Guest Post, Author at Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd
  • Covid-19 – click here for the latest updates from Forum Events & Media Group Ltd

Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd Total Supply Chain Summit | Forum Events Ltd

Posts By :

Guest Post

Futureproofing supply chains in the face of uncertainty

The consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic have had serious implications on individuals and industries across the world for which no one was prepared for. Particularly in the case of supply chains, the crisis has clearly demonstrated that they are the backbone of our daily lives and any breakdown in the chain can have disastrous consequences for product fulfilment. A March survey reported that nearly 75% of companies reported supply chain disruptions in one form or another due to Covid-19. 

Even as the crisis continues to unfold, there are a number of lessons that can be learned, so businesses can come out the other side stronger and better prepared. One of the key factors is that we need to look beyond just the expenses of global supply chains. In fact, we will need to strengthen some of its most costly assets – the human front-line workers. And that will include increased investment in those who are working hard to deliver products to where they need to be.

Axel Schmidt, Senior Communications Manager, ProGlove, explains the elements that must be considered when it comes to reassessing, adjusting, and redesigning supply chains to be futureproof and resilient in the face of future challenges… 

Complexity and sensitivity

Supply chains are made up of a number of pricey elements, partly due to the fact that they are marked with an increasing degree of complexity. Typically, you find a plethora of agents and infrastructure components including manufacturers, service and transportation providers, fulfillment centers, hubs, technology, equipment, vehicles and – most importantly – human workers. This complexity faced with a crisis the current Covid-19 pandemic means that there is much uncertainty amongst businesses across all sectors. For example, 83% of EU-based businesses within the global automotive supply chain are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the ramifications of Covid-19.

Consumers – who will have to pay for the incurred expenses at the end of the day – are naturally sensitive to price increases. Customer demand is the strongest driver in the supply chain. So, while it may sound tempting to demand that organisations must spend more to get more, we must not forget the quandary they are facing. That is why today many supply chains are lean and stick to a Just-In-Time (JIT) approach.

Customers also add further complexity by buying through multiple different channels. While this multichannel approach improves the customer experience it also requires more manual work so that automation – which could be a cost saver under different circumstances – is not necessarily an option. Additionally, consumers often do not only shop for the most affordable prices, but often expect rapid fulfilment with overnight – or even same day – shipping, too.

With the current crisis, additional pressures have been placed on the retail supply chain. Consumers all over the world have been panic buying in fear of supplies running out. This created unexpected shortages, and the more the news about the scarcity spread the worse the situation got. As a result, more and more consumers took to online shopping. So, while many organisations around the world started laying off staff, retailers, healthcare suppliers and e-commerce businesses were overwhelmed with work and struggled to cope with an unforeseen labour shortage. Many businesses in these fields are now looking to hire huge numbers of additional frontline workers, with Amazon looking to hire a further 75,000 more to cope with demand. 

Strengthening the supply chain

Being able to onboard new workers quickly is essential when it comes to resolving a labour shortage. Technology such as wearable augmented reality devices can be a valuable tool as it can provide a perfect training ground so that workers can master their job much faster.

Businesses need to also help their workforce so they perform well and most importantly stay healthy. Sectors that were already vulnerable to Coronavirus are under greater pressure to cut costs and keep workers safe from potential health risks. Therefore, front line workers should be supported rather than let go or furloughed, where possible. Protective clothing ought to be provided, as well as tools that enable workers to perform their roles safely and efficiently, such as wearable technology. This technology, such as wearable barcode scanners, can cut process time in half and provide instant feedback to workers which can help reduce typical picking errors by as much as 33 percent. Avoiding this source of error can be a massive cost saving as it will help prevent expensive processes such as product returns when the wrong item was sent out or time-consuming delays due to erroneous parts being removed from products. 

So how can you appropriately prepare for a peak that is, or might be, coming your way? Or in other words: how do you do more with the same space? Flexibility holds the key. Thus, you need to be able to build, move and redesign workstations quickly, and then allocate workers flexibly in between. Technology, especially barcode scanning as the most important steering tool in the warehouse and inventory, needs to be flexible and IT friendly so it can be deployed and rolled out quickly and does not require countless hours of integration and training time.

