Monday, March 8, 2021

Warehouse Association Assesses the Post Viral Landscape and Looks Toward More Automation

Major Industry Players Consult on a Changing Industry
Shipping News Feature

UK – In a wide-ranging logistics users panel discussion, hosted by the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) on Wednesday 3 March, senior supply chain directors representing four major brands spoke of their optimism for the future, the increased importance of automation in warehouses and the key role for 3PL partners in the 'new' post-pandemic, post-Brexit world.

The panel discussion, chaired by UKWA CEO Peter Ward, included high profile speakers, Chris Warn, Global Logistics Director at Pentland Brands; Juan Manuel Santiago Mendez, CEO Mercedes-Benz Parts Logistics UK; Iain Bartholomew, Director of Logistics, International & Europe at Urban Outfitters and John Munnelly, Head of Distribution Operations at John Lewis plc.

Naturally talk of the pandemic figured large on the list of topics and John Munnelly of John Lewis said the hugely successful roll out of lateral flow testing across the John Lewis network was being extended to 3PL partners, to keep all workforces safe and well, adding:

“The door is wide open for 3PLs, we have leaned on our supply chain partners to help us through this period and we will look to them again as we seek to re-establish stability and normality.”

With regard to the post-Covid situation, Pentland Brands’ Chris Warn confirmed his company expected a strong surge as pent-up demand is released, saying it will be taking a partnership based approach to 3PLs, from shipping lines to warehouses and parcel carriers, which will be integral to recovery.

Iain Bartholomew of Urban Outfitters described the challenges of turning off complex inbound supply chains and highlighted a post-crisis appreciation of the value of logistics and supply chain resilience. He too predicted a crucial role for those 3PLs prepared to embrace retailers’ requirements going forward.

“There are a lot of challenges, but also many opportunities,” he said. “In the short term, we anticipate a far more exacting world, particularly in the light of complex new customs regulations post-Brexit. Clearly, the ‘paperwork’ needs to be right before we can do anything else, and we will be relying on our 3PLs for this.”

Support for that view came also from CEO of Mercedes Benz Parts Logistics UK, Juan Manuel Santiago Mendez who spoke from an automotive sector perspective. He said:

“We cannot, nor do we want to, do everything ourselves, it is important for us to have strong, reliable 3PL partners who understand the challenges and the new processes, and can ensure the relevant documentation is in place.”

The discussion further highlighted the requirement for more automation in warehouses, described by John Munnelly as ‘must-have’ rather than ‘nice-to-have’, a point Chris Warn confirmed, saying that 3PLs will need automaton to be efficient, productive and adaptable with all needing to be flexible and able to respond to meet what customers want.

Key challenges discussed included available footprint, access to labour and the consolidation and cost-to-serve for online, Juan Manuel Santiago Mendez noting that the issue of sustainability is starting to surface, and Chris Warn stating that, for Pentland Brands, sustainability is not only on the agenda, but driving the agenda, while recognising the importance of sustainability, Iain Bartholomew emphasised that cost and service were key. Summing up, UKWA CEO Peter Ward said,

“Unsurprisingly, this event was highly popular with our members, who are keen to understand their customers’ perspectives and priorities. The discussion was lively and informative, we gained valuable insights for the road ahead from our distinguished panel of logistics users. We plan a follow up event to explore some of the topics covered in greater detail and look forward to sharing details in due course.”

Photo: With warehouse facilities the size of those of John Lewis’ Magna Park facilities, automation is always high on the agenda.