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Four Ways Robots Are Changing Warehouse Design

As more robots join the warehouse floor, they’re reshaping the way that the buildings themselves are planned and designed.

It’s not just a question of rearranging existing floor plans, the introduction of new technology brings with it new space requirements that warehouses increasingly need to take into account.

Add the reduction in human workers to the mix and the warehouse design of the future – particularly in new buildings occupied by large companies – could be significantly different to manually operated buildings more common today.

Automation and robots will enable warehouse operators to better utilise floorspace and alter traditional warehousing layouts.

Equally these changes do not necessarily mean that all older buildings will become obsolete as it may be possible to improve their efficiency by retrofitting modular automated solutions that can be customised and fitted into all sizes and shapes of warehouse buildings.

Here are four potential design changes on the cards:

  1. Warehouses will shrink
    Buildings with high levels of automation are set to become smaller compared with their manual counterparts because they will enable occupiers to utilise their space more intensively. They’re also going to get taller with robots able to move more easily around multi-mezzanine levels than their human colleagues.
  2. Rethinking structures
    As mezzanine floors become more important to support automated systems and robots, warehouse designs will need to pay greater attention to their weight bearing abilities. Structures will need to support higher loads than standard mezzanine installations and provide greater stability. Floors will also have to be super-flat to allow robots to move around smoothly.
  3. Less land needed
    More machines and fewer human workers will mean car parking requirements, currently a major use of space for warehouses, will decrease. The potential for autonomous cars among the future workforce, dropping off workers at the start of their shift and picking them up at the end, could reduce the need for car parking further. Likewise, fewer human workers would cut the amount of space needed for staff amenities such as canteens or break areas.
  4. Better connections to energy grids
    A major challenge off the back of increased automation will be energy, with more electricity needed, both inside and outside the warehouse. Power is potentially a major factor, and access to sufficient power will be a more central issue in a highly-automated logistics world.


Location, Location

Yet while warehouse design may be in for an overhaul, location remains a key influence, especially when it comes to access to transport networks. Warehouses cluster around major centres of population and industry, gateway locations – large ports and airports and strategic transport infrastructure. These centres, gateways and infrastructure are fixed, and are not likely to change significantly.

However, smaller warehouses with higher density storage opens up the prospect of new locations. Warehouses that would have only previously been able to exist in areas further out of town could become more urban as space requirements decrease. That will of course need to be balanced against the cost of operating in a more urban area.

Although automation and robots could revolutionise logistics, Europe’s logistics property markets will see more incremental changes.

How radical these changes will be will depend on how quickly automation is adopted. Automation does not mean today’s buildings will simply become obsolete, but occupiers, developers and investors need to be ready for change.

Ciarán Leneghan, Managing Director – FITAC – First In Training & Consultancy

Health & Safety is Changing

When you think of health and safety training, you might well think of outdated VHS tapes and paper print-outs, or perhaps an hour or two spent watching PowerPoint slides flicking past. In terms of content, it might be fire safety that springs to mind, or advice on slips, trips and falls. Our understanding of what health and safety really means has changed a great deal in recent years. The information taught and the ways in which we absorb that information have been overhauled, as the way we live and work evolves and adapts.

Health and safety training has never been glamorous, and one of the key barriers to its full success over time has been a lack of real interest. In many industries, there’s an assumption that much of it is just common sense, or that serious incidents just won’t happen. Coupled with learning formats which can lack stimulation and fail to catch our attention, this kind of attitude continues to lead to all manner of workplace accidents and injuries. As technology’s impact on everyday life continues to grow, the health and safety industry is taking strides to keep up and try to get ahead of the curve. From Mental Health First Aid to augmented reality training exercises, here are a few key ways in which our understanding of health and safety is getting an update.

Wellbeing as a Safety Concern

In the UK and Ireland alone, more than 12 million working days were lost in 2017 because of work-related mental health issues. CIPD’s recent Wellbeing at Work survey found that UK employers stated poor mental health as the number one cause of long-term employee absence, and though physical accidents and injuries have been on the decline since the Health and Safety Executive was formed many decades ago, stress-related absence and reported mental health problems are on the rise.

Employers who are keen to look after their staff are waking up to the concept of wellbeing, be it for moral reasons or purely because of the financial effects of a decreased workforce. Health and safety at work is no longer solely about physical harm and hazards, but acknowledges that businesses have a responsibility to the overall wellbeing of their employees too. Stress as a result of being overworked or lacking job stability is a key issue, but considerations include everything from exhaustion in shift workers to managing the range of mental health conditions not dictated purely by working conditions.

The Pros & Cons of Technology

While it is new technology that is helping the safety industry to quickly adapt and change, new technology is also thought to be the cause of a range of issues in employee wellbeing. Automation, artificial intelligence and a working style that can be more impactful on our mental than our physical health have all combined to create major changes in the everyday life of the working person.

