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Warehouse labour shortages – are robots the answer?

Collaborative robots could help tackle a looming labour shortage in UK warehouses by addressing the barriers deterring people from working in the sector, according to a new survey by fulfilment specialist 6 River Systems.

The labour shortage is already impacting the hospitality and logistics sectors due to EU nationals returning to their home countries as a result of a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 and an ageing national population means there are fewer potential workers able to undertake physical work. These factors will leave the sector less able to recruit workers to fulfil the booming demand for e-commerce sales.

UKHospitality, a trade body, said in May that the sector had a shortfall of 188,000 workers, while in the same month the job seeker website Adzuna noted a 36 per cent increase in job ads for the logistics and warehouse sector since March.

The survey by 6 River Systems, which makes Chuck, a collaborative picking robot, suggests that people are put off working in warehouses and fulfilment centres by the physical nature of the work, which often involves pushing a heavy trolley for miles each day to pick or pack items. The physical nature of the work was also cited by 14 per cent of respondents as a reason why they would not work in a warehouse at any stage of their career. For nine per cent of respondents, the perceived reading and maths skills required prevented them from considering such a role.

Meanwhile, many employees in the sector are unhappy in their roles and few see themselves doing similar work for the rest of their career, suggesting that there will be a decline to the existing workforce in the near future. Just eight per cent of warehouse or fulfilment centre workers said that they could definitely see themselves continuing in that sort of role until they retired. Twenty-one per cent said that the work would be too physical.

However, around a third (32 per cent) of respondents who didn’t work in a warehouse or fulfilment centre said that they might or would consider working in one if such barriers could be overcome, offering some hope for the sector. Twelve per cent of women were in this category, along with around 17 per cent of people approaching retirement aged 55-64.

The survey of current and former warehouse and fulfilment centre workers, as well as those who had considered work in the sector, revealed that they were unhappy in their jobs for a variety of reasons, with key complaints including the physical nature of the job, being short-staffed and pressure to work faster. Only 15 per cent said that they really enjoyed their roles.

When asked whether they would welcome collaborative picking robots with artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the work less physical and reduce the amount of walking required by directing the worker to the shortest routes, 35 per cent of those currently or previously working in a warehouse said that this would help. This was either because the job was physical, their work left them very tired or because their employer was short-staffed.

Eleven per cent said they had had an accident involving a trolley at work, of which three per cent had to take time off work.

Simon Jones, Solutions Executive UK & Ireland at 6 River Systems, said: “It’s clear from this survey that the physical nature of work in warehouses and fulfilment centres makes it hard to attract and retain the employees required to support the boom we are seeing in e-commerce. The survey also shows that many people working in the sector would welcome collaborative picking robots such as those made by 6 River Systems, which can ease the physical burden on employees and open up a much wider potential labour pool to help alleviate the expected labour shortage in the sector.”

6 River Systems asked 161 people who had worked or considered working in a warehouse or fulfilment centre a series of questions between Monday June 21 and Monday June 28 2021 via a Google Survey. The questions targeted men and women of working age living across the UK.

UniCarriers: Your business, from every angle

By UniCarriers

UniCarriers are a global supplier of forklift trucks and have over 50 years’ experience of supplying trucks and storage solutions to the UK market. Totally committed to developing the most efficient and cost-efficient materials handling and storage solutions, by providing a complete solution for your business, covering service, fleet information, health & safety, training, tools, equipment, and financing.

How we meet your expectations:

Service guarantee with no hidden costs.  
Throughout the materials handling process with our customers, UniCarriers endeavour to convey exceptional service, by building trust, brand awareness, in turn reduce problems and costs. Our engineers can provide First Time Fix rate measurement in conjunction with Response Time.

Fleet Information for operational overview & cost control.
Unexpected truck damage can be a frustration that increases costs and downtime.  UniCarriers can provide you with the technology that makes fleet management much simpler and reduces accidents for your operation.

Health & Safety for safe & efficient operation and handling.
We can help you inspect and analyse risks and weak points in your processes, working towards a safe workplace. The information collected in a health and safety analysis is the basis for changes that can minimise employee sick leave, damage to goods and equipment and excessive use of spare parts.

