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Logistics & Supply Chain

Warehousing and logistics sector turns to automated technologies



Warehousing and logistics sector turns to automated technologies. Image: Messe Frankfurt Middle East
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Covid-19’s impact on consumer buying has advanced demand for automation technologies in the Middle East warehousing and logistics industries, with retailers scrambling to adapt their supply chain infrastructure to address a surge in online shopping.

That’s the view of Alain Kaddoum, General Manager in the Middle East of Swisslog, a leading international supplier of robot-based and data-driven intralogistics solutions.

When the novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, the global lockdown that ensued drastically altered consumer shopping behaviour.

Customers for the most part turned to e-commerce in particular for daily staples such as groceries or pharmaceuticals, with micro-orders and same day or next day delivery a key part of order request and fulfilment.

At the outset of the pandemic however, Mr. Kaddoum said traditional manual fulfilment processes became less practical due to labour constraints, inefficiency, and a lack of scalability, along with warehouse storage and congestion issues.

“Covid-19 dramatically changed customer behaviour, presenting a new set of challenges for the supply chain industry,” said Mr. Kaddoum.

“Shoppers flooded online websites with orders for essential and non-essential goods, leading to retailers feeling overwhelmed, resulting in delivery delays and logistics bottlenecks at their warehouses.

“A survey conducted at the end of March 2020 found that 65 percent of consumers had changed their grocery shopping behaviour as a result of the virus. And automation was the obvious answer for grocers or online retailers to adapt to a large step up in demand while still providing competitive fulfilment times.”

Global pandemics aside, e-commerce and online shopping has for the last few years driven demand for warehouses in the UAE especially, while the Middle East warehouse automation market is estimated to grow to be worth US$1.6 billion in 2025, compared to US$700 million this year, says Logistics IQ, a research advisory firm.

Statistics from UK-based consultancy Business Monitor International (BMI) also estimates the average annual online spend per person in the UAE is US$300, compared to US$90 in Saudi Arabia and US$94 in France.

The UAE meanwhile has the region’s highest mobile penetration rate, and digital commerce was identified as a high government priority in the UAE’s Vision 2021. Combine all this with high purchasing power per capita says Mr. Kaddoum, and the demand for warehouses and automated solutions will only increase further.

Even so, on a global level, the Middle East has often lagged behind other markets regarding warehouse automation adoption; retailers and fulfilment centres typically had easy access to low-cost manual labour, opting against the higher initial capital outlay toward new technologies.

Mr. Kaddoum said there has always been an underlying appetite for warehouse automation in the region, however industry players preferred a ‘wait and see’ approach.  The pandemic has now turned that view on its head.

“Suddenly we saw automation plans for most businesses were accelerated,” he added. “Those who earlier thought they had three years to adapt were now realising the timeline to be not more than 12 weeks.

“The Swisslog Middle East team has been working non-stop consulting with retailers, customising recommendations for each specific project and implementing automation systems since the pandemic began.

“We have solutions that can be installed within a few months’ time, can be scalable if needed later, and without the disruption to the main business operations, which is very important to any business working around the clock. Such solutions are also future-ready, which means they will support that business for many years ahead.”

Mr. Kaddoum was part of a panel discussion webinar hosted by Messe Frankfurt Middle East, organiser of Materials Handling Middle East, the region’s only dedicated trade fair for warehousing, intralogistics and supply chain solutions.  The webinar focused on forecasting future demand for logistics and warehouse space in a post covid-19 era.

Mohsen Ahmad, CEO of Logistics District for Dubai South was another of the five panellists.  He also said covid-19 increased the need for more automated and innovative technologies in the Middle East logistics sector that had up to now relied more on manual labour.

“Automation technology is still behind in the Middle East partially because there was easy access and availability of manpower and with the balance between manpower and automation, the preferred option was manual labour,” said Mr. Ahmad.

“Moving forward though, with the challenges we’ve faced and with operations being shut down or majorly reduced due to covid-19, this should be a wakeup call.  Companies need to ask how they can stay operational and take care of the essential needs in the immediate environment, and covid-19 provided a valuable lesson for everyone.

