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The challenges of building a state-of-the-art warehouse during a pandemic

Corby exterior.jpeg
Building a future-proof warehouse is challenging in the best of times – Europa Warehouse managed to deliver its Corby facility ahead of time and in budget, during a pandemic.

With the pandemic resulting in an e-commerce boom, the past 18 months have been a challenging time for the logistics industry. Especially for an ambitious logistics company determined to build an urgently needed warehouse to cope with increasing demand from e-commerce and subscription-based businesses.

In October 2019 specialist 3PL logistics provider, Europa Warehouse, part of the Europa Worldwide Group, announced that it had started work on a £60m ‘best in class’ facility at Midlands Logistics Park in Corby, due for completion June 2020.

Corby.jpg

Europa Warehouse provides a range of value-added capabilities including e-commerce fulfilment, production services, inventory management, packing, labelling, special deliveries, final assembly, quality control and critical parts management. 

Starting long before the pandemic would hit, the new facility would double Europa Warehouse’s logistics portfolio and was being constructed to a high-quality institutional specification, including above market standard 18 metre heights to facilitate three floors of mezzanines.

Already on schedule Europa Warehouse was determined to press ahead with the state-of-the-art, 715,000sq ft, 3pl facility including a substantial investment in a highly innovative automation system to help customers improve efficiencies.

Despite the impact of Covid-19 and a huge number of obstacles which this presented Europa’s construction team and partners ploughed on.  On a very practical level the construction team were faced with new changes to regulations, working practices, and Government guidelines the project remained on track.  Local hotels that had accommodated construction workers closed (there was accommodation available for key workers but in general there was very restricted services open) and the technical delivery team had to create new ways of working to facilitate social distancing.

The numerous lockdowns and associated challenges affected every single department at Europa, yet each team worked tirelessly to open the new site.  From the recruitment team hiring a brand-new local team of 120, staff training, to designing and procuring IT and all of the operations.

Maria Torrent-March, Logistics Director at Europa Warehouse, said: “We knew we had to build this warehouse for our customers, even though we encountered numerous challenges. The lockdowns, staff absences due to Covid-19 and a low availability of skilled staff were enormously difficult.

“The priority was to plan immediately for how we would manage Covid-19.  A task force was created, headed up by our Central Services Director, to bring in our own standards and policies for  enhanced health and safety measures.  We provided staff with PPE and quickly arranged highly visible signage so that people understood the new ways of working.

“We even introduced the use of masks and temperature checks before they were made compulsory, so we were stricter with ourselves so that we could look after the safety of our employees, contractors and suppliers.”

The physical design of the building was also quickly adapted, for example, to create more space for workers to change and catering for the workforce became an outdoor food truck.

Maria said: “There was also a lot of uncertainty about what materials were available to build the physical warehouse, when they were going to arrive, and how we had to plan work around this uncertainty.”

“The problem was that we didn’t always know who was going to be available, because people had to wait for tests and then self-isolate. We had to keep people working in bubbles because we had to maintain extreme control on keeping different bubbles and suppliers apart, to protect their health.

“We staggered shifts, breaktimes and established separate toilet blocks so that we were doing everything we could to keep people separate. We also installed physical barriers and signage so that everyone knew where they were supposed to be and how to move around the warehouse safely. And we made sure that everyone working on-site was regularly taking Covid tests and that no-one with symptoms was allowed onto the site.”

Luckily for Maria, there was only one occasion when an entire bubble of skilled workers was off self-isolating. 

Corby interior under construction.jpeg

Maria said: “We were really lucky it only happened once. And for that shift, we managed to bring another bubble of skilled workers to take over.

“Many of our workers were living away from their families. So, it was incredibly challenging. But we all pulled together and kept our spirits up. I think this was because everyone knew we were committed to doing the right thing – and we communicated this with everyone. There was also a feeling that we were part of a bigger project, that the warehouse was not just for our customers, but it was part of keeping the entire company moving.”

Such was Maria’s determination to make the warehouse happen, that she managed to open ahead of schedule and within budget.

Maria said: “We felt that we had to respond to the needs of the country, to a society that was making more and more purchases over the internet and that we absolutely had to complete the warehouse and invest in automation to help out our e-commerce customers.”

The next stage of evolution at the site is a further £11m investment into state-of-the-art automation. New, cutting-edge technology will create increased efficiencies for Europa’s customers – the   automation includes the use of Goods-to-Person (GTP) technology to eliminate time consuming and unproductive activities.

Maria believes automation is the future of the logistics industry, which was another driver behind her determination to complete Corby on time.

She said: “Automation requires a substantial investment, but the long-term operational costs are lower than manual labour costs and it counteracts the current issue of staff shortages within the industry. In addition, there are multiple sustainability benefits.

“Most importantly, the introduction of innovative technology will allow the industry to provide a streamlined service, giving logistics providers the ability to better plan and predict the flow of goods, assisting the industry in the ever-growing demand for e-commerce and support consumer requirements of next day deliveries.”       

As part of her role, Maria is continually focused on driving change, always looking at the latest innovations and how they can benefit Europa’s operation.

Reflecting on the challenges of building the Corby warehouse during a pandemic, she said: “We just had to keep on functioning, be resilient and quickly adapt to clients’ needs during a time of unprecedented challenges that coincided with an increase in demand for e-commerce. It has been a challenge. Now we are looking to the future, focusing on introducing processes which can improve efficiencies.”

Europa Worldwide Group has six divisions – Europa Road, Europa Air & Sea, Europa Showfreight, Europa Warehouse, Europa Contact Centre and Continental Cargo Carriers. 

TAGS: COVID-19
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