Technology

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Toyota has recently announced plans to develop a fully automated, electric concept vehicle able to function as a taxi or shuttle bus, distribution centre collection vehicle, delivery vehicle, mobile retail store (such as a lunchtime café) and much more.

The futuristic pod shaped vehicles will be available in 3 sizes and are expected to be available for testing in the early 2020’s.

Find out more about the latest innovation in automated mobility and what changes technology like the Toyota e-Palette and other AI could bring to the warehouses of the future.

What Purpose Could Automated Technology Serve To Businesses?

The Toyota e-Palette vehicle could serve as a multifunctional tool for the businesses of the future, with anticipated uses of the vehicle being everything from delivery vehicles for large online retailers, to pizza delivery trucks.

Early concepts envision the e-palette to be capable of collecting goods from a fulfilment store, delivering the goods to the customer and using facial recognition to verify their identity.

 Fast food giant Pizza Hut were one of the first to announce a partnership with Toyota publicly, enlisting Toyota’s help to bring their vision of delivering pizza to people’s doors without the need for a delivery driver to life.

Their Twitter announcement came just weeks after an episode of the popular Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’ featured a self-driving pizza delivery truck at the centre of all the drama, much to the delight (and fear) of fans.

 

Artifical Intelligence - Integration In The Warehouse

AI has always been a hot topic of conversation in our industry, with tech companies constantly working to develop tools, software and vehicles to make life easier for warehouse workers and running speculation that artificial intelligence in the warehouse means an end for workers jobs.

Whilst vehicles such as the Toyota e-palette are still untested in warehouse environments; here a few of the anticipated benefits of such technology incorporated into the modern warehouse:

Synergy – the future of warehouse operations doesn’t look like a room full of robots. It looks like a room full of robots doing labour intensive work – overseen by a team of employees to ensure everything is running as it should.

Less Injuries – Whilst warehouse managers do all they can to protect their employees, injuries in the warehouse are almost unavoidable; this is a problem that can be eliminated with AI (unless you count maintenance and repairs!).

Quicker Fulfilment – Running 24/7 with machine precision, it’s no wonder that fulfilment could become a much quicker process with the integration of AI in the warehouse.

Lower Cost – After the initial purchase, technology such as the e-palette could reduce warehouse running and fulfilment costs significantly. With no pay required, 24-hour operation and fewer mistakes, money saved by robotics in the warehouse could lead to better benefits for staff.

Different Job Opportunities – Whilst it seems a long way off now, if AI ever did replace traditional roles in the warehouse – new, more human-centric opportunities would open up, delivering higher wages, higher levels of job satisfaction and increased productivity.

Automated Order Picking – Why The Big Issue?

The announcement of the e-palette came a few days after Toyota revealed the launch of two semi-automated order picking trucks, designed to help speed up the process of picking in the warehouse, these picking trucks still need to be operated by an operative, but with much less work involved for the employee.

Order picking has always been the most labour intensive, expensive and time consuming process in the warehouse and throughout the years, tech companies have worked to develop an AI solution to reducing human effort in the picking process.

Despite the speculation that AI pickers means loss of jobs, picking automation has not yet had a significant effect on job security in the warehouse. A strong example of this is tech giants Amazon, who have been at the forefront of automation since its commercial conception. Despite an army of 45,000 robots, they still employ 350,000 people – an increase of 43% on last year.

Talk To The Experts

Could AI have a place in the future of everyday warehouse operations? Whatever your opinion, we think you’ll agree that an efficient, space-saving warehouse is a profitable one.

To find out more about the space saving products we have available to maximise profit in your warehouse, give one of our expert team a call today on 0117 955 5211.

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Logistics News , Technology

Winners of the Amazon Robotics Challenge 2017 If you read our blog regularly, you’ll know that we are crazy about the rise of AI and robotics designed to make warehouse workers jobs easier and more efficient; so when the team at the Australian Centre For Robotic Vision were crowned winners of the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge – we had to get in touch.