“It’s in human nature to innovate and we have to utilise the technology that is available today and work closer together in the future for a win-win situation.”

Mr. Kaddoum said Swisslog Middle East will continue its efforts to help businesses address the strong need to shape the future development of logistics automation.  With the mid or post-pandemic global economy profoundly affected, the Swiss-headquartered supplier makes a strong case for companies to invest in innovative tech-enabled business models that address conventional supply chain inefficiencies.

“One thing is certain: the winners in the corona crisis are companies that have processes developed to eliminate panic, mistakes and business fall down,” added Mr. Kaddoum.  “Since many e-commerce companies are already reaching their limits or are not yet properly equipped, we expect an increased demand for automation solutions, especially in these areas.”

The biennial Materials Handling Middle East next takes place from 2-4 November 2021 at the Dubai Exhibition Centre, with more than 120 exhibiting companies from 20-plus countries expected to participate.

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Logistics & Supply Chain

DHL Express global network expects 50% increase in volumes 




DHL Express global network expects 50% increase in volumes. Image: DHL
DHL Express global network expects 50% increase in volumes. Image: DHL
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DHL Express, the world’s leading express service provider, expects unprecedented online shopping and shipping volumes during the upcoming peak season of 2020. With continued globalization and the Covid-19 pandemic driving consumers to shop online like never before, especially during upcoming mega shopping days such as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Singles Day’, DHL Express is expecting an all-time high in e-commerce trade around the globe. Having already experienced around 35% e-commerce shipment volume growth in 2020, the upcoming peak season will further accelerate this and result in more than 50% higher shipment quantities compared to last year’s peak season.

“Over the years, we have seen consumers and even businesses shift their purchases online, but the pandemic has truly pushed the trend to leapfrog a few years ahead,” said Ken Lee, CEO of DHL Express Asia Pacific. “At DHL Express, it is our mission to enable global trade and support our customers during the most important days of their business. The upcoming peak season will be challenging to the logistics industry, but we stand ready to make sure that our customers’ shipments are delivered as fast and as safely as possible. We are proud of the steadfast commitment of our employees and couriers who are out there to fulfil our mission of connecting people and improving their lives.”

DHL Express has taken numerous precautionary measures for over 100,000 employees operating in more than 220 countries and territories, such as providing face masks and disinfectants, and implementing social distancing and remote working where suitable. The company has also developed safe delivery procedures including removing the need for customers to sign for their shipments. These steps taken helped to secure business continuity for DHL, our customers and global trade.

DHL Express is prepared for significantly higher volumes and an earlier peak season start

It comes as no surprise that e-commerce numbers are rising given its growth trajectory in past years. However, the volume of shipments have grown tremendously higher than expected due to Covid-19. Numbers from the most important shopping occasions from earlier this year have already shown an increase in online e-commerce shipment volumes by at least 35%.

Facing such increasing volumes and Covid-19 spreading around the globe in parallel, the challenges for logistics providers are tremendous. In addition to the consistent observation of the situation and flexible management of precautionary measures to keep employees safe, the unprecedented peak of shipments poses an additional challenge for logistics. To be prepared, DHL Express has hired more than 10,000 new employees globally. Thanks to its annual investments in infrastructure such as hubs and gateways, aircraft, vehicles and state-of-the-art technology, the company was able to multiply the capacity of its operations significantly and therefore manage the upcoming volumes.

“In Asia Pacific, we are expecting this year’s peak season shipment volumes to be 30-40% larger than last year. While these are extraordinary numbers, our state-of-the-art facilities, dedicated aircraft fleet, and insanely customer centric employees are fully prepared to meet our customers’ requirements. DHL Express invests approximately EUR 1 billion annually to improve its infrastructure, network and people, so that we are prepared for these kinds of situations and to ensure that global trade continues even in the most challenging periods,” said Sean Wall, Executive Vice President, Network Operations & Aviation, DHL Express Asia Pacific.