The right Tools to ensure a profitable workflow.
We model your resources and activities as well as warehouse layout and workflow to give you an accurate picture of your system’s performance and costs.

We have a full range of Equipment and trucks that make a difference.
We offer warehouse and counterbalance trucks as well as specialised solutions for specific applications.

Providing flexible & reliable Finance solutions for all your logistics needs.
Reduce your capital commitment, with tailor-made leasing solutions provided by our in-house leasing company, offering flexible, competitive, and varied leasing contracts.

From project planning and implementation, to service and support – it’s UniCarriers ambition to improve the efficiency of our customers material handling operation. 

www.unicarrierseurope.com
T: 01844 215501
E: sales-marketing-uk@logisnext.eu

Oxfordshire sees record take-up of industrial space in 2020

According to Savills, take up of industrial space in Oxfordshire hit 1.6 million sq ft (148,644 sq m) in 2020, a record year for the region and a 113% increase on the long term average. This can be attributed to a significant increase in demand, particularly from online retailers who accounted for 70% of all market transactions.

Savills notes that most activity took place in Bicester, Banbury and Abingdon, followed by Didcot, Witney and Thame. Key deals included two transactions of 60,000 sq ft (5,574 sq m) and 163,664 sq ft (15,204 sq m) at Symmetry Park Bicester to DPD and Ocado respectively, whilst 3PL Great Bear took 333,760 sq ft (31,007 sq m) at Central M40 in Banbury.

Locally there has also been an increase in appetite from technology and life science companies looking for good quality industrial space. Accounting for 15% of take-up last year, firm’s including Arrival, the electric vehicle developer, took 168,000 sq ft (15,607 sq m) at Link 9 in Bicester, whilst life science occupier The Native Antigen Company agreed to 50,000 sq ft (4,645 sq m) at Oxford Technology Park. Savills has seen premium rents of up to £15 per sq ft (£161 per sq m) being paid for high specification units that can accommodate these types of businesses.

As a result of strong transactional activity there has been downward pressure on supply, meaning that there is now less than 0.4 million sq ft (37,161 aq m) of Grade A space currently available in the region. This will see recently completed schemes and those that can be delivered within the next 12-18 months benefit from ongoing demand. Examples include; Savills IM’s Didcot Quarter totalling 310,000 sq ft (28,799 sq m) across two units, which has already reached PC as well as Westhall Estates scheme at Thame on the M40 corridor which totals 180,000 sq ft (16,722 sq m) and will be delivered mid-2022.

Jan Losch, associate director in the business space team at Savills Oxford, said: “The Oxon region saw exceptional take-up in 2020, surpassing both last year’s figure and the long term average. In line with the rest of the UK, demand remains high from occupiers looking for good quality, modern accommodation and those who chose to build speculatively will benefit from favourable market dynamics.”

New low lifting pallet trucks by UniCarriers: Safe and comfortable loading and unloading

UniCarriers introduces three new low lifting pallet truck models with a special focus on ergonomics and a multitude of customisation options. The global manufacturer of industrial trucks now offers the PLF, PLR and PLS models in three distinct lengths and with two different load capacities. The trucks were designed to assist loading and unloading, cross-docking, internal transports and order picking processes. Thanks to the TDS concept, for which a patent is already pending, the models also achieve high performance in sub-zero temperatures and other challenging conditions. Long service intervals result in low total costs of operation and maximum uptime. 

Where goods are loaded, picked and transported, safety and efficiency are often two competing factors. The new UniCarriers low lift pallet trucks are designed to ensure fast and safe working at the same time. This is where the PLF model’s Side Protection Bars and the driver protected platform from the PLR and PLS help to guarantee safety even when driving at maximum operational speeds. The new pallet truck models reach maximum speeds of 10 to 12.5 km/h, depending on the chosen steering type. The models are available with a load capacity between 2,000 and 2,500 kg and in “Mini”, “Junior” or “Senior” chassis lengths. Users can choose between lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries.  Furthermore, as an alternative to the standard lift-out batteries, battery rollers can be selected as an option to speed up battery change in multi-shift operations.

