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3 Ways COVID-19 is Impacting Logistics Operations in the UK (and what to do about it)
Published on 2020-11-04 16:00:00 UTC in Collaborative Robotics
By Stuart Coulton, Regional Manager, OMRON UK North
Amongst all of the recent doom and gloom in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, not every industry sector has been subject to the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the hospitality sector. In fact, some industries are thriving.
Retail has undergone a monumental shift over the last 6 months with consumers being forced to engage more in e-commerce as their primary mode of shopping meaning that logistics providers are experiencing unprecedented levels of demand. That being said, periods of high growth rates bring their own challenges and require a balanced approach. Indeed, whilst the COVID-19 pandemic is the source of such a boon in the logistics world, it is also the primary source of the biggest challenges. Let’s consider the following:
1. Capacity limitations due to social distancing
Social distancing is fast becoming the bane of most people’s lives these days. There is a fully justifiable need to engage in preventative measures. However, continuous implementation of something that is not innate to us leads to decision fatigue. As a result, logistics providers need to ensure their workers are following social distancing guidelines at all times, often resulting in lower numbers of workers. In a situation where the required capacity is increasing due to the explosion in e-commerce related demand, this is clearly a problem for logistics providers.
2. Increased consumer expectations for faster deliveries
Similarly, the need for social distancing - culminating in a smaller workforce - has a drastic impact on a logistics providers’ ability to deliver on consumer expectations, affecting the brand reputation of their customer and potentially reducing their overall market position. As consumer expectations grow with free, next day delivery rapidly becoming the norm, this issue is heightened to one of critical strategic importance throughout the logistics market. Add into that the increasing consumer requirement for free returns, a slick reverse logistics operation is required - very difficult when space (and hence people) is limited.
3. Worker burnout
Then there is those that are keeping Britain’s warehouses functioning as efficiently as possible under the current constraints. These guys are the true engines of the e-commerce machine and work extraordinarily hard to deliver the best possible service to their employers and their customers. However, the cost of this is significant. As long shifts become the norm, workers start to tire. Productivity reduces and a self-perpetuating cycle of reduced productivity and supervisory chastisement takes hold. This leads to picking errors further adding to the issue, causing sometimes irreparable damage to a logistics provider’s (and retailer’s) brand.
Having spoken to a number of senior stakeholders within logistics providers, social distancing creates a significant limit on the elasticity of an operation. That is, the ability to respond to demand fluctuation by varying capacity according is a major strategic headache. Gone are the days where we could hire some contract workers over the Christmas period - there simply isn’t enough space.
So, what can we do?
Picture a solution that enables seamless movement of pallet sized loads of up to 1500kg without the need for human operators (or forklift trucks).
Imagine a solution that takes the mundane nature of repetitive tasks out of the hands of humans enabling them to improve their skills and focus on higher value activities, increasing engagement and reducing burnout.
Envisage a fleet of customisable, purpose specific workhorses that are monitored and controlled from a centralised management system and easily repurposed for evolving task requirements.