During the 4 day event, 16 teams from around the world were put through various challenges to test their abilities, despite being in 5th place before the final round – the team’s robot, Cartman aced the last challenge to become the victor, walking away with a cool £60,000 cash prize for the team (enough to build 3 more Cartmans!)

The team and Cartman have received national coverage since their victory at the challenge held in Japan, so we were thrilled when we were given the chance to talk to Juxi Leitner - leader of the robotics vision team, to get the lowdown on their winning robot and the future of AI in the warehouse.

1. What were the biggest challenges you faced as a team in the planning and development stages of Cartman?

Personally, I think the biggest challenge was to get the undergraduate students up to speed on computer vision, robotics and machine learning. For the hardware side, you have to iterate often and quickly, trying to really come up with something better every week.

For me, with a computer science background, one of the biggest fears was that somehow the robot would be damaged during transport and not work in Japan (We had a funny incident with that last year in Germany...)

2. What separated your team and Cartman from the opposition?

Mechanically, we were the only team with a Cartesian (linear) robot solution. This helped us move complexity from algorithms into mechanical systems (motion planning for arms is hard). We were also able to leverage the fact that we built both the hardware and software stack from scratch with integration - that is real Robotic Vision, not just computer vision on a robot.

Team-wise, we had a lot of fun, had chats with everyone and generally seemed like we enjoyed ourselves. Some of the other teams were very... focused.

3. Cartman was built for under 30,000 AUD, (the cheapest robot in the competition) how did you keep this price tag so modest?

Blood and sweat :) No, seriously it takes a good team to iterate and build things quickly. A specific solution, will be more cost efficient than a generic arm in a lot of situations.

The most expensive parts were the motors; the rest was aluminium extrusions, 3d printed parts and such. Why did we keep it so low? We didn't have more money from the universities ;) 

4. In your opinion, could Cartman be the future of AI In the warehouse?

Well, that's a bit of a loaded question. But I think tying in with what I said above, thinking of solving specific problems with a specific solution allows us to be efficient and really get into the details of the problems.

We are certainly talking to people in the industry and seeing where we can create tangible outcomes. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw variants of Cartman solving some tasks in warehouse/logistics applications in the near future. (Interest seems to be there, funding needs to be clarified).

On the other hand, there is more research that needs to be done, both on the robotics and the AI side, if you watch some of the videos of the run there is very limited "intelligence" in Cartman.

Don't get me wrong, it’s state of the art classification but there is very limited reasoning. Further research on more general robots is also required, if used the right way, these do make sense for tasks - in the long run that is.

Why Do Amazon Run The Robotics Challenge?

One of the hardest challenges Amazon have encountered in their fulfilment centres is developing a robot that can do the job of ‘picking’, this involves identifying objects that have been ordered and loading them into a container or similar to be shipped off.

The reason this is no easy feat is due to the complex mix of object recognition, grasp and motion planning to avoid damage to stock, task execution and error detection and recovery should a mistake be made.

Despite this fantastic victory, Cartman is just the start of robotic pickers and is still a long way off being able to replace a human doing the same job.

Congratulations From Bristol Storage

Once again, we’d like to thank Juxi for talking to us and wish the team and Cartman huge congratulations and every success in the future from all the team at Bristol Storage!

 

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Warehouse , Case Studies , Technology , Pallet Racking

Case Study 

Customer: Kent Foods Limited

Location:  Avonmouth, Bristol

Products:  Dexion Pallet Racking, LED Warehouse Lighting, Jumbo Stud Partition Office, Jumbo Stud Wall 

Warehouse racking and lighting

The Brief

Complete warehouse fit out including pallet racking, a jumbo stud party wall, warehouse office complete in line with building control requirements and economic LED lighting system to both warehouse and office.

Kent Foods Limited are an Ingredients Supplier for Bakers, Confectioners and Food Manufacturers. Offering a cost-effective route between manufacturer and user, Kent Foods adds value by reducing your onward selling, administration and distribution costs. Growing from a small organisation into a Europe wide company with the resources and capability to support the sales and distribution of products throughout the UK, Ireland and north-western Europe.