The many repetitive movements when operating a pallet truck can impact upon operators with regard to repetitive strain over prolonged periods of use. UniCarriers prevents this with a variety of ergonomic features such as a low vehicle entry and ergonomically shaped tiller heads. They allow employees to operate the vehicle safely with easily accessible controls. In addition, the folding platform of the PLF model and the driver protection platforms with side and rear entrances of the PLS and PLR offer a high degree of damping, which can also be electronically adjusted for better comfort while driving.

TDS concept guarantees high performance without safety risk

The aim of UniCarriers’ patent-pending TDS concept is maximum traction, damping and stability. Even on wet and uneven surfaces, the braking distance remains short and high driving speeds are possible without the wheels spinning, no matter how heavily the pallet truck is loaded. Specially developed castor wheels combined with the damping effect of the traction wheel minimise impact vibrations. The asymmetrical positioning of the castor wheels extends the damping, as not all wheels are hit simultaneously in the event of an impact. At the same time, the design of the castor wheels combines damping with good side stability. Therefore, even fully loaded pallet trucks can be driven around corners without loss of performance. Thanks to easily accessible maintenance parts and long service intervals, the new models ensure maximum uptime and low total costs of operation.

For more detailed information about the new pallet trucks, please visit UniCarriers’ website.

Main Image: The PLR is a reliable rear-entry pallet truck with a fixed, well-dampened platform for intense loading and unloading, cross docking operations and internal transport.

The steps to deliver warehouse automation

By BoxLogic

BoxLogic offer expert logistics consultancy support for businesses looking to transform their operations and reduce costs, increase capacity, or improve service.

Warehouse automation is one area of specialisation for our consultants where we use our extensive experience to support our clients develop a costed concept design through to tendering and implementation.

While the benefits of automation and robotics can be very attractive, these projects do present very real risks and it is important to enlist the support of experienced professionals to maximise the chances of a smooth and successful delivery.

Read our article on the steps to deliver warehouse automation to find out more or speak to us at the Total Supply Chain Summit on 1-2 October 2020 at Heythrop Park.

The Hut Group readies £31m Manchester logistics site

A new £31m development housing The Hut Group’s new 168,000 sq ft warehouse and 104,000 sq ft office space next to Manchester Airport has been approved.

The project will be delivered by Icon Industrial at its 45-acre warehouse and logistics site at the airport, including a new 280,000 sq ft office building at Airport City North.

The venture between Stoford Developments and TPG Real Estate is expected to appoint a main contractor by the end of February.

Matthew Moulding, founder and CEO of The Hut Group, said: “This is an exciting time for THG. Following THG’s acquisition and integration in 2017 of Hangar 7, the UK’s leading content studio, ICON is our next step in expanding the Group’s content production and logistics capabilities dramatically.”

Dan Gallagher, joint managing director of Stoford Developments, said: “We are delighted that THG has chosen ICON as the site for its new logistics and global content creation studio, it is fantastic news for Icon Manchester Airport and for the wider north west region.

“It is the fourth exciting development planned at the site, such has been the demand from potential occupiers keen to relocate to Icon Manchester Airport.

“The remaining land presents potential occupiers with an excellent opportunity to have a unit built to their specific requirements and continues the fulfillment of the Airport City masterplan, expanding and enhancing the logistical facilities on site.”

Nestlé and XPO Logistics building ‘digital warehouse of the future’

Nestlé and XPO Logistics are co-creating a 638,000-square-foot distribution centre at the new SEGRO East Midlands Gateway Logistics Park in Leicestershire.

The facility, described as a ‘digital warehouse of the future’, will be occupied predominantly by Nestlé for its consumer packaged goods and will function as a testbed environment for XPO technology prototypes prior to global release.

The custom-designed distribution centre, scheduled to complete in 2020, will feature advanced sorting systems and robotics alongside state-of-the-art automation co-developed with Swisslog Logistics Automation.

Nestlé says the site’s digital ecosystem will integrate predictive data and intelligent machines to deliver one of the most advanced distribution management centres in the world, handling KitKat, Maggi, Nescafé and other brands.

