scope of automation so that now some form of automated or semi-automated approach is an attractive proposition even to smaller companies.”

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