 Warehouse Fit Out Project Gallery

 

Dexion P90 Pallet RackingWarehouse Lighting Project

Load CriteriaPallet Details
  • UK & EURO Pallets to be stored.
  • Load – 1300kgs per pallet
  • Beam Load – Up to 4000Kgs per beam level
Bay Details Bay Type 1
  • 2700mm Clear Entry Bay x 7000mm High Frame x 1100mm deep each face.
  • Each Bay is fitted with Ground + 4 Beam levels.
Bay Type 2 (Drive Through Bay)
  • 3600mm Clear Entry Bay x 7000mm High Frame x 1100mm deep each face.
  • Each Bay is fitted with Ground + 3 Beam levels.

Efficient LED Lighting

  • 3 options were provided; Economic, Linear and Professional.
  • The client opted for LED Highbay Lighting in the warehouse with LED 600×600 panels fitted within a self supporting ceiling for the office.
  • All emergency lighting also included.

Warehouse Office

Working closely with the architects involved on this project Bristol Storage Equipment designed a warehouse office in line with the building control requirements. This included:
  • Stud partition walls
  • Windows
  • Suspended Ceiling
  • Office Lighting
  • Carpet and Vinyl flooring
  • Fire Doors

Jumbo Stud Party Wall

High Bay Partition – Industrial FinishHighbay Partition System:
  • Fire Resistance: 60 mins
  • Acoustic Rating: 54dB
  • Robust rating: Extreme
  • Built to a maximum height of 9000mm
  • Approved under ETA 03/0050, classified as Euroclass A2, certified as Class 0 surface spread of flame.
Kent Foods Party Wall 

Discuss your Warehouse Projects – Racking, Offices, Lighting and more call us on 0117 955 5211 for a free quote.

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Warehouse , Technology

Drones – The Future of Warehouse Logistics?

Drone entering warehouse doorsAre you a business owner or warehouse manager? If so, we’re certain you’ve asked yourself plenty of times how you could improve business operations and logistics.

From encouraging further staff training to improved inventory management there are plenty of possible answers. But have you considered that the future of warehouse logistics could be in the hands of robots? Well, drones to be more exact.

As technology continues to progress and move towards automation and step further away from human interaction it is a very real possibility that drones may take residence within your property. We’ve taken a look at the potential benefits to help you make your decision below:

What is a Drone?

Where aviation and space is concerned a drone refers to an unpiloted aircraft with a preprogramed flight path. More recently the term drone has become a household phrase that refers generally to all unmanned robots which are more commonly controlled remotely by its users.

There are a host of uses and variations for drones from military and commercial to domestic purposes. The most common type of machine is an aerial drone where technological advances are allowing us to use them in more creative and useful ways and are particularly popular amongst photographers and videographers.

Attack Drones are used by the military and are equipped with lethal weapons that are used for controlled air strikes.

Crowd Control drones are equipped with non-lethal weapons such as tear-gas and are used to break up large, out-of-control crowds of people from the sky.

Delivery Drones are more in line with what could be used in warehouse and logistic operations in the near future. Originally developed for the military to deliver goods to ground troops they use claw like systems to remotely drop, or indeed gently place, any item.

The Potential to Improve Productivity

Whilst drones are not widely in use at the moment there are undoubtedly a number of benefits to adopting the latest technology to improve levels of productivity:

  • Reduces material and human resources required to carry out inventories
  • Information collected by drones can be used in conjunction with most warehouse management systems
  • Improved stock reliability and the opportunity to check inventory on a more regular and thorough basis

Could They Work in Your Warehouse?

The American FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) has recently begun registering and approving drones for commercial applications. In fact, 300,000 drones were registered within the first month of these changes.

Companies such as DHL and Amazon have been advocating their use for some time. Actually, as we were writing this blog, the news broke that Amazon have been given the go ahead to start exploring drone deliveries in the UK. Working with the British Government and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the world’s biggest online retailer are exploring the process and suggest deliveries could be made as early as 2017.

