There can be no denying the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on supply chains. Few can forget the scenes of shelves stripped of toilet paper and groceries, an early indicator of the demand and disruption to come. The past few months have been challenging for warehouse leaders, who suddenly found themselves at the forefront of keeping the country moving – as well as meeting a sudden surge in e-commerce demand.
The rise of online shopping
During the first UK lockdown, there was a 129% boom in online shopping as people switched to the Internet instead of risking a visit in-store. This had a huge effect on warehouses that had to deal with increased demand, coupled with social distancing requirements and staff absences due to self-isolation.
Of course, the trajectory of e-commerce was already on the rise, but COVID-19 grew it exponentially. A decade ago, e-commerce accounted for 6.7% of all retail sales in the UK. A month before the global outbreak, this figure was at 19%. By May 2020, during the UK’s first lockdown, this had soared to 33%.
At the time of publication, Christmas is looming, and November online spending is predicted to rise further to become a record-breaking month for UK online retailers. November sales were up by 61% in the first week of the month.
Demand for extra space
As a result, demand for warehouse space has risen. 13.5 million square feet of UK ‘big box’ warehouse space (over 100,000 square feet) was signed for in the three months to September 2020. That was 73% higher than the same period in 2019. In the U.S. warehouse space demands are expected to be treble the previous estimate, with rents expected to grow by about 6% a year.
But there is another solution to help warehouse leaders keep up with demand and improve efficiency simultaneously. Video technology is fast extending beyond being a traditional surveillance system, to help warehouse leaders manage and track shipments, optimise processes, and monitor on-site access.
How video technology helps
Thanks to advances in video technology, analytics and compute power, leaders can use video to extract significant insights and information from a single image – with higher accuracy compared to a few years ago. This helps video provide value for the business beyond the security team.
There are many areas where video analytics can help:
One of the simplest ways to gain efficiency and increase customer service levels is to integrate a parcel scanning system with a video management system (VMS). This enables operators to easily monitor and manage incidents around parcels entering and leaving a warehouse. Parcels can be located based on their parcel ID and physical characteristics, with their location and condition recorded on the VMS. Operations managers can then check-in on specific parcels, to update customers, proactively avoid damaged goods, get a forewarning about delays, and deal with loss or damage claims.
The Mays Zona Libre company, which Global Cargo operates out of, is based in the major cargo-handling Panama Canal. It has a large three-level, 400,000 square-metre warehouse that it protects using advanced video solutions. Using Milestone’s XProtect VMS, the company can update its customers on the location and condition of cargo – and provide peace-of-mind of each parcel’s safety.
Managing storage space
Combined with innovative solutions like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), video technology can provide valuable information about the storage space in a warehouse. This can prove invaluable, to make warehouse planning more data-driven, and to prevent unused space. Free storage space can be recognised instantly and flagged to operations managers. Likewise, they can gather insights on what spaces are used the most and where efficiency gains could be made.
Improving facility layouts
As well as preventing unused space, video analytics can help operations managers to monitor the effectiveness of their facility layout and prevent bottlenecks. Conversely, it can therefore help with maintaining social distancing.
People and vehicle counting can tell managers how many staff and visitors are on-site. Heatmaps can show managers the most travelled routes and where people often congregate, and alerts can be automatically issued for infringements of one-way systems or potential social distancing breaches. This ensures on-site staff remain safe and that warehouse operations run smoothly.
Better access management
Managing access to a facility is critical in ensuring everyone on-site is safe, in areas that they are authorised to visit, and that there are no intruders. Physical access control systems, intercom systems, facial recognition, license plate recognition and digital signage can be combined with camera footage to give managers a complete overview of all access points and people on-site.
Further insights can be obtained from video and sensor data, such as the average time on-site, or the time taken to unload a vehicle.
P.T. Post Eisenhandel, the largest steel trader in Rhineland, Germany uses video to get an accurate situational awareness of its people, inventory and resources. The video system has helped to reduce theft and loss, decrease costs and increase revenue. It has also strengthened the trader’s reputation and customer loyalty, as there are fewer production stops and irregularities. Motion detectors, cameras and other sensors are all connected via a central VMS to provide managers with complete oversight of all comings and goings on-site.
A different world
Warehouse leaders face a very different world to the one that we knew in 2019. As we look towards the coming months, further changes will provide new opportunities and challenges for the sector.
By embracing advanced video technology, warehouse leaders can get ahead of their challenges, with greater oversight and optimisation. While simultaneously providing opportunities to improve competitiveness and market share, through data-driven decision-making and ensuring customers’ peace-of-mind.
To learn more about how advanced video technology can help your warehouse operations, visit www.milestonesys.com
Author: Neil Killick, EMEA Leader, Strategic Business at Milestone Systems