The facility will be located in the Midlands to benefit from direct access to the M1 motorway for road transport, the East Midlands Airport for cargo flights, and an onsite rail freight terminal with direct access to the major UK ports of Southampton, Felixstowe, London Gateway and the Channel Tunnel.

The facility will be sited on man-made plateaus, with landscaping to minimise the visual impact to nearby settlements. Additional sustainability measures include energy-saving LED lighting, environmentally friendly ammonia refrigeration, air source heat pumps for administration areas and rainwater harvesting.

Nestlé Director of Supply Chain David Hix said: “We are thrilled to be working with XPO Logistics to build a flagship digital warehouse and technology laboratory at the East Midlands Gateway Logistics Park. This is a world-first investment for Nestlé that builds on a century and a half of proud history in this country. Our partnership with XPO will encourage innovation and experimentation in our UK logistics operations and help futureproof our business. We will be able to be even more responsive for our customers across our brands, which include some of the most recognisable in the world.”

Richard Cawston, Managing Director, Supply Chain, XPO Logistics Europe, said: “Nestlé has entrusted XPO with the digital architecture for its future vision. Together, we will create limitless opportunities to explore new technologies in a state-of-the-art logistics environment. The new East Midlands centre will operate as both a think tank and a launch pad for XPO innovations, with far-reaching impacts on the way business is done. We look forward to an inventive collaboration with Nestlé.”

Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “This is excellent news for North West Leicestershire and the wider East Midlands economy. That two global giants – Nestlé and XPO – should choose to locate their new state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable facility here shows that this region is a great place for businesses to invest. It’s very positive for the development of our local economy.”

Davies Turner opens multi-user distribution centre in Bristol

Davies Turner says its new multi-user distribution centre near Avonmouth, Bristol, is now fully operational.

The new hub at Central Park by Western Approach is the company’s largest to date at 150,000 sq ft (14,000 sq m) and adds to its nationwide warehousing network.

The building has a high bay fully racked area, with a top beam lift of 17.5 m and eaves height of 19 m, making it one of the highest in Europe for VNA forklift operations. The site can hold 27,000 standard pallets, leaving around 3,000 spare half height locations for stacking cartons or low pallets by the ground floor pick spaces.

Four mezzanine floors have been built, with an average area of 35,000 sq ft (3,158.7 sq m), each with conveyor and pallet lift access from the ground floor as well as between each of the mezzanine decks. The mezzanines are suitable for sortation, rework, and fulfilment services required for the company’s growing e-commerce activities and online retail logistics business.

Access to the warehouse is through 18 loading docks plus a separate drive-in ramp at one end and an extra wide door at the other for out-of-gauge freight, which sits under a large canopy where doubledecker pallet trailers can also be loaded.

The site has been fully secured with palisade fencing and barriers controlling vehicle arrivals and departures.

The Central Park Logistics site is located on the edge of Avonmouth, within a 10 minute drive of the company’s other premises at Western Freight Terminal. The new DC will shortly benefit from direct motorway access due to the new junction currently under construction on the M49, improving access to the major M4 and M5 motorway networks that connect Avonmouth to London and the rest of the country, as well as the Midlands, Wales and the South West.

Davies Turner Plc Chairman, Philip Stephenson said: “Our Bristol regional HQ which also houses Davies Turner Air Cargo, has had outstanding success and is expanding rapidly in co-operation with our European partners plus the main existing and emerging markets worldwide.

“The company already operates other warehouses nearby, with each site delivering complementary supply chain solutions.

“This cluster-based approach based on our freehold sites will allow us to pool our local management and labour resources. It represents a much-needed expansion of capacity serving our customers nationwide as well as in South Wales and the West Country.”

Bristol is one of Davies Turner’s key multimodal freight hubs, with satellite branches in Bridgend, Plymouth and Southampton. The region also works with the rest of the company’s network centred on its RDCs at Birmingham, Dartford, Heathrow, Manchester and Cumbernauld in Scotland, as well as Dublin in Ireland – with another 14 smaller branches supporting them.

The company has also bought enough land (12 acres (5 ha) at Central Park to develop a second warehouse on the same site capable of adding at least another 121,000 sq ft (11,250 sq m) as business expands again, following the pattern set at its other regional distribution centres.