With this in mind, the future of working with drones is now even more feasible here in the UK.

We found one (out of hundreds of models) that has been designed to specifically look at cycle counting, stock counting, and inventory management. The Eyesee drone is equipped with an on-board camera which allows it to move using a predetermined flight plan to capture pallet data stored in the warehouse. It will even associate the image captured with the warehouse location and automatically translates it into a logistics address within the warehouse.

The Future of Warehouse Operations

Whilst we’ll be keeping an eye out for Amazon’s delivery drones we’ll also be looking into the effectiveness of adopting drones within the warehouse environment itself. But for now, we’ll stick to the manual inventory.

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In Other News... , Technology

Driverless Lorries: The Future of Haulage?

Driverless lorriesWe imagine that you already know a fair bit about driverless cars. After all they're the future apparently. In fact, we've heard plenty about those that have already been tried and tested by Google as well as the super advanced and rather fancy versions from the likes of Rolls Royce. Silk throne anyone?

But, we wonder how many of you have heard about the advancements in driverless lorries? Not many, huh!

Not knowing too much ourselves we thought we'd find out more, after all the changes in technology will certainly affect us in the near future. Take a little look below at what could be the future of transport in the industry:

What Exactly are Driverless Lorries & How Would They Work?

It’s a good question and the answer is relatively simple.

Predicted to hit the roads for trials later this year, the driver-less lorries will work via wireless communication and camera systems.

With the government suggesting the UK could be a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles, the trucks will be deployed on the roads in a term deemed “lorry platooning”. In effect, this is simply a convoy of trucks; minus the drivers of course.

There would be a driver in the lead vehicle who would ultimately control the steering, acceleration, and braking of the convoy via the wireless connections. The front trucks would use lane-sensing technology in order to remain within the lines and the others would follow.

The drones would have – at least for the immediate future – a driver in each cab as a safety precaution to ensure the possible regain of control should an emergency occur. It’s clear that there will always be aspects of automation that will never surpass humans in our eyes.

Test Drives & Safety Concerns

Siemens – the traffic system specialist based in Poole – is involved in the project which could see driverless vehicles trialled on British Roads.

They are planning to create one of the most advanced environments for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) in the UK. The project aims to enable companies to try vehicles in real-life conditions on a 40-mile stretch of road in Coventry and Warwickshire. Additionally they are planning to develop, supply, and install roadside units which will communicate with the vehicles and traffic infrastructure.

However, as with anything we haven’t experienced before there are battling arguments concerning the safety of such convoys. But, it is widely suggested that the self-driving vehicles will contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure. For example, because the trucks are connected via wireless signals they will break at the same time to always maintain the same distances between them as well as driving at a constant speed.

Logistics Questioning

The president of the AA has questioned the plans feasibility. Whilst such a scheme might just work in other countries, he’s not too sure it’s a suitable solution right here in Britain. The president suggested that the problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits off our motorways than any other in Europe or indeed the rest of the world. It could therefore be very difficult to have a 44 tonne 10-lorry platoon because other vehicles need to get past to either enter or exit the road.

Proposed Benefits

Whilst the likes of the AA are still a little concerned, insurance provider AXA have suggested that driverless lorries could save the UK haulage industry £34bn over the next 10 years. According to “The Future of Driverless Haulage” survey an independent financial analyst and expert in the transport and logistics sector found that if these savings were passed onto consumers it would equate to over half of a person’s weekly retail expenditure.

The savings would be seen across four areas including:

  • Labour – Eventually a reduced need for drivers would arrive and thus create savings. However, we’re not keen on getting rid of our men just yet.
  • Fuel – Computer controlled vehicles drive in a more efficient manner than those operated by people. Additionally, by travelling in a tightly-packed convoy it is hoped that the fuel consumption will improve thanks to reducing drag.
  • Insurance – If the vehicles prove to be less-accident prone then you’ll likely see insurance prices drop too.
  • Vehicle Utilisation – With no drivers, there would be no restrictions concerning working hours.