Making the right match

Supply chains are all about human beings, even though it may sometimes appear differently. There is certainly all kinds of machinery, software, buildings, and transportation involved. Yet it’s human need that drives them, human skill that operates them, human ingenuity that manages them, and human shortcomings that identify the potential for substantial improvements. But rather than eliminating the human aspects, we need to strengthen and empower the human worker to allow for great enhancements. That said, it is important to reiterate that we need technology to support the frontline workers so they can deliver the best possible job.

The Coronavirus crisis has highlighted the above as it has underscored all the challenges and vulnerabilities that global supply chains currently have. Going forward, we will need to reconsider the status quo. We will need to remove complexity and promote flexibility. Technology can and will support us to do that if it is the right match – and making the right match is what we need to safeguard supply chains into the future.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: LGI End-to-end supply chain services

LGI, an Elanders Group owned company, offers global E2E solutions in supply chain management. LGI can take an overall responsibility for complex and global deliveries encompassing procurement, transportation, warehousing, configuration, production, pick/pack and distribution.

Our offer also includes e-commerce services, order management, payment solutions and after sales services for our clients. Elanders business concept is to be a global, strategic and long-term partner to its customers in their work to streamline and develop their business critical processes.

Contact LGI/Elanders today to find out more :

‘Last Mile’ Lessons from Covid-19

By Simon Mardle, Principal at Capgemini Invent

Innovation is regarded as a necessity for businesses to function in unprecedented times, and COVID-19 has presented one such situation. The changing role of technology in our society is a window into the innovation catalysed by pandemic. From enabling remote working to allowing global audiences to attend virtual fundraising concerts from home, examples of innovative technology can be seen across the board. 

As many of us are now restricted to our homes, online shopping and delivery has been the lifeline for many. Innovation is needed to keep up with, and adapt to, the soaring demand for deliveries that the current situation brings, where technology is critical in addressing the last mile delivery challenge. The increased reliance on online shopping has led to supply chains and deliveries, even for retailers with well-established systems, to be tested to the maximum. The fragility of weak links in supply chains are being exposed, while safety and efficiencies are being held more accountable.

With 97% of retailers feeling that their delivery model is not sustainable, organisations need to re-examine the most expensive part of the supply chain. Last-mile delivery can benefit by relying more on technology to reduce errors and cost as well as being safer due to less human contact. 

Looking ahead to the coming months, retailers must re-think or adapt their approach to last mile delivery to ensure demand can be met. Traditional models can only take them so far; they must now become more reliant on digital technologies that reduce error, costs, and tasks that require repetitive human input – not allowing humans to value add. 

Autonomous delivery becoming a reality

Reducing human-to-human contact has become paramount to our current lives, with autonomous delivery offering this opportunity – it is likely autonomous delivery solutions shall come back into the spotlight. 

Unlike many advancements, COVID-19 was not the reason for halting the development of autonomous vehicles. With backlash over airspace restrictions and safety, autonomous vehicles as a last mile delivery solution has been more of a dream rather than a delivery reality.

That is, until now. COVID-19 has provided companies with the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of autonomous delivery which far outstrips previous hurdles, such as costs and regulation. This includes the world’s first delivery service in Ireland, using drones to distribute medicine to vulnerable people under lockdown. The success of these drones will likely mean a larger roll out throughout Ireland and calls for a realisation that autonomous vehicle delivery is indeed a possibility. 

Recent research from Capgemini indicated that 49% of people are comfortable with self-driving cars running an errand on their behalf. The increased importance of reducing human contact, including lowering the number of people needed to make essential deliveries, has accelerated the need for automated deliveries and beyond. 

Behind the scenes – dark stores

An additional consideration for retailers to look at to improve their delivery capabilities is the introduction of more dark stores.

Dark stores are places where items are picked for delivery either using traditional labour based picking methods or through the use of automated storage and retrieval systems (such as micro-fulfilment) or through a mix of both, they are closed to the public and fulfil online orders only. Delivery time and the packaging process is optimised through purpose-built design, independent operations, and choice of location – usually within densely populated areas requiring shorter travelling distances to customers’ homes.

