Tom Southall, Policy Director at the Cold Chain Federation, began proceedings at the Logistics Conference with an assessment of three key disruptors to the cold storage sector, beginning with the departure of the UK from the European Union. He discussed the political milestones that put pressure on the cold chain, including the ‘worst-case scenario’ for Brexit, Operation Yellowhammer. Hauliers were subject to backlogs of HGVs on key routes due to additional custom checks, and Southall emphasised the ‘carnage’ suffered by food exporters to the EU whose chilled goods expired whilst in transit.
Two crises rolled into one another when the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe as the Brexit transition period came to an end. Southall highlighted the initial ‘panic-buying’ period in March 2020 as a rare time when stores were often empty. One of the positive outcomes of the last year is better communication with the government, which has made it easier to cope with some of the affects of Brexit. Recently, the vaccine roll-out posed new challenges to the cold chain, and Southall celebrated manufacturers for coming up with a distribution model to cope with storing the Pfizer vaccine at -70C, beyond the capabilities of traditional cold units at -30C.
The third crisis facing the cold chain, according to Southall, is climate change. Although cold stores cannot boast low carbon emissions, they are imperative in reducing post-harvest food loss and therefore have an important role to play in developing environmentally friendly operations. Cold stores are ‘lagging behind’ in sustainability efforts, but with over 16.7 million square foot of new cold space in the pipeline, there is plenty of opportunity to adopt new energy-efficient technology. Southall gave attendees a brief insight into the Cold Chain Federation’s net zero project, available to view online here.
Sally Duggleby, VP of Capital Deployment & Leasing at Prologis, also mentioned the climate crisis while discussing the potential of rail freight. She acknowledged that 95% of rail freight uses diesel fuel, but remained optimistic about the electrification of the rail network as well as the introduction of bio-fuel on some DB cargo services. Given that each freight train in operation removes 76 HGVs from the UK’s roads, the carbon emissions from rail are 24% lower than that of road freight.
Over the last year, rail freight grew by 2%, despite port congestion and UK lockdowns slowing the supply chain. The first lockdown only worsened the driver shortage, so many firms turned to rail freight to take their lorries off the road. Furthermore, the decline of passenger trains left more space on the rails for faster and longer freight trains. Duggleby noted the CEO of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, challenged the company to leverage freight, due to the fact that passenger numbers are unlikely to return to pre-covid levels any time soon.
During her time at Amazon, Duggleby made a point to put forward multimodal property options. She challenged the notion that trains are unreliable, pointing out that 95% of trains run on time and that we tend to overlook some of the difficulties of road transport. Duggleby highlighted the traffic on the M25 as a persistent problem, and noted the difficulties earlier in the year when power lines came down on the M1. Rail is not the single solution, but part of an integrated approach that benefits from diversifying your transport strategy.
Harry Watts, Managing Director at SEC, discussed creating agility in the warehouse through intelligent solution design. Defining agility as ‘an operation’s pre-planed capacity for accelerated changed to gain organisational advantage’, Watts stressed that agility is an evidence-based science, and that strategic decisions based on data yield the best results. He also stated that agility can be a valuable antidote the uncertainty and turbulence, which the logistics industry has had in abundance over the last few years due to Brexit and the pandemic.
Watts acknowledged the difficulties that Brexit caused in warehouse design. He discussed the project that SEC undertook for Focus International, which took home the top prize for Warehouse Efficiency at the 2020 Logistics Awards. Focus required a system which could adapt to changing consumer needs due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. The unit pick solution created by SEC could easily be converted to a carton flow system with minimal disruption and negligible agility premiums, resulting in an impressive 100% pick efficiency and a 40% increase in storage capacity.
You can stream the SHD Logistics Conference on demand for free by registering here.