The Future of Deliveries

So, keep an eye out because sooner than you think you might just get a lorry or two delivering to your warehouse minus the driver. Hey, you might even ‘employ’ one yourself one day.

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Warehouse , Technology

The Benefits of LEDs in the Warehouse

Energy saving ratings - LED lightbulbRunning a warehouse is an expensive business. We're all more than aware of the importance of making cost savings wherever we can, but it's not always easy to do. In the drive for efficiencies, it seems that more and more companies are having a 'light bulb moment' and looking to their illumination as a way of achieving substantial savings.

Traditional lighting can be inefficient and very expensive - especially in warehouses where the lights are on 24/7. The Carbon Trust estimate that commercial and industrial lighting consumes 20% of all electricity generated in the UK, and that for most organisations, lighting accounts for up to 40% of the total electricity cost. That's a staggering figure.

Have you seen the light?

So what's the answer? How can you reduce the energy you're using and save money? The answer is LEDs. Once installed, they'll help you reduce your costs, boost your light levels and make lighting maintenance almost a thing of the past.

 

If it all sounds too good to be true, let our lighting specialists take a look at your warehouse and they'll provide you with a detailed 'cost of ownership' calculation. This will compare your existing lighting system with a newly installed LED version, taking into account the price you pay for electricity as well as government levies and carbon charges. To take advantage of this special Bristol Storage service, just call a member of our team on 0117 955 5211 and we'll be happy to set it up for you.

What can LEDs offer?

If your business occupies a large building, there's a real opportunity to make significant savings by switching to LEDs. We've worked with a number of warehouses to either upgrade their existing warehouse lighting system or install an entirely new system. They've all been delighted with the results - both in the quality of lighting and the low maintenance, as well as the long term cost benefits.

The benefits of LEDs

Efficient warehouse lighting from Bristol StorageOrganisations around the world can vouch for the benefits of LED lighting and are quick to sing their praises. Tim Schofield, Financial Controller at MMD Shipping in the UK commented: “We’ve been so impressed with the performance and warranty of LEDs that we’ve begun retrofitting nearly all of our other facilities to improve efficiency, lighting efficacy and safety throughout our operations.” He said, “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t go LED. Between the energy and maintenance savings, and the tax incentives, the switch to LED fittings was a no brainer.”

Here are our top 5 benefits:

  1. Save money - who doesn't want to do this? By installing LED warehouse lighting technology, you can reduce the electricity you consume by up to 80% while still achieving lighting levels that exceed your expectations. That means that typically, you'll see a return on your investment within 1-2 years.
  2. Go green - while you're saving money, why nothelp save the planet too? These lower wattage LED systems produce far less pollution, so as well as reducing your operation and maintenance costs, you'll lower your carbon footprint too. It has been said, that in some cases, the reduction in carbon dioxide alone is the equivalent of planting 200 acres of trees or removing over 100 cars off the road.
  3. Give good light - one benefit that not everyone recognises, is the quality of light emitted by LEDs. They produce a crisp, white light that's extremely easy to work by. In some areas, the light output is up to five times what you'd get from a typical metal halide or high pressure fitting. With increased light levels, also comes improved safety so it's a win, win situation for everyone.
  4. Less maintenance - an LED fitting can provide an impressive lifetime of 50,000 hours, which brings with it a huge reduction in maintenance costs. No more suspending your operations while you bring in a cherry picker to change light bulbs, these beauties will go on lighting your way for years and years.
  5. Tailor your lighting - thanks to innovative new technology, our industrial light fittings come with dimming controls and occupancy detectors to ensure you only light the areas that are in use. Sensors on each fitting can keep lights dormant at just 20% of output until they're triggered by an employee or a vehicle. That puts you firmly in control of your energy usage.

Let us give you a demo

If you'd like to know more about how the new advances in lighting technology can make your company safer and greener, as well as saving you time and money, we'd love the opportunity to demonstrate how it all works.

