Digital Technology Focus
SHD Logistics interview with Harry Watts, Commercial Director
Technology has always been a channel through which companies aim to improve efficiency and realise growth potential. As digital technology advances ever forward, Harry Watts, Commercial Director at SEC Storage, guides us through the key trends set for 2020 and how best to utilise the technology already available within the logistics arena.
As we come to the end of 2019, we stand on the precipice of one of the most exciting periods in logistics history. Currently, a host of new technologies are ready to increase efficiency and enhance the effectiveness of our logistics operations.
The problem, however, is that for the vast majority of companies, these new, exciting technologies seem entirely inaccessible. There is uncertainty as to what is suitable and affordable, how to access them, how to overcome implementation obstacles and just generally, a confusion of how to leverage this tech as a competitive advantage.
For all the buzz around industry 4.0 and its associated technologies, there is not a lot of doing. Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, has unbelievable potential, and in reality, the benefits can be accessed by everyone on some level. Still, most companies don’t understand what they are or how to realise them.
I’m not sure it will be a single trend that will be most influential, but rather the innovations that are formed by combining multiple technologies.
Of all of the significant, upcoming trends three stand out for me: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Big Data. Individually these are powerful, but when combined in different ways, they can be revolutionary. By combining just two of them, say AI and Big Data, we can create applications capable of generating insights that would be impossible to spot using traditional analysis.
Combine all three, and you are potentially talking about something even more powerful. Take the collaborative robotic picking assistant, for example. In a warehouse, these machines combine AI, Operational Data and Robotics to deliver a transformative picking experience that is vastly more efficient and massively more flexible than the traditional products currently in the market. It’s a single product capable of optimising pick-routes, reducing travel time, carrying out sortation and working safely alongside humans – that can be retrofitted into an existing warehouse operation with no alterations. Better still, return on investment is rapid (even for SMEs), the system’s performance improves over time, and it’s ready now!
I think Virtual Twinning, which combines AI and Big Data, will become increasingly important as it becomes more accessible. At SEC we create digital twins of our proposed facilities so we can test each iteration of our designs in a safe, virtual, environment and make informed decisions about the impact of one solution over another. In this way, we can drive up the efficiency and effectiveness of our design, and drive the time it takes to return on investment down. The twin then offers further value post-installation by allowing us to simulate different operational/tactical decisions and find the most optimal answer.
The inherent scale, complexity and investment requirements of logistics operations mean that the benefits of utilising models over ‘real-world trials’ is clear. And, modern advancements in computing power and data availability has made this type of technology more accessible to all organisations.
In general, there is a significant fear and lack of understanding of these ‘unknown’ technologies that is holding the logistics industry back from accessing their true potential. As a sector, we harbour many misconceptions over the readiness and risk-associated with implementing these new technologies. Additionally, we lack expertise and knowledge of where it can be applied and how to implement it, which is preventing many companies from investing.
Overcoming these will be critical in adopting these technologies before your competitor does. Businesses who harness this will evolve and those who don’t will find themselves behind the curve. Fundamentally… the technology is here today, and in most cases, it’s more accessible than you think.
There are two critical aspects to solving the issue of technology adoption. Firstly, businesses need to move away from the outdated view of logistics being a cost centre rather than added-value and become innovation-friendly in this area.
Secondly, organisations need to find ways to embed the requisite expertise into their businesses. Importantly, this doesn’t necessarily need to be achieved by directly recruiting it! Instead, forge partnerships with innovative companies who possess this expertise as a core competency and work alongside them in generating the innovations that will take your business to the next level.