Developing a future-proof logistics operation

The unsung heroes of everyday life, from the food on our plate to the clothes on our back, life as we know it wouldn’t be possible without the integration of logistics at every stage of the supply chain. But as with many sectors, increased population, the surge in online sales and pressures from ecologists make operating a logistics business more and more challenging. It’s imperative that now, more than ever, logistics organisations consider how the landscape of their business will change, with increased demand and intensified pressures. Managing fluctuating demand It’s a well-known fact that logistics organisations feel the pressures of consumer demand, all year around. But more often than not, they come in relatively consistent waves; Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas etc. With the annual calendar providing a routine for haulage demand, this leaves recruiters and HR departments with the mammoth task of managing staffing fluctuations in parallel with their competitors. The reality is, finding good warehousing staff is a challenge from the offset, but having to do so with an immediate spike in demand; near impossible. It’s this staffing challenge that subsequently impacts operational delivery, causing delays throughout the supply chain. But when pandemics like COVID-19 hit, and increased staffing isn’t a sensible option, or in some cases an option at all, focus changes to machinery and automation to deal with an unprecedented level of demand; greater than the Global economy has seen for decades, and a challenge which may not be a once in a lifetime event. As demand increases, as does the stress put on existing equipment and facilities. More packages being loaded onto conveyors which have to work faster, a greater number of items being processed meaning servers have to work harder, air quality reduces meaning ventilation systems have to increase flow rates; and the list goes on. But, everything has a breakpoint. The question is, will your organisation wait to find out what it is, or adapt to the volatile requirements of a next-generation distribution centre. After all, you can’t simply turn up productivity; can you?

Automation in the warehouse Most logistics organisations understand the merit of introducing technology into the workplace, be it online systems to track deliveries, conveyor belts to speed-up processes or even scanners to process inbound items; the basics of warehousing. There are some mature organisations who take this concept to the next level; digital productivity trackers to manage colleague work rate, robots for picking and stowing items, perhaps even auto-sortation machines to divide outgoing deliveries from packing lines to the relevant shipments. These organisations will have benefitted from;

  • Increased productivity

  • A decrease in errors through minimised human interaction

  • A decrease in minor H&S incidents due to machinery being used to carry items

What’s more, with the use of machinery and smart technology reducing the need to hire as many warehouse operators, this provides organisations with the ability to up-scale operations much more efficiently, along with allowing them to up-skill existing team members into roles such as technology analysts, transport planners and drivers to combat the UK’s driver shortage. But, what happens when these machines reach breakpoint? If an organisation relies on technology, what happens when something breaks down? It’s easy to see when people get tired, but machinery doesn’t generally provide any tell-tale signs until it’s too late. So, what happens then?

Remote Monitoring Technology It’s easy to see how technology, enhanced user interfaces and automated systems can transform global operations. Its purpose is to ultimately make things easier and more transparent for management and less reliant on the workforce. But systems are only as good as the people who look after them, and even those people make mistakes. An oversight on maintenance could lead to lines being down for hours with thousands of packages back-logged and multiple late deliveries; not good for logistics operators needing to maximise performance at a time of national emergency. What’s the solution? Think technology that monitors technology. Better known as a remote monitoring system.

These systems are designed to monitor the physical live performance of machinery, gathering data using an extensive list of wireless sensors, including temperature, vibration, humidity, electric current, Co2 and many more. The purpose of this technology is to collate and analyse data, providing detailed reports on the sensors attached, and subsequently creating baseline performance indicators and spotting trends and anomalies for early breakdown warnings. It essentially allows the technology to calculate whether a piece of equipment is under too much stress, flagging any anomalies to the relevant people who can take corrective action before anything breaks down. 100% uptime. Zero productivity lost. Excellent examples of this technology in use includes the monitoring of conveyor belts for temperature and vibration, through to air quality and humidity for ventilation systems. This technology can also be used to detect changes in vehicles, cargo, ships and planes for a wholly rounded view of the end-to-end supply chain process. With a fully integrated remote monitoring solution, your logistics business could be assessed from anywhere, at any time, like a central nervous system of your entire business – at the touch of a button. To conclude There’s no denying that technological advances are core to growth and survival in such a demanding sector. Be it automating processes to mitigate human error, streamlining functions or simply maintaining quality standards in a volatile and ever-moving Distribution Centre, the need for technology and its subsequent maintenance has never been so crucial. It’s time for hauliers to level-up, with technology being the future of logistics, how will your organisation adapt?