For same day delivery, the ‘last mile’ stage of the delivery process is one of the most expensive and tricky parts of the operation Dark stores offer retailers the opportunity to optimise the operation and also to team up with specialist delivery companies more simply and effectively. We have seen with Deliveroo’s partnerships with both M&S and Co-op, and Uber in France with Carrefour. 

Pre-COVID 19, one in four retailers used dark stores, however as society looks to resume whilst managing public concerns it would make sense for shops to continue this trend. Sainsbury’s in Blackfriars is one example of a supermarket ‘going dark’, and with limited disruption and contact with in-store customers, dark stores offer a great way for retailers to get to grips with huge consumer demand. 

Automation of supply chains 

As we have seen with autonomous delivery solutions, autonomation of supply chains is an additional component available to retailers. With 77% of shoppers more cautious about cleanliness and health and safety in the post-pandemic era and 62% choosing to actively switch to brands which prioritisation of product safety, automation offers real benefits.

Automation additionally reduces fulfilment errors, such as mislabeling packaging and sending incorrect orders. As well as costing the supplier money – analysis has shown warehouse automation could increase profit margins by a huge 8%, these mistakes also take up time, an ever-precious resource when demand is high.  

Any automated solution must consider how it will cope with demand peaks, either forseen or unforeseen.  For example there may be capacity to set up a temporary manual solution that can be operated alongside the automation to cope with demand beyond it’s design capacity. 

The sudden increase of consumer demand due to COVID-19 in the last few months has exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains. It has been a test like no other and businesses have had to adapt quicker than ever to maintain operational continuity and address unprecedented disruptions. For those organisations which have put money into automating and developing their supply chains, they will see these investments pay off to help meet the ebb and flow of demand with greater ease. With businesses due to reopen in the coming months the impacts of the ‘new normal’ will felt by delivery services across the board – ensuring the last mile is as efficient as possible is an investment worth making.

Why does integrated planning remain important during the coronavirus crisis?

By Oliver Wight EAME CEO, Les Brookes

Making decisions in a crisis is not just about adjusting to short-term changes but using scenario planning for the medium-term horizon to reactivate ‘usual’ operations at the right time.

Business processes are often system driven, but this typically only works well in times of stability.

Businesses with Integrated Business Planning have an effective view of ‘the truth as we know it’ and find that, despite COVID-19 pressures, they make decisions that are ‘roughly right’ rather than precisely wrong. Click here to read more

The Importance of Supply Chain Resilience

By Anne van de Heetkamp, VP of Product Management GTC, Descartes

Acknowledging potential weaknesses in your supply chain before they are exposed by elements beyond your control is of critical value. With current events in mind, managing future supplychain disruptions will be an integral component of corporate strategy.

Calling it Supply ChainResilience, Supply Chain Disruption, or Business Continuity Management (from the ISO 22301 standard) does not affect the necessity of having strategies in place that may make the difference between following or leading in a disrupted economy, and even between surviving or folding.

To identify potential soft spots, a review should not be limited to a single product flow or single supply chain element. For any company, the next big disruption does not have to be a pandemic; it can be something minuscule on a global scale yet have the same devastating effect on the ill-prepared, in particular trade lanes or in a particular industry. Unpredictable is not a reason to be unprepared. Creating supply chain resilience is a holistic exercise that involves more than just a few savvy logistics people. HR, finance, compliance/legal, to name a few, are all stakeholders in a healthy case of business continuity management.

How then to build a strategy? Like any other strategy, the process seems logical: review, assess, and mitigate. In this particular case: 1) review your trade lanes, products, and materials flow by matching them against risk categories (i.e., labour, business risk, global trade, nature, and materials), 2) assess risks for each combination, and 3) mitigate risks by either changing behaviour now or planning for alternate sourcing options should the anticipated risks become reality.

