The warehouse as we know it is changing; the traditional ‘shed’ is, in many cases, almost unrecognisable.

In retail, for example, the rise of eCommerce means the traditional bricks and mortar store has moved online, and with this the warehouse has taken on the additional responsibility of being the store room for these virtual shops. In 2000, online commerce made up less than 1% of retail sales, but by August 2018 almost one-fifth of all purchases took place on the internet (1). This trend shows no signs of slowing.

Sites serving manufacturing, defence, construction and other industries have also had to adapt to new demands. Challenges to the supply of labour, the rise of just-in-time deliveries and cost pressures mean warehouses need to be smarter, leaner and more agile than ever before.

Simply put, the warehouse must work differently.

Automation is widely seen as a viable response to a number of these challenges and with more than 20 years’ experience of designing, building and implementing automation in warehouses, we have seen the benefits first hand. Automating some of the most basic, repetitive tasks (while ensuring a ‘safety first’ culture on site), can increase speed and accuracy and ultimately lower costs.

While automated conveying and storing has been used for years, recent developments include intelligent robots that follow a packer wherever they go and high bay storage that operates entirely in the dark as robots can ferry everything as needed; technology is on the move.

One of the key challenges with automation is the impact (and perceived impact) on people. As a business, our view is that by bringing automation into the warehouse we are upgrading work, not replacing people. We are introducing opportunities for our operatives to become engineers, planners, technologists and bring out talents and skills which cannot be replicated in the same way by machines. In doing so, we are utilising our resources in the best way, to gain value for our customers, while offering our people career development and job satisfaction.

Across the globe, market leaders are demonstrating how a culture of sharing resources is helping to drive economies of scale and have a positive impact on the bottom line. Making assets, both owned and shared, work as hard as possible is crucial to delivering this.

Businesses, both small and large, require increasingly flexible warehousing options; some find themselves with excess space outside of peak and others want the opportunity to scale up but lack means for major capital investment. With the rising cost and scarcity of labour and challenges in managing extreme seasonal fluctuations in demand, sharing warehouse space provides an efficient and attractive solution.

The idea of sharing an office space is nothing new to business, but the concept of sharing a shed in a ‘multi-user’ warehouse environment is a relatively new concept; particularly where two or more competitors share a facility. Yet, with the right management this can, and is, becoming a reality across a number of sectors.

This kind of collaboration is only possible through technology. The ability to identify the right space in the right place, and to make a booking (along with a mechanism for advertising vacant space) can now be done online through marketplaces like oneVASTwarehouse.com, an initiative which is being launched and supported by Wincanton, to help its customers buy & sell space within its own warehouse estates, and beyond, from April this year.”

We are all in a race for space. Technology is at the very heart of our efforts as a logistics industry to gain best value for property owners and users, but it is critical that we introduce these new tools to support new ways of working and not to be the reason for them.

The process is an evolution not a revolution, but one which promotes opportunities for manufacturers and retailers alike.

(1) https://news.sky.com/story/a-675m-fund-to-help-our-struggling-high-streets-11591325