The psychological impact of job insecurity, caused by the automation of industries like electronics and automotive production, is likely already affecting around 11 million people in the UK. This is the number the HSE have indicated could lose their jobs to robotics and automated processes in the next 20 years. On top of that, zero-hours contracts and the gig economy are taking their toll.

Portable technologies and high-speed browsing also mean that many of us never truly ‘switch off’ from our working lives. The work-life balance is becoming poorly weighted, and coupled with job insecurity, can drive employees to overworking and failing to raise health concerns with their employers. In terms of physical health, the automation of dangerous processes can only be a good thing. But more than half of UK employers still have no wellbeing strategy in place to support their teams with stress, anxieties and other mental health issues that can occur as a result of workplace pressures. With some suggesting that a Mental Health First Aider should be just as obligatory in the workplace as a fire warden or physical First Aider, it’s time for all industries to keep up with changes to the meaning of “health and safety”. Instigating more interactive training methods and paying attention to team wellbeing are just the beginning, with a full cultural shift now needed in the way we all view workplace health.

Cultural Shift Needed for Health & Safety

What’s your name?

Fergal O’Byrne

What position do you hold?

Head of Business Excellence Certification at the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI)

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I manage a division of staff who undertake third party certification audits of organisations to the requirements of various international standards. An example of this would include auditing to the new Occupational Health and Safety standard, ISO 45001.

What is your professional background?

I hold a master’s degree in civil engineering and a post-graduate diploma in occupational health and safety. I also hold qualifications in environmental management, European law and most recently, social compliance auditing.

Before becoming Head of Business Excellence Certification, I worked as an NSAI auditor, mainly in the manufacturing and construction areas. This allowed me to experience organisational compliance in Ireland and elsewhere, but mainly in the US.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

Outside of NSAI, I cycle and climb mountains with family members. Last June, we reached the top of the French Alps, and we hope to do Kilimanjaro next year.

Tell us something very few people know about you

I once ran the Dublin city marathon – I know, hard to believe now.

You are speaking at the 2018 CIF Health & Safety Summit. What are you speaking about?

I am delighted to be chairing the morning sessions of the 2018 CIF Health & Safety Summit. NSAI audits organisations the length and breadth of Ireland and beyond. We get a unique insight into the trojan work organisations do to ensure their staff, sub-contractors and the public are always safe. Organisations find so much value in group case studies and industry knowledge, and I hope to share my insights with the morning speakers.

What challenges do you see for health and safety in the construction sector?

During NSAI on-site audits, we witness many construction companies achieving best practices in the normal Monday to Friday working week. But there is still work to be done. We require a cultural shift to embed occupational health and safety into everyday site operations. Occupational health and safety best practice management systems must become completely indistinguishable from the project manager, main contractor, sub-contractor or supplier, to after hours, night or weekend work.

Where would you like to see health and safety in the industry in 10 years’ time?

Our goal must be that everyone comes home safe every day. We must instil a belief that every accident is avoidable. Fatalities and injuries must become so seldom that if they do happen, we should be shocked and view them as simply unacceptable in the workplace.

This is the transcript of an interview with Fergal O’Byrne, Head of Business Excellence Certification at the National Standards Authority of Ireland, taken from The Sunday Business Post.

Brexit is looming and time is running out for Irish businesses

Many Irish businesses were caught in the fallout from Brexit almost as soon as UK voters chose to leave the world’s biggest trading bloc, in June 2016.

Sterling tumbled, making goods manufactured in the Republic but sold in Britain and Northern Ireland more expensive at a stroke.

Martin McVicar, chief executive of Monaghan-based forklift maker Combilift, which sells 25 per cent of the vehicles it assembles to the UK, recalls that the company hedged against this by buying as many components as it could from British suppliers, thus using cheaper sterling to cut costs, offsetting the impact of the more expensive euro on the price of the finished trucks.

Combilift changed that policy a year ago as a hard Brexit – that is the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal – seemed more likely.

“We are very purposely looking for suppliers outside the UK,” he says. “We are still dealing with UK suppliers that we have always dealt with, but now we are looking more on mainland Europe. The last thing we want to be doing is paying import duties.”

If we can develop more innovative products, we can charge more of a premium from our UK customers and we can still have a viable business there

A “no-deal” Brexit would leave Combilift’s customers paying 4.5 per cent tariffs on the forklifts they buy, while the company itself would pay the same on components that it imports from the UK. McVicar says that while the number does not seem high, it’s a “massive” difference for both his company and its customers.

Currency volatility and tariffs are just two of an array of challenges that Irish business potentially faces when a jurisdiction that is simultaneously a big customer and supplier leaves the EU in March.