Trade Lanes and Risk Categories

The relevant components to review within the supply chain include the importing and exporting country or countries, the manufacturing locations, the finished goods, and the raw materials. Ideally, for finished goods and materials, the associated Harmonised System (HS) codes are made available. Scratch what does not apply and move to the following step where each of the ‘inputs’ is categorically reviewed.

As mentioned, this should not be an exercise limited to supply chain professionals. For example, labour risks can be associated with the likelihood of strikes, wage volatility, and the availability of appropriate labour resources—not necessarily areas that keep the supply chain brain occupied every day.

In similar fashion, other resilience elements expand across different areas of expertise. Business risks relate to cybersecurity, corruption, counterfeit products, and the chance of entering into business with bad actors that are on any of the denied party lists.

Global trade accounts for the compliance requirements related to the shipment of goods (i.e., licenses, documentation, permits, etc.), associates the products with the various duties and taxes, and identifies if Free Trade Agreements (FTA) apply and how to qualify for preferential treatment.

Arguably the most unpredictable, but not the least expected risk to account for, is nature. It’s important to identify the various kinds of disasters that may hit: natural hazards, pandemics/epidemics, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, or drought can all play parts.

Lastly, consider materials. Understanding the market comes with insights into scarcity, sourcing locations and price fluctuations.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessments match the input with the risk categories. For example, how vulnerable is the manufacturing location when it comes to labour regulations, corruption, or flooding? Is there an FTA in place that could potentially lower the import duty burden? Where in the supply chain can a cyberattack be most expected? In short, some homework is in order to create a thorough risk profile.

For many components, the sources are readily available, such as the Corruption Index at, labour statistics on Statista or NationMaster, or duty rate information from the various global trade content providers (or the WTO).

Building Resilience

As with cyber-security risks (PEN tests) or a regular laptop virus scan, supply chain risk assessments will point out the components that need immediate attention or, in this case, are a high priority for alternate sourcing or routing options. It’s then time to build that resilience.

Look for options by analysing the market and trade lanes. Mine import and export data to identify alternative sources for goods and materials, even manufacturing locations. Map out alternative routes for products to get where they need to go. Document the reasonable options and share with as many people as possible—preparedness is of course an all-inclusive strategy.

Next and where possible: test run! Re-route shipments temporarily or source occasionally from a new supplier; in other words, make sure the alternative options are viable. In addition, communicate with external sources that would be part of continuity plans. Make them aware they are part of these plans; put people or suppliers on a retainer and try to agree on terms before disaster strikes so the projected costs can be anticipated better.

Lastly, keep those alternate plans up to date; otherwise, it may be too late to create and execute on alternate alternative plans.

IoT accelerates end-to-end supply chain visibility

By Ian Terblanche, Global Sales Director at Sigfox

The global supply chain and logistics market is set to exceed $15 trillion by 2024, developing at a CAGR of 6.0% from 2016 to 2024 by volume. However, in spite of these impressive growth figures, there has been a mere trickle of innovation in the supply chain market, set against rising levels of inefficiency. 

Arguably the greatest challenge facing enterprise supply chains in 2020 is a familiar one – a lack of end-to-end visibility. The fact is that a single shipment can include over 200 interactions and more than 25 different people, often across the globe, which raises a range of challenges for delivering unified data effectively. However, this complexity is not going away, and indeed as global logistics volumes continue to rise across almost every industry vertical, the need to move to a more efficient and optimised, data-driven approach becomes ever more pressing. 

There are many risks in the global supply chain, but the impact of malicious and criminal activities is increasing. Cargo freight crime prevention in the United Kingdom cost companies at least an estimated £24 million ($31 million) during 2018, according to the BSI. BSI recorded 921 cargo theft incidents across the UK during the first quarter of 2019. A wide range of methods are used to steal goods, including the use of GSM jammers to overwhelm anti-theft devices and alarm systems. GPS trackers are mitigated by storing containers in an overhead environment, blocking access to the satellites. 

However, by implementing a solution that relies on radio signals that are extremely difficult to jam, warehouse theft risk is reduced giving organisations peace of mind that their alarm systems won’t fail. Moreover, in the event that cars, motorcycles, lorries or utility vehicles are stolen, they continue to seamlessly transmit GPS coordinates when equipped with this type of technology, enabling quicker and easier vehicle recovery for the authorities and insurers. 

