Welcome to the September 1st issue of Warehouse & Logistics News. Until fairly recently there were plenty of unskilled warehouse jobs to be filled across the UK and warehouse operators were looking for reliable staff.

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Now warehouse operatives are declining in numbers, as automation is increasingly replacing human workers in large-scale storage and retrieval operations. The question is how to maximise your staff’s potential contribution and develop their abilities for other work.

The story on our front cover illustrates how far the trend to warehouse automation has reached in our major businesses.

A classic example, Leicesterbased BS Handling Systems has completed an automated sortation project at BMW’s MINI plant in Oxford. The sortation system takes totes returning empty from the MINI production line and sorts them by size and colour, before they are stacked on pallets and stored, awaiting collection by the suppliers to refill with more parts.

BMW’s operatives were previously sorting the totes manually and moving them on foot. However this was time consuming and it was difficult to manage the increasingly high volume of totes. The new automated sortation system handles up to 1250 totes per hour, working 22 hours a day, five days a week, improving efficiencies and freeing operatives for more important tasks.

Rethinking how businesses operate might not involve automation in every case but can mean enlarging the workspace. With quality warehousing in the UK at a premium, not to mention the disruption involved in moving, temporary buildings are a popular solution to the problem of finding more space. In our Buildings & Facilities feature DIY modular buildings offer a possible answer to the challenge of warehouse reconfiguration as businesses’ needs change.

If you’re happy to remain where you are and you’re content with the size of your workspace, you still need to look after your staff. Protecting warehouse workers from the elements with dock shelters and high-speed doors is as important as safeguarding the goods inside by maintaining the temperature, especially in extreme weather. As sara LBS’ Area Sales Manager Alan Ryder says so dramatically in our Loading Bay feature, when there is a compelling need to isolate the internal atmosphere from the outside, airlocks can be as important in warehouses as they are in spaceships.

Finally, in our Pallet Networks feature, the human factor is a key part of the pallet networks’ continuing success, specifically the networks’ close cooperation with members over improving their service and addressing operational challenges. Given their flair for problem solving and technical innovation, the run up to Brexit presents a major opportunity for the UK’s pallet networks to strengthen their relationships with texporter customers, by providing advice and assistance on how to speed the flow of goods through the ports. Meanwhile as British businesses look at other markets outside the EU, one of the networks, Palletforce, has launched its new Chinese pallet service, Palletforce Asia Services, providing UK members with access to the growing Far East market. Watch this space!