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Technology at IMHX Connect

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The inaugural IMHX Connect began on Monday 13th September, with a full day of content centred around emerging technologies in the logistics sector. 

Lynn and Kieron Parnell, of Logistics Partners LLC, discussed the increasing usage of drones both in the warehouse and in the last mile. Seeking to bring sustained benefits to the warehouse, they conducted their own research on drone technology and created several prototypes to achieve their goal. The Parnells used commercially available drones and cameras however they created their own software to take care of processing. They focused on piloted solutions rather than automated due to the associated risks and costs. 

The Parnells reported several challenges with drone technology. In the warehouse, the racking environment can obscure barcodes that the drone aims to scan; in the delivery sphere, it can be a challenge to identify safe take-off and landing locations. Additionally, both solutions face short battery life and considerable expense to achieve ROI.  

Trials and tests of drones in the warehouse are becoming more common, and drones for delivery are already well established in some areas. For both these applications, the Parnells praised the flexibility, speedy and accuracy of drones. 

Teresa Higgins, Director of Barbour EHS, discussed the legal requirements and responsibilities of using forklift trucks. She covered three areas to consider when controlling risks: vehicles, operators and pedestrians.  

Higgins highlighted a case from Vinyl Compound which cost the company over half a million pounds. Failing to ensure the use of seatbelts, allowing an inadequately trained operator to use a forklift and not putting measures in place to control the speed of lift trucks cost Vinyl Compound £450,000 in fines. The business was also ordered to pay over £70,000 in associated costs. 

Continuing on the theme of fork lift technology, David Goss, Technical Manager at BITA, informed attendees of some new changes coming into place following Brexit. The CE mark, the symbol applied to a product which complies with EU legislation, will shortly no longer be accept in Britain. Instead, the UKCA mark must be applied.  

Goss stressed that much of the EU legislation has been written into UK law, as such if a piece of machinery did not need a CE mark before Brexit, it will not need a UKCA mark now. Dual marking with both the CE and the UKCA mark is permitted. If testing is mandatory for any machinery, then testing for the UKCA mark must be from a UK body, with the exception of NRMM engines, for which EU type approvals persist until 31st December 2022.  

Distributor responsibilities have changed in light of the new regulations. Goss stated that distributors are now obligated to check for defective equipment, to ensure the conformity mark is applied and that the technical documentation is complete.   

In light of recent technological developments, Sarb Sembhi, CISM, CTO & CISO for Virtually Informed, detailed the threat of cybersecurity to logistics companies. He explained that hackers usually aim to steal various kinds of data, including information that could help estimate the costs of disruption to a business, for example any high value products or contract clauses.  

In the past, cyber attackers would attempt to remain hidden for as long as possible. The attacks themselves would target confidentiality and not integrity – cryptocurrency has improved relative anonymity in payments, however data protection legislation has helped attackers as they find information that they threaten to make public unless the victim pay a large fee. 

Sembhi stated that cyber attackers are most likely to target any organisation which would experience high losses if the business was disrupted. Since logistics is a part of the critical national infrastructure, it is a prime target for ransomware attacks. Sembhi encouraged logisticians to secure all their wireless communications, including: Bluetooth, NFC and all servers that provide entry into your network. He also recommended developing cybersecurity policies through discovering and identifying connection trends. 

Henry Harris-Burland, VP of Marketing for Starship Technologies, showcased a fleet of autonomous delivery robots which has revolutionised the last mile in Milton Keynes. He explained that ‘top-up’ shopping (purchasing a few bags of groceries multiple times a week rather than doing one large weekly shop) is becoming the norm as consumers seek to reduce waste – up to 30% of groceries bought can go to waste due to the appeal of special offers. 

Harris-Burland pointed to the shift in consumer habits that the pandemic caused. One third of consumers made their first every online grocery order in the last twelve months, and this trend does not show any sign of shifting back to pre-pandemic patterns.  

The Starship delivery robot fleet has been operational in Milton Keynes for over three years. The robot uses twelve cameras and eight ultrasonic sensors to guide it to its destination, while human operators monitor and occasionally guide robots from remote centres. Harris-Burland highlighted the acceptance in the community, where consumers consider the robots part of daily life. The social engagement with the robots only increases affinity – the robots even told dad jokes on Fathers’ Day! 

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, echoed the notion of the supply chain needing people power to keep moving. Her talk centred around what Stonehenge can teach us about the future of the supply chain, highlighting four enduring features of the monument: 

Planning is momentous: considerable time was spent designing Stonehenge, as well as sourcing the materials and constructing the stones themselves. Supply chains are not linear: long value chains are complex due to many factors, including bill of materials and distribution-intensive models. Supply chains need agility to respond to customers. 

Mitchell-Guthrie identified three keys to leading supply chains into the future with AI: context, collaboration and conscience. While AI is invaluable in retrieving data, it needs context from humans for it to be beneficial. The last eighteen months have proven that collaboration is an essential element of success, particularly during disruptions. The future of the supply chain is purpose-driven: 85% of leaders believe the primary purpose of supply chains is to deliver value to customers, employees and society – ahead of investor return.  

The day closed with Rueben Scriven, Senior Analyst at Interact Analysis, giving his insights into the future of warehouse automation. He acknowledged the boom in e-commerce; with more people shopping from home, the logistical task of getting products from a fulfilment centre to customers is a big challenge. General merchandise companies, such as Amazon, are investing in more warehousing to respond to customer demand. Not only has the percentage share of online groceries increased, but there is a higher expectation of how quickly goods can get to the consumer. Scriven highlighted that rapid-delivery companies such as Weezy and Gorilla are attracting a lot of venture capital: £1bn was invested in rapid-delivery in 2020 compared to £6bn in 2021.  

The rise of micro-fulfilment centres shows an increased need to adopt robots, according to Scriven. The lack of floorspace available nationwide points to a need for distribution facilities to be denser, and with micro-fulfilment centres clocking in at <3,000sqm they are a prime contender for space-saving technologies. Scriven predicted that 2,000 centres will be installed globally by 2025, and by 2023 we will see a widespread roll-out as several ongoing trials come to a close. 

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