Indeed, it is increasingly the case that first-generation single-network technology is being replaced with hybrid devices that can surmount connectivity issues, whether physical, geographic or as a result of malicious activity. 

RFID was once held up as the holy grail of tracking movement of goods, but the truth is that its technology is heavily flawed. RFID needs a RFID tag on the tracked item and infrastructure in the form of readers (to sense tags) and antennas (to increase the range of those senses). Implementing this type of infrastructure requires complex planning and managing between manufacturer and suppliers, hefty initial investment, developing cloud applications, system integration experts and a significant amount of time too – a supply chain operating across 500 sites can take up to 2 years to plan, install and test RFID before it’s up and running. 

By approaching the problem differently, you’ll achieve different and better results. Ditching the complex nature of RFID and lookalikes for the lightweight solutions offered by wireless, low-emission networks really can revolutionise the way you track and manage across your supply chain.

It is often the case that organisations know when the shipment left the last checkpoint, for example a sea port, but do not have visibility of its exact location until the next checkpoint, which is often the next port. This level of granularity is not sufficient for many applications, especially involving foodstuffs of medical supplies, which can have specific storage and temperature logging requirements over such a distance and time. However, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the unique ability to capture vast amounts of extremely valuable data, helping businesses better understand the behaviour of people, environments and assets to give a real-time holistic view of the entire supply network.

By implementing connected devices across the supply chain, businesses gain a vast array of data that not only fulfills regulatory requirements, but also offers extremely granular insights into the efficiency and real time operation of their networks. From a full overview of routes travelled, warehouse delays and network gaps to ensuring vehicles deliver best performance limiting downtime and repairs, while ensuring driver safety is of the highest calibre, the opportunities are almost endless. 

We’re seeing our customers really reap the benefits of transforming their operations in this way with IoT and Sigfoxconnectivity. For example, real-time alerts about delays and transport conditions has allowed Michelin to reduce transit stock by 10%, increase Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) by 40% and reduce Out of Stock (OOS) situations due to exceptional circumstances (such as bad weather) by a quarter. Cost reductions and an increase in customer satisfaction are but a few of the end benefits Michelin has been able to achieve. We are seeing increasing interest across geographical locations, including the UK, via our secure sensor network operator, WND UK, which recently hit the significant network milestone of 90% complete. 

This tide of innovation is beginning to deliver measurable results, such as for Deutsche Post DHL Group, which has outfitted about 250,000 DHL roll cages with Sigfox smart trackers. The result will be that the German parcel market leader will have powerful levels of visibility of the essential and valuable roll cages which are used to transport large volumes of parcels – about five million shipments in Germany each working day. 

IoT is gradually beginning to transform and digitise the global supply chain, providing companies with unprecedented visibility into their own operations. The accelerating pace of change means that businesses will increasingly need to be onboard, and up-to-speed in order to maintain competitive advantage. Just a few years ago, full supply chain visibility was just a pipedream – now it is a rapidly approaching business fact.

Case study: real time container tracking improves operations for B&M

Leading North West based waste management company deploys the PIN IoT tracking solution across its fleet of roro containers

Established in 1999, B&M Waste Services delivers integrated waste management and recycling solutions to businesses across the UK. Carbon neutral since 2011, B&M continues to invest in technology and innovation to improve the service it delivers to customers. 

The PIN IoT solution uses new technology to enable low cost, real time tracking of bulk containers and skips, via tracking devices with a 5-year battery life and software tailored specifically for the waste industry.

The solution enables the waste industry to avoid capital expenditure on new containers, typically for several years by eliminating loss, recovering theft and utilising excess inventory. It leverages dual tracking technologies, which means we can distinguish between normal operational movements and immediately alert when a 3rd party moves a container, tracing it to its onward destination.

Operating costs can be reduced by controlling the repair and maintenance process and moving containers around the network more efficiently.

