An army of robots – reporting for duty in logistics
Yesterday I had a dream in which all the goods passing through the warehouse moved on automated logistics routes. Unhindered and almost silently, they floated along only 1.5 meter-wide aisle racking. Evenly, steadily and at intervals. Without rushing, yet on every call. Wandering through this unusual land, I passed by hundreds of pallets climbing upwards like the walls of a great modern bastion. There were pallets hidden in towers reaching up to a height of 40 meters above the floor of the warehouse. Goods in this logistics center were continuously monitored, any deviations from the standard were constantly updated, and the customers received online feeds. The entire logistics chain work as efficiently as the mechanism of a Swiss watch. This world was almost perfect. Errors resulting from manual warehouse management were minimized; there was no room for mistakes, and the planning time was reduced to a minimum.
The whole "from outer space" infrastructure was adjusted to different operating conditions. Freezing temperatures (refrigerators and freezers) or high humidity warehouses posed no threat to it. With these solutions, people didn’t have to wear heavy suits, work in difficult conditions and damage their health. Their energy could be channeled to something more creative and useful. The staff no longer performed simple, repetitive tasks. The entire human potential was freed and could finally be suitably redirected. An efficient IT system was the perfect complement to the chain. It smoothly managed and coordinated the movements of all the stacker cranes in the warehouse. It was like an electronic puppeteer pulling the strings of its logistics puppets.
That's not all. Drifting like a drone over the warehouse, I also saw a great army of robots which, without human help and with incredible grace, were transporting pallets from one end of the hall to an indicated place. Some of these devices were able to collect, arrange and mix a different range of goods to load pallets ready for shipment. And all this for the glory of their human principals. This technological rebellion was not aimed so much at the human worker, but at the old concept of the management of warehouses and large logistics centers. I didn’t want to leave the place, but some unknown force transported me outside this strange center. In front of me, there was a long procession of trucks waiting to be loaded and then sent off to deliver the products to the recipient.
"The Pallet Shuttle System - is a semi-automated pallet storage system that allows maximum density storage of cargo. It facilitates the loading and unloading of goods through the use of a Pallet Shuttle, a cart which moves along rails within the rack, eliminating the need for a forklift truck inside the storage channels."
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. This morning I woke up and was disappointed to discover that it was only a dream. I wasn’t sure if the reason for my dream was the upcoming new Star Wars movie, or all the information gathered in my head after reading analytical articles and books on new possibilities appearing more and more clearly on the logistics horizon. Still, I shall not discard this vision. After all, we live in very interesting times. In Western Europe, many storage facilities already use such devices. Who knows, maybe in the next 5 to 10 years our drivers will also have a chance to see these technological marvels during loading or unloading. This would be my wish, most probably shared by all those interested in logistics.
I hope to write my new post just after the New Year. I’d like to go back to the subject of intermodal transport. I wish all the readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hopefully, it will be full of amazing challenges in the TSL industry! Let inquiries and new projects flood our businesses and make us understand why we love the TSL industry.
"Stacker cranes for pallets. This automated system increases productivity and eliminates errors in inventory control. The cranes can work in corridors with a width of only 1.5 m, and can reach heights of more than 40 meters."
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Modern solutions for logistics
Many customers who decide to transport very expensive goods or those susceptible to mechanical damage or other external factors, face a large financial dilemma of how to best protect their cargo. Commercially available technological options or solutions that are only just being tested are certainly an alluring alternative for the person responsible for shipment.
One rather interesting though rarely applied solution is fireproof paper, used in securing highly flammable goods, such as theatrical sets, partition walls, artwork, etc. Its electrical conductivity prevents the formation of electrical charges and eliminates the threat of fire. In appearance, it is no different from a regular piece of paper, so at first glance it is hard to imagine that it has such unique technical properties.
When the cargo is so delicate that even the slightest movement might affect its structure, it is a must to use tilt indicators. They are designed to monitor for any shocks, vibrations, or other deviations during the transport or storage of goods. It is worth reflecting on their economic viability when transporting plasma screens, medical devices, artwork or even electronic panels. These sensors, referred to by transport experts as self-adhesive spies, will become red in color if the established transport rules are violated and thus will help us determine if the carrier properly complied with the provisions of the transport contract. This is very important when a compensation claim is made. From the equipment available on the market, we can choose a more sensitive solution if necessary which activates and gives an indication after exceeding a tilt angle greater than 30 degrees, or a less accurate one which activates after exceeding a tilt angle of 80 degrees (sensitive only to falling over). It should be acknowledged, however, that the solution presented here are quite expensive and can only be used once.
Sometimes, all we need to do is to solidly secure access to the consignment during transport, as I do when sending an important manuscript to the publishing house. One helpful solution here is very economical and I have tested it personally. It is a seal for pallets and boxes. Its price has virtually no financial impact on the cost of the transport, in terms of the entire logistics process. A new product on the market - innovative and very cheap. It costs about 1.5 Euros. So for less than 6 PLN net we can protect our goods with our own patented seal, the installation of which is simple and intuitive. Each seal has a unique number and bar code on the external and internal part which prevents the substitution of any part of the seal. In addition, it has a special inspection hole for checking if it has been fastened properly. The seal is completely weatherproof.
To sum up, the solutions presented above are certainly an interesting option for customers transporting expensive or fragile goods.
It is worth following new trends on the market to see new possibilities which can be offered as optimal solutions for the customer. My observations today have not just been a mere collection of facts, I actually ventured a small analysis of the economic profitability of the solutions presented above. I compared the cost of the solution to the cost of the transport and the value of the cargo. On the basis of several examples, it can be concluded that the use of the suggested options pays off when the value of the cargo transported is greater than 1800 Euros. Of course this does not apply to the seal for pallets and boxes, which can be a very good option for those considering solutions for cheap and safe logistics.
Unfortunately, today I was unable to refer to the photo heading this article. I put it there deliberately wanting to sketch the topic of my next post.
Export LTL & FTL Lider
Containers of the future
Recently the transport market has been flooded with a number of technological innovations regarding intermodal transport, which is one of the most optimal options in terms of the macroeconomic scale of an enterprise. However, when making a decision whether to send a unit load in this way, we must be aware of the opportunities and risks arising from the intermodal option.
Indisputable advantages of this type of transport include, for example, the reduced transport costs (the further the distance for the goods to travel, the greater the economy), lack of exposure to communication problems (such as traffic jams, no thoroughfare, etc.) and others, resulting from the fact that a large batch of cargo can be sent at the same time.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, especially in transport, and this solution has its disadvantages too. The drawbacks undoubtedly include the need to use specialized handling equipment. The ecological "intermodal" is also unable to compete with road transport on shorter routes in terms of the transit time. So when the customer clearly cares about time, we might just not make it in time or not fit into the time schedule. Those who have ever dealt with combined transport know what I mean.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. By having one’s own block train, we can influence its time schedule, however, this is a very rare situation. The limitations may also concern the lack of a well-developed structure or appropriate connections, and it sometimes happens that such transport is simply not profitable over short distances. It is worth noting that when calculating the rates for intermodal transport, what must be taken into account are all the components of the transport, including the costs of road transport (trucking) and storage (in the necessity of bulking cargo required for the economic viability of rail transport), as well as transshipment costs. Naturally, wherever the precise logistics of ‘just-in-time’ or ‘just-in-sequence’ are needed (e.g. general cargo, automotive or the printing and publishing industry), "intermodal" transport cannot compete with road transport.
I still believe that it is always worthwhile to keep track of potential new logistics and transport solutions which, if not now, then in the future will help to optimize costs and become more competitive. For a few years now it has been said that the storage of empty containers is just as expensive as bringing them back. At the end of the day, the empty containers must be transported back to the base from where they were collected, and it is the carrier’s customer who bears the cost. When presenting the offer, this must be made clear. Of course the biggest players have optimized this problem to some degree by building a large transport network which provides cargo for the return of the container, but it is not always that simple.
And here comes the new technology of future containers. New designs of containers will allow them to be arranged in 10 to 12 layers during maritime transport. Each of them must be able to withstand a pressure of 350 tons, and that is impressive! Before they can be legally sold and used, they must obviously obtain the necessary approvals and certificates awarded by the relevant institutions and regulatory bodies of the maritime sector. From what I know, and I am passionate about intermodal transport, some companies are already close to this solution. At present, there are containers available on the market which can be stacked in 4 layers and placed on a train carriage. For now, that is a big step forward in reducing the costs of the return journey of containers in European traffic.
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