Upgrading your UK warehouse infrastructure: why now is the ideal time

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Written by
Ian Woozley

Many warehouses could do with a retrofit to address emerging challenges. And post-pandemic tax incentives make now an opportune moment. Hybrid solutions, such as VSA, are often the best approach.

It’s another year, another spring – and in the UK, another budget. One item unveiled by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is generating plenty of buzz in the business world.

Dubbed the super-deduction, the new – temporary – policy enables businesses to claim 130% capital allowances on qualifying investments in plant and machinery, with effect from 1 April 2021 through March 2023.

Put somewhat differently: enterprises could potentially cut their tax bill by up to 25 pence for every pound they invest in assets ranging from vehicles to computers, to solar panels. And that has many warehouse owners and operators mulling upgrades and replacements.

Warehouse woes: ripe for a revamp

Capital investment among UK companies is low compared with other countries – a problem exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis that has now been dragged even lower by the COVID-19 pandemic. The super-deduction is designed to take this particular bull by the horns, to raise productivity and to boost UK competitiveness on the international stage.

At the same time, the digital age is fuelling fresh challenges. Above all, the e-commerce boom is piling on the pressure. Customers now expect rapid, on-demand order fulfilment. They are accustomed to an ever-growing variety of products, and they want flexibility, such as easy returns.

These issues, combined with the “new normal” hygiene regulations ushered in by COVID-19, are a stress-test for existing infrastructure – making fresh investment all the more important.

Hybrid automation solutions: the best of both worlds

In short, many warehouses are in dire need of a radical revamp. However, we are hearing from our customers that, while AI and automation make solid sense for certain tasks, human beings often remain the key to maintaining flexibility. Plus, fully automated systems can be disruptive and incredibly costly.

Moreover, we are seeing a trend towards micro-fulfilment – i.e., small-scale warehouses in central urban locations that can respond rapidly to fluctuating demand while making maximum use of minimal space. Automation has a role to play in these scenarios, but the available footprint is limited.

Against this background, hybrid solutions are an attractive win-win. In essence, they dovetail manual and automated processes to combine productivity with resilience and agility.

Visual Sort Assist: a 600% boost in productivity

A prime example of a best-of-both-worlds solution is Visual Sort Assist (VSA).

In typical warehouse scenarios, workers have to manually scan barcodes or visually check the post code on the parcel label. This limits capacity, is labour-intensive and error-prone, and only allows rough sorting by region or country.

Visual Sort Assist speeds things up. It unites object-recognition technology – a barcode scanner, 3D sensor and RGB camera – with projection mapping.

The system automatically scans each barcode for a sorting destination, and projects a coloured light or symbol onto the corresponding parcel. This enables the human staff to quickly and intuitively pick and sort packages.

It is scalable, less costly than full automation, and able to cope with complex and changing requirements. What’s more, it seamlessly integrates with the warehouse management system to deliver greater visibility. Zones around the conveyor can be defined, so employees working on the same line do not cross paths – supporting social distancing while better utilising space. Plus, no extensive training is required, so new team members can be rapidly onboarded for continuity of service.  

The result, in concrete terms: VSA empowers staff members to sort a staggering 600% more parcels in the same space and timeframe. That’s a dramatic productivity boost.

It goes to show how even partial automation can have a big impact, and leave businesses better equipped for whatever the future brings. And with the new super-deduction taking effect in the UK, there is perhaps no better time to get started.

To find out more about Panasonic solutions for logistics

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