Leaders in Logistics 2019 Panel: Warehouse automation
With increased uptick in technology use inside warehouses, innovative organisations are adopting robots to absorb peaks, squeeze picking time, keep costs down and mitigate staff shortages. This trend is illustrated by the region’s largest online grocery retailer whose success relies on automating key parts of its supply chain and warehouse in Dubai to keep produce as fresh as possible.
New entrants to the market such as IQ Fulfillment are also providing automated infrastructure to SMEs without the CAPEX to deploy it themselves, while established retailers such as Al Marai and Mai Dubai have teamed up with Swisslog to automate their production and storage facilities. This session looked at the disconnect between the benefits of automation and its relatively untapped potential in the GCC.
Moderator: Deepak Khushalani, Founder & MD, Premier Logistics
Panelists: Jacques Adem, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Logsquare FZCO
Sean Bradley, Managing Director, Freightworks
Ako Djaf, Vice President, Contract Logistics /SCM & Land Transport, DB Schenker
Bassel El Dabbagh, CEO Abu Dhabi, Agility
Ako Djaf: We are currently testing robotic AGV in Europe, its goods to man to increase our productivity in packaging operations. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, we have been testing this technology for several years, particularly in Sweden. This is an integral part of our future operations and will be rolled out to more locations in the years to come. Our automation solutions are based on a value proposition, we only want to pursue those technologies that are going to result in a cost saving for our customers. We’ve started to slowly introduce some elements of automation across our 200,000sqm of warehousing in the Middle East, an example is that we have gone paperless across the region.
In a few weeks we’ll be launching our new facility in Dubai South, which will become our regional test bed for the testing for future technologies for implementation in the region, like hands free picking to automated MHE vehicles. It’s a slow and careful process though, because as I said, the value proposition has to be certain.
Jacques Adem: Warehouse automation is new to this region, it started out in airports and has very recently become a part of the supply chain on the manufacturing side. We see it now in fashion retail, in food and beverage, but it is not mainstream in logistics yet. It only became a part of vertical fulfilment in e-commerce in the last two years or so. Part of the reason for this is that implementation times and CAPEX have all been reduced, which results in a faster and higher ROI.
Sean Bradley: In real terms when running a SME like Freightworks and dealing with organisations like Dubai Customs, automation becomes more important in the communication with customs than on the picking side. Dubai Customs is one of the only customs offices where I actually enjoy using their services because of the smart government initiatives.
You have to innovate, or you die, differentiation is essential, and one of the ways Freightworks is doing that is in our relationship with Dubai Customs and our readiness to utilize their new technologies and smart services to speed import and export processes. There isn’t any point to automation unless its improving efficiency, and through greater efficiency there is scope for growth in other areas of the business.
Bassel El Dabbagh: The automation sector is currently worth US $500-million in the Middle East, but is expected to triple in the next five years, and its being driven by e-commerce, because customers want faster delivery for less money. You can’t do that by hiring more people or operating a larger warehouse, you can only do it through robotics and automation. In addition, logistics providers are moving fulfillment centres closer to urban areas where land is more expensive, so you need a smaller warehouse, and you maximise volumes through automated systems.