What goes round comes round

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I heard a radio report recently that thousands of people have signed up for doorstep deliveries to reduce plastic waste.

However, a lack of milkmen/milkwomen was making it hard to satisfy this new demand. And it got me thinking about two things: the rise of the circular supply chain, and worker shortage, an issue that’s all too prevalent in our sector.

Doorstep deliveries were arguably very much ahead of their time in that they’re circular supply chains, the shape of which our industry is expected to adopt instead of linear models. They recycled glass bottles and delivered largely by electric floats, which was all very sustainable. But cheaper milk supplies elsewhere and late deliveries saw milkmen disappear off our streets. And strangely, their challenges then are not dissimilar to those of today’s logistics operators.

This age of instant gratification extends far further than just wanting cold milk on our morning cornflakes. It demands ever-shorter delivery timeframes when 24-hour windows seem positively archaic. So, how is the logistics industry preparing itself for such challenges?

Today, there are just over 38† million warehouse workers, with projections calling for 44.6 million by 2023. In a recent Zebra study, 83%† of respondents claimed to be increasing, or planning to increase employee numbers by 2024. You’d think full automation might be the answer but it seems the appetite for implementing that by 2024 is only 16%†, some 73% plan to rely on both humans and technology.

Recruiting and retaining people in warehouse jobs is no small undertaking, and industry leaders need to make the work more attractive and view technology as the differentiator. 79%† agreed that technological transformations will make careers in warehousing more desirable.

Zebra’s study reports that 73% of organisations plan to begin warehouse modernisation by equipping workers with mobile devices. Indeed, 83% said they are currently using, or plan to use, the Android operating system by 2024 for a modern-touch interface.

Well, that’s not necessarily what I’m seeing while I’m out and about! Seven out of ten of all UK warehouse and logistics operations have still not moved to Android, nor do they plan to, even though Windows Embedded support ends in Q1 2020.

Some of the reticence in switching to Android handhelds has been the perception that they’re less rugged than their non-Android equivalents. And while it may be true that future handheld devices will be swapped more often, it is not true that all Android devices have a shorter life. In fact, Honeywell supports one of its mobile devices for nine years, a strong indicator of its longevity. 

Zebra’s study concluded that decision-makers plan to modernise their warehouses incrementally, starting first with their most valuable asset, their workers. By increasing training and improving working conditions, they plan to offer workers a more attractive career path, supplemented by technology. 

It’s a good start and if warehouses are to fulfil orders quicker than ever because of our on-demand economy they will need new technology to do it. It may bring its own challenges, but it’s the only way to achieve increased productivity and asset visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance. Every modern supply chain will need that, whether it’s linear or circular. 

Season’s greeting to everyone and don’t forget Windows Embedded support ends in January

† Zebra Warehousing Vision Study, 2019-2024

Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…


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