Many are planning ahead as few can afford to wait to see if the UK crashes out or leaves under the terms of the deal that British prime minister Theresa May struck in Brussels, which will be put to a vote of the House of Commons on December 11th.


New markets

For Combilift, that includes finding new markets, not just beyond Ireland and Britain, but even beyond the EU. McVicar is just back from southeast Asia and travels to India next month. The company has always focused on selling abroad; it exports to 85 countries. “But we have intensified those efforts – even if there is a Brexit deal, it is still the right thing to do,” McVicar argues.

That does not mean that the forklift maker will desert the UK, which will remain an important market, albeit a tougher one that demands a new approach to competing for business. Another strand of Combilift’s strategy is to ensure it is selling something there that no one else has.

“Over the last 18 months we have really increased our investment in research and development,” McVicar explains. “If we can develop more innovative products, we can charge more of a premium from our UK customers and we can still have a viable business there.”

Chasing new customers and developing new products requires cash. The State-controlled Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) are launching a new scheme for businesses investing to counteract Brexit’s impact through such measures.

They are aware of what’s going on, but a lot of them have done no planning on the ground

According to the EIB vice-president, Irishman Andrew McDowell, the scheme guarantees up to €300 million for small and medium-sized companies looking to borrow cash over eight to 10 years. The domestic banks, who must front 20 per cent of the guarantee, will loan the money. The SBCI will administer the scheme and take on a further 20 per cent of the guarantee, while the EIB will step in for the remaining 60 per cent.

McDowell estimates that this could see the release of up to €450 million in total for Brexit-related investment. The key stipulation is that the companies are actually borrowing the money for this purpose. He believes food processors and tourism-related businesses will loom large among applicants. “But all SMEs from across the economy will be eligible for this,” he says.

While new customers or new products will be potential solutions for some, new suppliers will be a problem for others. Brexit threatens parts of EU-wide supply lines that have for convenience tied Ireland to British distribution centres.

Ian Martin, chief executive of Dublin company Martin Services, which distributes first aid and hygiene products, says he has discovered it is not always possible to find a European provider. “You cannot switch on a supply line in France to supply the Irish market – that’s a three-to-five-year plan from a manufacturing point of view,” he explains.

@ Irish Times

Strict rules planned to avoid traffic jams out of Dublin Port after Brexit

Hauliers will be warned in the run-up to Brexit not to enter Dublin Port unless they have customs paperwork completed for UK-bound goods to avoid traffic congestion outside the port.

The State’s busiest port plans to run an information campaign for hauliers in the weeks leading up to the UK leaving the EU on March 29th, setting out strict rules to ensure they have correct customs numbers and declaration forms completed before heading into the port in order to prevent traffic jams.

The Revenue Commissioners has said that ferry companies will not permit lorries or unaccompanied trailers destined for the UK to board unless they have the required paperwork filled out.

On their arrival into the port, Revenue plans to operate a traffic-light system by which hauliers arriving from the UK will be informed 15 minutes before their docking in Dublin whether they face inspections or can leave the port.

These are among a series of precautionary measures, both commercial and operational, that Dublin Port Company, the State authorities and the ferry companies are planning to minimise post-Brexit delays.


Port capacity

The port, which handles about 90 per cent of the roll-on, roll-off road freight coming on and off the island, stands at 650 metres from the Dublin Port Tunnel and the start of the M50 ring road around the city.

On a typical morning, from around 6am to 9am, four ferries depart for English ports with a capacity for more than 12 lane-kilometres of space aboard for lorries, vans and unaccompanied trailers.

The tunnel would bear the brunt of any traffic congestion at the port spilling back into the city.

EU rules prohibit standing traffic so if there is congestion at either end of the tunnel, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), the State body responsible for the tunnel, must close it to traffic.

One potential option being considered in no-deal Brexit contingency planning would be a lifting of the ban on lorries passing through Dublin city centre should the tunnel have to close in the event of severe traffic congestion.

“Work is progressing on finalising traffic flows within the port in a no-deal scenario and this will inform contingency planning in relation to traffic flows outside of the port,” said a Department of Transport spokeswoman.

“As we are in an unprecedented situation, all possible scenarios are being considered.”

Dublin Port Company, which is responsible for traffic management inside the 760-acre port, is confident that a series of measures it is planning will prevent traffic congestion inside or outside the port.


Preventing congestion

Eamonn O’Reilly, the port company’s chief executive, said it would be insisting that no hauliers will be permitted to board a UK-bound ship after Brexit unless they have a customs entry number.

“No ferry is taking a booking for a lorry or trailer without a customs number. We don’t want to invite the problem down into the port,” he said.

Mr O’Reilly said Dublin Port stands on a larger plot of land than the busy English port of Dover where space constraints have raised major concerns about the port’s capacity to cope with Brexit-related delays.