Alternatively, if you have any more questions about warehouse lighting, just give us a call on 01179 555 211 and one of our experienced and knowledgeable team will be happy to tell you all you need to know.

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Warehouse , Technology

The Benefits of Barcode Scanners in the Warehouse

 

Scanning boxes with a barcode scanner at the warehouseBarcode technology is something that we’ve all become accustomed to. Pick up any item in a supermarket or department store and you’ll find a collection of thick and thin black stripes printed somewhere on the product packaging or the price tag. You’re even likely to see a barcode printed on your tickets if you go to a football match, concert or theatre performance.

Where it all began

This simple yet clever technology has been around for a while. It was the brainchild of American inventor Joe Woodland who was searching for a way to speed up supermarket checkouts. In 1949, taking inspiration from the Morse code he’d learnt as a boy scout, Joe devised a way of using a series of thick and thin lines combined with spaces to identify each product. However Joe’s idea didn’t see the light of day until 1974, when the first item bearing the Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned at the checkout of Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. For anyone who’s interested, it was actually a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum!

Technology in the warehouse

Now that barcode scanners have proved their worth in the retail setting, more and more companies are switching over to this technology in the warehouse to improve profitability, productivity and warehouse efficiency. If you’re wondering if that’s the way to go for your business, we’ve taken a look at some of the benefits it can bring.

  • Speed up your operations

There’s no doubt that barcode technology can help you work faster and more efficiently. Rather than reading and keying identification numbers, all your warehouse operator has to do is simply point the scanner at the barcode and all the information on the product will be readily available. It can guide a picker to the exact product location and show the item and quantity needed. When the item is selected, stock details will be updated automatically. This not only saves your people time when it comes to re-stocking and checking inventory levels, but it’s also a more efficient way of locating items needed for each order.

  • Improve your accuracy

With a traditional inventory system, an operator or data clerk has to manually input all the information regarding stock, location and quantity. Research has shown that for every 1000 characters typed, there will be around 10 keying errors. Compare that to a scan system and you’ll find an average of 1 error in every 3 million characters registered. Similarly, when it comes to picking an order, it’s all too easy for a member of staff to pick up the wrong item or the wrong quantity of items. A barcode scanner will eliminate these ‘human errors’ whilst ensuring you have a complete and accurate picture of your stock levels at any given time.

  • Information at your fingertips

One of the most useful aspects of barcode technology is the amount of real time information you’ll have access to. In one simple barcode, you can store details about the item, its measurements, storage conditions and location, right down to how many items are in a box or the number of boxes on a pallet. These details can then be used to give you accurate information about stock levels, allowing you to make the right decisions when it comes to purchasing.

  • Simple to use

One of the main problems of introducing a new system into any workplace is the time and money it takes to retrain your employees. A key benefit of the ‘point and click’ barcode scanner is that it’s so simple to use. There’s no need for your employees to get to grips with a whole new stock or inventory system - you’ll be able to train them to use a scanner in a matter of minutes. You’ll also find that it makes life easier for other departments too. With less paperwork flying around and a higher level of stock information available, your accounts and sales departments will benefit from this intelligent system too.

  • Run your business more efficiently

Barcode scanners can help your business become more efficient in a number of ways. Firstly it will unite your departments, sharing stock and order information so everyone is informed and ‘in the loop’. Secondly, by eliminating human error, it will help you be more accurate in your day-to-day operations – this will be a big boost to your cost efficiencies but will also help to ensure you have happy customers. Thirdly, it will allow your employees to be more productive by allowing them to pick orders more quickly, while significantly reducing the time they spend identifying mistakes and rectifying them.

 

Get In Touch

At Bristol Storage, we like anything that makes life a little easier and keeps the warehouse running smoothly and efficiently. If you’d like to talk to us about pallet racking, repairs and maintenance or SEMA inspections, just give us a call on 01179 555 211 and one of our experienced and knowledgeable team will be happy to help you.

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