To manage the demands of e-commerce shipping and also of highly important personal protective equipment and medical goods, a large number of additional cargo flights is necessary, as most commercial passenger aircraft are still on the ground. To counter this, DHL Express has increased the number of its daily flights significantly. This year alone, the company has already commissioned four new wide body aircraft of the model B777 F in its operations, and two more units are expected in the next month. These six additional aircraft enable the company to carry out more than 3,000 additional intercontinental flights per year.

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Logistics & Supply Chain

Covaxx and Maersk partners to distribute global Covid-19 vaccines




Covaxx and Maersk partners to distribute global Covid-19 vaccines. Image: Unsplash
Covaxx and Maersk partners to distribute global Covid-19 vaccines. Image: Unsplash
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COVAXX, a U.S. company developing a multitope synthetic peptide-based vaccine to fight COVID-19, announced a global logistics partnership with Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping and integrated logistics providers. The agreement lays out a framework for all transportation and supply chain services that will be needed to deliver COVAXX’s vaccine candidate UB-612 around the world, once approved by regulatory authorities. Financial terms of the agreement are not disclosed.

COVAXX is developing UB-612 using a high precision, synthetic peptide platform to activate both B-cell and T-cell arms. The investigational vaccine is designed to mimic natural biology and preclinical studies have shown high immunogenicity and levels of neutralizing titers against SARS-CoV-2. The technology platform has been successful in commercializing blood diagnostics as well as safe and effective vaccines for infectious disease in animal health and has been tested in numerous clinical trials for other indications to date.

COVAXX is currently conducting Phase 1 clinical trials of UB-612 in Taiwan and has an agreement with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to conduct Phase 2 trials in the United States, upon regulatory approval. The company has advanced pre-commitments for over 100 million doses of UB-612 around the globe. In September, COVAXX announced an agreement with Dasa, the largest diagnostic medical company in Brazil to conduct a large-scale human efficacy clinical trial in Brazil.

The mission of COVAXX is to defeat COVID-19 and ultimately democratize health worldwide. Maersk will help fulfill this mission by overseeing all logistics activities to ensure efficient transportation to developing countries. The agreement provides for end-to-end supply chain management, packing and shipping, via air or ocean, ground transportation, warehouse storage and distribution to facilities to support COVAXX’s requirements for a pharmaceutical grade, temperature-controlled supply chain. COVAXX is planning to manufacture 100 million doses of UB-612 during early 2021, and a billion doses by the end of 2021. The design of the vaccine components will allow for the use of existing cold-chain storage and distribution channels, as the COVAXX vaccine does not require additional infrastructure such as -80⁰C freezers or liquid nitrogen tanks to store materials at extreme temperatures. “The COVAXX vaccine is unique in that it can be stored in the fridge you have at home, moved in the same trucks that deliver groceries and administered anywhere you can get a flu shot.” – Lou Reese Co-Chief Executive Officer of COVAXX.

“Our team, which now proudly includes Maersk, is committed to addressing the needs of countries where the greatest unmet needs exist today,” said Mei Mei Hu, co-Chief Executive Officer of COVAXX. “To do what is in the best interests of society at this time of the global health crisis, we are aligning with the strongest leaders in their respective industries to meet the large-scale demand and compliance requirements that we expect. It is not enough to focus on vaccine development and approvals. We must work in parallel to establish the infrastructure and partners with the strongest capabilities, like Maersk, to safely deliver our vaccine around the world.”

“Efficient and safe delivery of COVID-19 vaccines around the world is the most urgent logistics challenge we face today. A. P. Moller – Maersk is committed to working closely with COVAXX to ensure smooth end-to-end global delivery of this vaccine as soon as it becomes available,” said Rob Townley, Head of Special Project Logistics at Maersk.

“Our specialized logistics expertise and the global infrastructure of Maersk make this a perfect match.”

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Air Freight

Emirates SkyCargo DWC cargo terminal re-opens as vaccine hub



Emirates SkyCargo DWC cargo terminal re-opens as vaccine hub. Image: Emirates SkyCargo
Emirates SkyCargo DWC cargo terminal re-opens as vaccine hub. Image: Emirates SkyCargo
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Emirates SkyCargo is stepping up its readiness to handle the logistical complexities of distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine globally by creating the world’s first dedicated airside cargo hub for the vaccine in Dubai. The air cargo carrier is taking a global leadership position by announcing that it will be re-opening its Emirates SkyCentral DWC cargo terminal in Dubai South to serve as a dedicated anchor hub for cold chain storage and distribution of the vaccine.