“Each of our containers now has a digital identity, we can track every movement and understand exactly where assets are located”

Paul Curtis, Director

For more information, please visit:

Elanders supporting fashion & lifestyle brands

By Elanders

If one thing fits like a glove, then it’s our tailor-made concepts in textile logistics for the Fashion & Lifestyle sector. A portfolio of global fashion services from Elanders Group ensures you receive integrated solutions from a single source. Our clients retain full control, from pre-production through to suppliers and all the way to the point of sale.

Our textile finishing services guarantees your products are looking their best, crease-free and spotlessly clean, for their big appearance at the end customer.  Fine feathers make fine birds – and we deliver your garments safely to their destination.

  • Picking of individual items
  • Quality control of goods incoming and outgoing (fit control, initial sample comparisons, AQL, processing & blocking station)
  • Packaging, repacking, shipping

Contact Elanders today to find out more :

Embracing digital to mitigate supply chain disruption

By Ronald Kleijwegt, VP Global Sales & Managing Director EMEA, Blume Global 

We live in a world where disruption is inevitable – and its vital that supply chain organisations are prepared. However, many supply chain managers cite a lack of visibility into supply chain operations as a main hurdle in mitigating disruptions. Hidden areas within the supply chain create unnecessary instability within service delivery and have a huge impact on customer experiences, while increasing costs. 

Better visibility into supply chain networks is foundational to supply chain transformation, but visibility without actionable insights can only go so far. Supply chain managers need to focus on solutions that provide simple suggestions and let the user act, not just show status and issues. 

These solutions allow companies to successfully connect suppliers and logistics service providers (LSPs), monitor assets, shipments, alerts etc., and respond effectively when issues arise. As a result, operational, customer service, and financial benefits can also be realized across the supply chain. Here’s a closer look at the key digital technologies supply chain organisations need to embrace to mitigate risk from disruption.

Improving risk management with predictive and prescriptive analytics

Predictive and prescriptive analytics can equip companies with a strong competitive advantage, along with heightened control over every aspect of their supply chains. Without a crystal ball to predict disasters and unknown variables, companies need strategies and tools to help avoid disruptions. The advanced capabilities of predictive and prescriptive analytics can serve as a guiding light for the supply chain, analysing environmental factors such as weather events and using data to inform decisions, predict, prepare, plan and advise. This insight helps improve risk management and mitigation planning in the supply chain.

Optimizing supply chains with AI & Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) plays an important role in optimising the modern supply chain, and in our advancing field, business leaders who aren’t already implementing AI run the risk of falling behind and will struggle to maintain, or obtain, a competitive edge. 

But implementing AI will take much more than slapping a machine learning overlay atop a transportation management system (TMS). Supply chain leaders who are just getting started with AI implementation can begin by identifying their operational challenges and prioritizing them. Is the most pressing challenge getting goods from point A to point B in a timely manner? Is it predicting the required quantities of goods six months in advance? Once supply chain leaders know where they need to first direct their attention, they can apply the best data to coming up with a solution.

Identifying goods delayed in transit with IoT

Connected devices and IoT-enabled solutions are giving us more data than ever to make better decisions — connecting the legs of the supply chain path while simplifying information exchange. To improve the flow of products and information from point A to point B, shippers are adding sensors on almost everything, not just the most expensive equipment.

IoT devices help address some of the inefficiencies inherent to visibility challenges. They can be attached to vehicles, and most any asset including storage containers or goods, and provide a continuous update of their location. Access to this live location data, plus data from other outside sources, enables organizations to track their deliveries with real-time shipment visibility, providing insights into first- and last-mile pickups, delivery milestones and shipment status across all modes.

Intelligent supply chain management solutions give companies granular visibility and agility throughout the shipping process to help suppliers meet demand and improve supply chain performance, resilience and agility. Having the visibility and data is important but the ability to act and execute based on that data is even more so. The bottom line is that an intelligent, digitized supply chain is critical to keeping up with ever-increasing demand and maintaining a high level of customer service.

