Saturday 22nd Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

The rise of the machines

In the late 1990s, automation went further than the high-speed tilt-tray sorter systems that companies such as DHL and Deutsche Post use for sorting letters and parcels. But robot-grabbing systems failed to fill shop shelves, partly because goods simply do not come in one easy size. Nowadays, the evidence coming back from occupiers is that the requirement is for more manual picking-and-packing style operations. They are looking away from systems, which are complicated and have the ability to fail. A more manual system means greater reliance on the workforce.

That has been one of the drivers behind major occupiers looking to site their logistics centres beyond the traditional East Midlands triangle and now along the A14. Companies wanting sites along the A14 or further up the M6 are finding relatively untapped workforces.

ProLogis’ Daventry site has been a success, with some 13,950sq m let to Whistlestop Discount Stores, trading as 99p at Apex Park, joining JD Wetherspoon, Wincanton and Netto. Seven miles from the M1, Daventry has been seen as a secondary location, but distributors are now seeing it as a value-for-money area with good labour availability.

With space at such a premium, getting racking right is the key to efficient logistics.

Linpac Storage Systems, a ProLogis supplier of racking suitable for heavy bay loads and up to 30m high, also supplies dynamic storage systems and other derivatives of its pallet racking range. including pallet live storage, drive-in, mobile and multi-tier racking.

With humans in mind, Linpac developed the “garment clearway” for distributors serving the rag trade. This solution maximises the vertical hanging space within a warehouse, using the building’s profile to the fullest extent. To provide the garment clearway, Linpac has designed a method of lowering the main beams of its adjustable cantilever storage system. It generates a system free of beams, so that clothing flows along the rails without being impeded by floor support beams. An extra benefit of the lowered beams is the space created under the walkway areas.

Linpac’s project management teams cover all technical services from initial concept through to commissioning of total warehouse storage systems, including turnkey packages for conventional, semi-automated and fully automated warehouse requirements.

Linpac loses none of the human touch – even when dealing with complex solutions for a high-tech industry. Ingram Micro UK, a global wholesale provider of technology products and supply chain management services, offers next-day delivery to a broad cross-section of customers ranging from high-street multiples to small retail independents.

When Ingram Micro acquired a new warehouse at Daventry, it spent months meticulously planning the space for stock layout. Ingram Micro and Linpac worked together on the design and layout of the storage solution. They decided that the Ingram Micro stock should be stored on a combination of wide aisle and narrow aisle Apex pallet racking, Longspan shelving and carton live storage. Tubular crash barriers protect the racking and personnel walkways.

They also looked at a totally automated system. The system allows larger items to be stored in the pallet racking and retrieved by reach and combi trucks. There are 13 aisles of wide aisle pallet racking and eight of narrow aisle with five beam levels. The Longspan shelving stretches across 110 aisles providing 12,000 box locations.

When Linpac supplied Woolworths with 1,680 bays of Apex racking, it specially designed mesh shelves for the picking levels to take all sizes and shapes of stock from totes to large cuddly toys or fragile home decorations. It put together a security cage encompassing an entire aisle of 16 bays for high-value items such as CDs and electronic goods.

For catalogue company Freemans, Linpac put a raised bale arm at the back of the tote bins that made the bin and shelving combination so effective. The bale arm acts as a durable backstop peg so that totes storing returned items can be pulled out for picking without completely removing them.

Linpac replaced Freeman’s aging storage bin system with 70,000 plastic tote bins and up to 70,000 cardboard delivery cartons – all stored on Apex Longspan shelving. With the new shelving the original delivery boxes can be used as the forward picking bins. This carton stock is located mainly above the returns totes which are placed in the central area of shelving for ease of picking – 40% of the pick is from the totes.

Management consultant Frost & Sullivan says automation may return. It has produced a report showing that issues related to the scarcity of skilled labour and the need to reduce the time to market are set to advance demand for automated warehouses. It only predicts greater use of radio frequency identification (RFID), with 3PLs poised to introduce primary level RF tagging by 2007, and it projects the level of automation in warehouses will increase by 28% by 2010.

At ProLogis, we believe flexibility is the future. Increased cost pressure for both the warehousing clients as well as 3PLs has led to a rise in demand for multi-user warehouse facilities as against dedicated warehouses that are more costly to operate. Frost & Sullivan predicts that mounting cost pressures on warehousing clients are also expected to motivate the rise of centralised warehousing of stock in a regional warehouse by 2010.

In order to take pressure off our occupier’s capital costs, ProLogis is looking at making racking part of a services suite, which we provide to it within terms of the rent. We are looking at rentalising the heating, lighting and sprinkling, too. This could provide an upgradeable racking system as part of the building.

Nick Brown is with ProLogis Developments. Tel: 0121 224 8700.