The freight division of Emirates has also set up a dedicated rapid response team to coordinate requests from the various partners involved in the international vaccine distribution ecosystem and to streamline the carrier’s response to vaccine transportation requests.

HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Chairman and Chief Executive said: “Dubai is well positioned to serve as a gateway and distribution hub for COVID-19 vaccines to the rest of the world. We have the infrastructure and logistics connections, and a geographic location that puts markets representing more than two-thirds of the world’s population within an 8-hour flying radius. Over the years, through our continuous investment in capabilities and processes for the transport of temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals, Emirates SkyCargo has managed to position Dubai amongst major global pharmaceutical customers as the year-round preferred point of transit for their valuable cargo. Setting up a dedicated airside hub for COVID-19 vaccines is a keystone project harnessing our network, reach and competencies to positively impact the lives of people around the world.”

World’s first dedicated airside hub for COVID-19 vaccine

Emirates SkyCargo’s vaccine hub in Dubai South will be the largest dedicated airside facility in the world for COVID-19 vaccines. The Dubai hub will allow the air cargo carrier to fly in vaccines from manufacturing sites globally, store and prepare shipments for regional and global distribution.

Emirates SkyCentral DWC has over 4,000 square metres of temperature controlled GDP certified dedicated pharma storage area allowing for large scale storage and distribution of the potential COVID-19 vaccines. Overall, it is estimated that the facility can hold around 10 million vials of vaccine at a 2-8 degrees Celsius temperature range at any one point of time.

The state of the art infrastructure at Emirates SkyCentral DWC is also complemented by one of the world’s largest fleet of Cool Dollys helping protect temperature sensitive cargo during transit between the aircraft and cargo terminal. Additionally, the availability of a large number of temperature controlled trucking docks and the proximity of the terminal to the aircraft parking gates will ensure rapid and efficient clearance of cargo for further distribution.

In addition to cold storage, Emirates SkyCargo will also offer dedicated zones for value-added services such as re-icing and repackaging of vaccines for global distribution for its customers.

The extensive size of the facility, which can potentially handle millions of vaccine doses, along with the creation of a dedicated team to handle and execute requests will allow Emirates SkyCargo to be able to effectively handle the large volume of time critical requests for cross-border vaccine movement that will follow the successful introduction of a vaccine.

Through a combination of scheduled and charter flights, the cargo carrier will then be able to fly the vaccines to markets where they will be most needed.

Emirates’ pharma transportation capabilities

Emirates SkyCargo is harnessing decades of experience gained from transporting temperature controlled pharmaceutical products and vaccines for global manufacturers to develop innovative solutions that will meet the challenge of distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine globally within a short timeframe.

Since 2016, the air cargo carrier has invested substantially in its capabilities for the transportation of temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals. This included the introduction of a specialised product – Emirates Pharma – and the development of dedicated GDP certified ‘fit for purpose’ infrastructure pharma both at Dubai as well as at major origin and destination points under its pharma corridors programme that currently covers more than 30 cities. Emirates SkyCargo has moved more than a quarter million tonnes of pharmaceutical cargo in the last four years.

With its fleet of modern and efficient all wide-body aircraft and a network that currently spans more than 130 destinations across six continents, combined with the strategic geographic location of its Dubai hub, Emirates SkyCargo will be able to rapidly move vaccine shipments from manufacturing sites to the vaccine hub and then onwards to the rest of the world on a combination of scheduled and passenger flights.

Over the last few months, however, Emirates SkyCargo has worked on restoring its worldwide network and cargo connectivity with flight services restored to 75 destinations by May, 100 by July and nearly 135 destinations by early October. Emirates SkyCargo’s network covers all major pharmaceutical clusters and manufacturing locations, facilitating the eventual transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine once manufacturing commences.

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