Thursday, January 31, 2019

Technology and Logistics Cooperation Set to Develop Warehouse of the Future

Supporting Start Up Companies Leads to Robots in the Distribution Centre
Shipping News Feature
UK – EUROPE – In 2017 Wincanton, best known to most in the trade as a road haulage outfit but lately morphed into third party logistics (3PL) and supply chain solutions, joined up with digital technology specialist L Marks to find new, start-up companies which offered better ways forward for the industry. The latest tranche of those entrepreneurs to receive assistance via the programme, known as W2 Labs, have now revealed exactly what they are targeting, and two shortlisted companies are both working in the same specific area of the transport process.

The second round of W2 Labs applications last year saw a total of 152 applications to the programme coming from a variety of countries. 15 companies presented at Pitch Day at Digital Catapult in London, with six start-ups finally shortlisted. Two of the chosen, iFollow from France and Turkish outfit Milvus Robotics were of special interest for their far sighted attitude to the physical side of the business.

As with many other similar operations Wincanton has realised the need for progress in this area, particularly as the changing face of logistics must be geared to speed the flow of goods, pointing out that in 2000 online commerce made up less than 1% of retail sales, but in August 2018 almost one-fifth of all purchases took place on the internet. With £1.3 billion spent now every month in the sector and rising, the warehouse can be the bottleneck which slows the process, or the super-efficient sorting and distribution point, dependant on how it is set up.

This new pressure has been much recognised and acted upon by many hubs responsible for the retail sector but the need for an efficient warehouse percolates right along the supply chain which is why ‘Warehouse of the Future’ was one of the categories in the latest W2 Labs programme, hence the encouragement for the two young operations concerned.

iFollow is working on robotic solutions that help pickers perform their duties more efficiently. As well as reducing time taken, the autonomous machines also help to reduce musculoskeletal injuries and other health and safety risks associated with the job. Wincanton is keen to stress that it views this use of more automation as technology which must work with people instead of replacing them; think ‘man and machine’ rather than ‘man vs. machine’.

The second contender, Milvus Robotics, has taken a similar approach, but their robots integrate into warehouses without the need for drastic changes to the existing layouts. This allows smaller scale sites to add automation incrementally in response to increases in demand and to boost productivity.

Each candidate has its own strengths and its own market, but what is certain is that many companies which previously viewed the move to automation as an unnecessary luxury may soon find it an essential tool to remain in the game as the range of options to take it up continues to grow.