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Webinar review: Collaborating over Unprecedented Peaks

Key players in the the supply chain share the challenges they’ve overcome throughout the coronavirus crisis. Bonnie Cliff, content coordinator, reports.

The inaugural webinar from SHD Logistics, Collaborating over Unprecedented Peaks, took place on Wednesday 27 May. It brought together thought leaders from across the logistics industry to learn from each other and advise the next steps to take in light of coronavrus. 

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, was our first speaker. He reported that some of his members saw their depots reach levels 44% higher than their busiest week during the Christmas period. Brennan acknowledged the difficulties in last-mile deliveries while expressing appreciation for the people working with a can-do attitude to keep the supply chain moving. 

Geek+’s sales and marketing director, Simon Houghton, our second guest on the webinar, explained that 3PLs have experienced increased demand from customers, both old and new, looking for extra storage space to cope with additional fulfilment requirements. Warehouses remaining open during lockdown had to quickly adhere to the government’s guidelines on social distancing, for example ensuring manual picking desks are at least two metres apart – which meant fewer picking desks and reduced efficiency. 

Walker Logistics saw an increase of over 400% in online sales and activities at their Membury headquarters, said customer relations director Charlie Walker, echoing ecommerce fulfilment centres across the UK. 

Working together 

For Walker, partnerships with companies in the surrounding areas were key in securing PPE for his staff. He discovered that some companies had diversified their operations to include the manufacture of PPE, including a local organic brewery that began supplying hand sanitiser to the Membury site. Going local cut down on lead time, as well as providing a perfect opportunity to support local businesses.  

Brennan celebrated another success story in collaboration: two giants in the food supply chain, Brakes and Bidfood, partnered up to ensure 1.5 million vulnerable people received food packages. He also applauded wholesalers, who would normally be supplying the restaurant industry, moving to a direct-to-consumer model almost overnight. Other positive stories that Brennan mentioned included frozen aeroplane meals donated to food banks, as well as one of the Cold Chain Federation’s members, the Company Shop, using an indoor ski slope as an emergency cold store. 

Technology guides the way 

Houghton reported a rapid introduction of new technologies in UK warehouses in the last year. He told our audience how many opt for AI/machine learning solutions as they can continuously adapt to the evolving needs of the business. The Geek+ system constantly analyses the movements of skus on racks to produce optimisation reports, which can then be activated and the whole system reshuffled – keeping moving products located nearest the workstations, which is crucial when shifting seasonal goods. 

He also introduced a pair of innovative cleaning robots designed by Geek+, Jasmin and Lavender. The Jasmin model uses a large capacity liquid storage tank to spray disinfectant on its surroundings, whereas Lavender uses ultraviolet light. Both can operate entirely unmanned with automatic obstacle avoidance and can kill up to 99.99% of germs, which is indispensable for warehouses continuing to operate during the pandemic.  

An emerging digital norm that Walker celebrated was the transition to virtual communication. He pointed to the ease of use of 3D modelling to show a new client the layout of the warehouse without the need to be there in person. This highlights the possibility of having significant warehouse space further away from head office. 

Walker underlined the need for technology to support warehouse staff. He discussed the successful deployment of the Chronos Labour Management system, which allows operatives to scan in and out of each activity. He stressed that this is not just a method of tracking employee productivity but also a useful tool for management, for example managing expectations of staff and optimising the layout of a warehouse.  

People power 

Walker emphasised the importance of staff empowerment when changing the way the business is run. For medium and large logistics companies, there should be multiple planning meetings across units on a daily basis to reallocate resources quickly and deal effectively with rapidly changing volumes. Walker also predicted a bright future for the new generation of logistics workers, thanks to the recent media spotlight on the importance of the supply chain. He hopes that more young people will consider a career in the logistics industry after seeing its importance to our everyday lives. 

Maureen O’Shea, operational transformation lead partner at KPMG, also recommended that logistics and warehouse operators focus on their people. She explained that if your employees can see that you are taking every precaution to make their daily lives safer, you will reap dividends in staff retention and motivation.  

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