Value Recovery service – Generate 30% extra revenue from your old IT assets

Discover LGI’s unique IT Asset Value Recovery service. LGI, an Elanders Group owned company, offers a global service for IT Asset Value Recovery. Our business model compares the market to unlock the hidden value of IT assets and focuses on achieving the best price for our clients. 

We help companies increase the value of their old IT Assets, on average by up to 30%.  Our offer is completely transparent regarding market value.   We have a certified & secure supply chain for recovery of assets, data deletion and refurbishment.

We auction your assets to our trusted and certified IT re-furbishers.  When the value is assessed and accepted by you, we collect the assets, wipe all sensitive data and manage the transaction process.

Contact LGI/Elanders today to find out more :

Making the case for peak performance

By Jo Bradley, Business Development Manager at Packaging by Quadient – formerly Neopost

Online fulfilment is facing a new reality; one of frequent and dramatic spikes in demand and this is causing retailers significant challenges in the packing area. How can ecommerce businesses successfully hit these extreme peaks when labour resources are becoming increasingly scarce?

These peaks stress test the whole fulfilment and delivery process and nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the packing area. Constructing boxes, packing, weighing, sealing and labelling manually is a slow process, and few shippers have either the physical space or the available labour to create additional packing stations for what may be only a few days’ work. Finding a flexible labour force, available at short notice, is also becoming increasingly difficult as a result of Brexit. So, how will online retailers cope with the new reality of frequent and dramatic spikes in demand?

The case for greater use of automation in the packing area is compelling. However, simple size-constrained machines using only one-size of box does not cater for the wide variety of products and order sizes experienced by most online retailers. If demand for smaller items to be packed exceeds the capacity of the relevant machine, the shipper has no option but to move up a box size, or two, or three.

Waste not…

The consequences are not good. It is understood that 60% of ecommerce deliveries are by volume at least a quarter composed of bubble-wrap, airbags, paper void fill or just fresh air. Much of the dunnage is essentially non-recyclable, but without it the damage rate for small items slamming about in large boxes, already high, becomes unacceptable to consumers and creates an ever-bigger returns problem. It has been estimated that an ecommerce item can go through around 50 touch points, or opportunities for damage, compared with around 10 for a bricks & mortar sale. 

What can be done?

The case for a fast, efficient, economical and secure means of automating the packaging and labelling of online orders is convincing – but how can it be done? Can boxes be individually made to the exact size required for each order, secured, weighed and labelled automatically at speeds capable of efficiently and cost-effectively matching peak volumes? Effectively, could a machine flex to demand, even at volumes of up to a thousand packages an hour? The answer is yes.

Packaging by Quadient – formerly Neopost – has introduced the CVP Everest, a high velocity fit-to-size ‘auto-boxing’ system capable of tailor-making over 1100 ecommerce packages per hour.

The system scans and measures the item, or group of items, to be packed and calculates the ‘best fit’ box shape and size. Material for the box and lid is cut and creased to size, erected around the item(s) and the lid glue-sealed – which is faster and more recyclable than using tape. Parcels are weighed, labelled and away.

This approach addresses the waste problem – cardboard usage typically cut by 20%, and a tight fit eliminates the need for void fill. Total package volumes can be reduced by 50%, maximising the use of the truck or trailer cube and reducing shipping costs and environmental impacts.

More cogently for the hard-pressed fulfilment centre manager, at packing rates in excess of 1,100 per hour the latest machine can potentially replace on average up to 20 manual packing stations. And for businesses with mid-market volumes a similar machine, the CVP Impack, produces up to 500 boxes per hour and offers just about all the benefits of the CVP Everest. 

The business case is impressive. Even operating ‘off-peak’ at well below capacity there is a rapid Return On Investment in the form of material savings, lower shipping costs and labour economies – labour that could be redeployed to other tasks, such as picking. But it is at peak times that the CVP Everest and CVP Impack systems really come into their own, ramping up throughput without any corresponding increase in labour, and minimising the burden on despatch and delivery operations.

By choosing an automated solution to ‘right-size’ ecommerce deliveries, retailers can meet their fulfilment promises, even in the peaks, while respecting the environment, reducing transit damage, and saving money.