Current economic challenges drive logistics efficiency

Date : Wednesday, 17 April 2013

As the economy continues to struggle and the UK has lost its ‘Triple A’ credit rating, there is much talk of doom and gloom. But there are still sectors of industry that are thriving, says Mark Adams, managing director of loading equipment specialist Transdek UK.


Undoubtedly, the current state of the economy is tough. Property investment in the retail sector fell by 40% in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to an article in Property Week. Distribution warehouses saw an even steeper plummet, with a 60% drop in investment. But it is also encouraging a rethink of traditional standards across the logistics sector. Organisations are re-examining existing practices and seeking new ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.


In general, there are two main spin-offs from this efficiency drive. While overall capital investment has slowed, there are still signs of uninterrupted growth where new technologies can bring substantial cost savings and rapid returns. At the same time, there is an increasing focus on enhancing the productivity and extending the lifetime of existing equipment.


Double deck trailers and associated technologies represent one area that has sustained growth throughout the recession. In simple terms, that’s because, in the Freight Transport Association’s words: “The advantages of maximising cubic capacity can far exceed any benefits achievable in other areas. The concept is simple: increase payload volume and reduce delivery frequency, hence less mileage, less fuel, less time and, perhaps just as importantly, less CO2 emissions.”


This is backed up by a 2010 report by Professor Alan McKinnon of Heriot-Watt University, which estimated the UK’s double deck trailer fleet had increased by 900% from its 1998 level. This expansion seems set to continue, with a growing number of retailers and manufacturers turning to these high-cube vehicles.


In the loading bay, this means a growing emphasis on specialist equipment to handle these tall trailers, including double deck lifts to service the growing fleet of vehicles with a fixed upper bed.


The supply chain continues to see shifting dynamics, primarily driven by the retail sector. There is a growing focus on double decking not only to distribution centres, but also direct to retail outlets. At the same time, the retail sector is moving away from big, out-of-town stores back towards smaller convenience stores. A recent example is Morrisons buying 40 ex-Blockbusters stores.


For both the materials handling and transport sectors this has significant implications. To account for the limited space at many retail sites, operators are now looking for smaller, more compact loading systems to service vehicles. Then there is the issue of whether high-capacity vehicles can access many of these retail sites at all.


This trend has seen the arrival of a new form of urban double deck trailer, with companies such as Boots, TJ Morris (Home Bargains), Poundland and AF Blakemore (for Spar) already trialling these vehicles. The lower vehicle height required for much urban access, means these trailers will require further thinking for loading equipment at the DC.


Offering a 67% or more improvement in load capacity compared to 18-tonne rigids, the conventional workhorse for urban transport, I believe these urban double deckers will bring a major shift in distribution patterns. We are already working with customers to ensure the smooth integration of these vehicles, with tailored loading systems at each end of the delivery run and a vehicle design that will allow city double deckers to access the tightest urban areas.


When it comes to making the most of existing equipment, even larger organisations such as the major supermarkets, which have remained buoyant throughout the worst of the recession, are looking at alternatives.


For manufacturers and suppliers, this is changing the face of the market. There is a growing emphasis on quality servicing and maintenance provision to maximise both equipment productivity and longevity, and to save renewal costs for the end-user.


An increasing number of companies aim to utilise old loading bay equipment, rather than write it off. Where we retrofit double deck lifts, we frequently remove existing equipment, for example, and more and more customers are looking to refurbish and re-commission these back into their supply chains.


In the same vein, where operations have moved site, it was common practice for companies to abandon old loading bay equipment, rather than pay the cost of relocating it. Organisations are now looking to be more streamlined, more adaptable, and less wasteful. As a result, more attention is given to the move-ability of machinery, which has led to an increasing focus on versatile, modular systems that can be quickly and easily installed and relocated.


Looking to the future, I’d say that, more than ever, it’s important that companies focus on providing cost effective products and solutions that provide customers with longevity and value for money. But more than that, by forming strategic partnerships and offering innovation-driven, value-added products and services, we can really hope to reduce industry costs and to make a difference to the practices of tomorrow.


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