The port has the capacity to prevent a congestion in container traffic at one of the three lift-on, lift-off container terminals by halving the time companies can leave containers at the port and doubling the charges.

“If you start to introduce such charges, there will be a reaction. I would be confident of that. We have available to us a whole series of measures, the likes of which Dover doesn’t have,” said Mr O’Reilly.

“As a general principle, we will look to put in operational measures to counteract congestion.”

TII said its focus was on the efficient operation of the tunnel pre- and post-Brexit and it would engage with the department, Dublin City Council and others “on any issue that may impact our operations”.


FITAC Clients Receive Gold-Standard Certification of AEO From Minister

With Brexit around the corner, FITAC were delighted to hear that one of its clients, Network International Cargo, have been awarded the gold-standard certification of Authorised Economic Operator (AEO).

At Government Buildings recently, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD presented the certificate to Margaret Nulty, Head of Compliance for Network International Cargo.

Issued by the Irish Revenue and Customs authorities but recognised throughout the EU, AEO status rewards best practice in the international supply chain and helps facilitate the faster movement of goods through customs borders.

As such, Network International Cargo will attract real benefits such as lower risk scores in customs risk analysis, simplified customs procedures and priority treatment for physical examination of goods.

This latest distinction is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all involved at Network International Cargo, which had to meet stringent eligibility criteria for the standard in relation to its security arrangements, management systems, financial solvency and compliance with customs rules and procedures. 

FITAC were delighted to be able to assist the management team at Network International Cargo in achieving their certificate of compliance. 

Our team of warehousing and logistics consultants with decades of hands-on experience can offer businesses like Network International Cargo invaluable advice and assistance with their AEO application, and ensure they receive their certifications first time around. We are looking forward to working with more companies throughout Ireland with their AEO Applications in the run-up to Brexit and beyond.

For further information about the AEO application process, please visit our website www.fitac.ie or contact us directly 

Ciaran Leneghan, Managing Director

Tel:         +353 1 691 8888

Email:    ciaran@fitac.ie

50,000 Warehouses to Use 4 Million Robots by 2025

More than 4 million commercial robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses by 2025, according to a report by ABI Research.

The 50,000 figure represents a massive expansion of the market from the current situation in which an estimated 4,000 warehouses were found to be using robots in 2018.

The rapid rate of adoption will be driven by the need for flexible, efficient, and automated e-commerce fulfilment as same-day delivery becomes the norm. 

Global adoption of warehouse robotics will also be spurred by the increasing affordability and return on investment of a growing variety of infrastructure-light robots as they are an attractive and versatile alternative to traditional fixed mechanical automation or manual operations.

Flexibility and efficiency have become primary differentiators in the e-commerce fulfilment market as retailers and third-party logistics companies struggle to cope with volatile product demand, seasonal peaks, and rising consumer delivery expectations. Robots enable warehouses to scale operations up or down as required while offering major efficiency gains and mitigating inherent challenges associated with labor and staffing.

Automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots goods-to-person systems can directly replace heavier mechanized automation that typically requires a massive upfront investment and rigid physical infrastructure.

Robots enable the optimization of space in expensive warehouse facilities and can reduce the need for new and costly greenfield fulfillment centers. Mobile robotic systems also offer major flexibility advantages.

Robot vendors, such as Fetch, Geek Plus Robotics, and inVia, enable additional robots to be added to or removed from a fleet as operational demands require.

They also allow easy and relatively rapid reconfiguration of entire workflows and operations if product lines or fundamental operational requirements change.

This is a major advantage in the unpredictable and dynamic e-commerce market, says ABI.

As a result of impressive innovation in computer vision, artificial intelligence, deep learning, and robotic mechanics, robots are also becoming increasingly adept at performing traditionally harder-to-automate tasks.

Economically viable mobile manipulation robots from the likes of RightHand Robotics and Kindred Systems are now enabling a wider variety of individual items to be automatically picked and placed within a fulfilment operation.

By combining mobile robots, picking robots, and even autonomous forklifts, fulfilment centers can achieve greater levels of automation in an efficient and cost-effective way. Many robot technology vendors are providing additional value by offering flexible pricing options.

Robotics-as-a-service models mean that large CapEx costs can be replaced with more accessible OpEx costs that are directly proportional to the consumption of technologies or services, improving the affordability of robotics systems among the mid-market, further driving adoption. If advanced automation becomes possible for mid-size e-retailers, they will be able to fight back against the dominant players and also bring fulfilment operations back in-house, disrupting the relationship between retailers and 3PLs.


For further information about the AEO application process, please visit our website www.fitac.ie or contact us directly

Ciaran Leneghan, Managing Director

Tel:         +353 1 691 8888

Email:    ciaran@fitac.ie

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