ITW Warehouse Automation upgrades VTP Palletisers
ITW Warehouse Automation (ITWWA), the global supplier of fully-integrated warehousing solutions, has announced the latest improvements to its VTP Palletisers and VPS software.
One of the industry’s most proven software platforms, ITWWA’s VPS software has been upgraded to enable pallet patterns to be changed in real-time with minimal effort required of employees or the robotic palletisers. In addition, the VTP Palletisers now operate up to 40% faster with the same flexibility and gentle product handling, according to the company.
“We are always looking for ways to provide customers with the most efficient warehousing solutions available,” says Jeff Stingel, Vice President of Sales, ITWWA. “These upgrades are an example of that commitment.”
The enhanced VPS software allows users to quickly and easily change pallet patterns without stopping production. Pallet patterns are built with the graphic user interface in the PC, where users simply input package sizes and number of cases on a pallet. The software displays the cases on the screen and users can arrange them as necessary and assign the pallet to start that pattern. VPS allows for an infinite number of flips or patterns- further ensuring greater productivity and load integrity
Powering all ITWWA solutions, from case picking and AS/RS to palletizing, VPS integrates seamlessly with all major WMS and routing software and provides web-based, real-time video viewing and remote monitoring.
“Software is the fundamental building block for any successful warehouse automation solution,” says Stingel. “Our VPS software provides the accuracy and flexibility necessary to help our customers successfully achieve their automation needs.”
VPS also helps ITWWA’s VTP Palletisers take on more functions. The robotic palletisers can handle each case or SKU differently. VPS communicates to the robots whether cases are lighter or packaged in various materials so they can handle each accordingly.
About VTP Palletisers
ITWWA’s scalable systems have the ability to work multiple projects concurrently, are intuitive to use, and provide accurate data back to the warehouse control system. VTP Palletisers are SCF/ISO friendly, category 3 & 4 compliant and incorporate an easy to use graphic interface. ITWWA provides 24/7 customer support with all its products and services.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector