Keeping your business on the road in winter
But for businesses whose commercial succes...
As the temperature drops and the clocks go back, there is a feeling across the UK that winter is on its way.
But for businesses whose commercial success relies on strong and reliable logistics networks, the onset of cold weather, coupled with the surges in demand created by seasonal events such as Black Friday and Christmas, can present unique challenges affecting the delivery of goods and provision of services.
The UK’s recent track record of warm summers and mild winters can often lead companies into believing that cold weather will not affect the running of their business, but whilst it is easy to forget about the possibility of extreme situations, preparations must be made accordingly.
Winter maintenance is increasingly becoming a year-round job and businesses have a duty of care to ensure the safety of all staff, both office-based and those driving as part of the logistics network. This duty of care starts at depot level. Businesses must ensure that walkways, loading bays and car parks are safe for driving and walking; providing an adequate number of grit bins placed at strategic locations across the site should be a key element in any winter maintenance plan. Local authority guidelines advise that salt is spread on pathways and roads whenever the temperature drops below 3 degrees Celsius and under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, premises occupiers have a duty of care to ensure the safety of all site visitors, not just the workforce.
If gritting responsibilities are handled by external contractors, as is often the case in larger organisations with multiple sites and depots, agreements and contracts should be in place well before the winter season, decreasing the chance of a cold-snap causing unexpected disruption.
The beating heart of any logistics business is its delivery fleet and maintaining a strong network during potentially unfavourable weather is vital. With the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents increasing by 14 percent in Q1 of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015, it is even more important for logistics managers to recognise the impact of poor road and driving conditions. Preventative maintenance on all delivery vehicles should be a high priority over the winter, proactively ensuring driver safety and the integrity of the delivery network.
Widely used in other parts of the world, winter tyres are increasingly being seen as a wise addition to a large number of fleet vehicles, offering better grip and decreased stopping distances in adverse weather conditions. For businesses whose networks operate in areas which often experience extended periods of harsh weather, investing in winter tyres can be an astute decision. Those put off by the prospect of a relatively large initial investment should consider the benefits acquired through a delivery fleet which is almost guaranteed to be able to operate throughout the winter season in all but the harshest weather.
As a general rule, extreme snowfall is a rarity in the UK and it is not often that motorists become stranded with their vehicles. However, exceptions to the rule are possible and making sure drivers are equipped with suitable supplies in their vehicles should be standard practice. Snow shovels, ice scrapers and a small amount of abrasive material such as grit form the basis of a winter emergency kit, but these can be supplemented by other items such as torches, warning triangles and emergency supplies.
Whilst in-vehicle preparations look after the direct safety of the driver, technological advances in the field of GPS fleet tracking mean that anticipating and dealing with adverse weather is far easier for logistics managers, allowing decisions to be made affecting delivery schedules and routes ahead of time. Information fed back by systems installed in the cabs of vans and lorries delivers real-time information about current weather and road conditions, along with who is driving which vehicle and where. From a driver’s perspective, these systems can also be used as panic alarms to summon help in the event of an emergency.
The challenges of winter are nothing new, especially in the UK, but the strains placed on vital logistics and delivery networks during this season through delays, breakdowns and accidents have the potential to be devastating for many businesses. Preparation in advance is key and prioritising the safety of drivers and staff along with the resilience of supply networks will help result in safe and successful seasonal trading.
Nigel Crunden is Business Specialist at Office Depot
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FedEx is Reshaping Last Mile with Autonomous Vehicles
FedEx is embarking on an expanded test of autonomous, driver-less delivery vehicles to develop its last-mile logistics.
The US logistics firm piloted autonomous vehicles from Nuro in April this year, and the pair will now explore that further in a multi-year partnership. Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships, said the collaboration "will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener".
FedEx will explore a variety of on-road use cases for the autonomous fleet, including multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries, going beyond more traditional applications of the technology in single-route movement of goods from A-B. Exponential growth in ecommerce is spurring its broader experimentation in new autonomy solutions, Fed-Ex says, both in-warehouse and on-road.
“FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy,” said Rebecca Yeung, Vice President, Advanced Technology and Innovation, FedEx Corporation. “We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations.”
The changing role of couriers
Unlike structured delivery networks, operating under long-term partnerships and contracts, agility is where couriers deliver true value - and their ability to deftly solve last-mile fulfilment has most acutely been felt during the pandemic. For the billions of people around the world forced to stay at home to protect themselves and their communities from the spreading COVID-19 virus, couriers have been a constant. They may have been the only knock at the door some people experienced for weeks or months at a time.
But the last-mile has been uprooted by a boom in ecommerce, a shift that has been most apparent in the UK, US, China and Japan, according to the Global Parcel Delivery Market Insight Report 2021 by Apex Insight. These are markets with dominant economies and populations used to running their lives with a tap of a screen or double-click of a mouse.
“Getting last mile delivery right has long been a challenge for retailers,” says Kees Jacobs, Vice President, Consumer Goods and Retail at Capgemini. “In 2019, 97% of retail organisations felt their last-mile delivery models were not sustainable for full-scale implementation across all locations. Despite increasing demand from customers, companies were struggling to make the last mile profitable and efficient.”
Jacobs says that the pandemic alleviated some of these stresses in the short term. With no other option, consumers were understanding and tolerant, if not entirely happy, with longer delivery times and less transparent tracking. “But, as extremely high delivery demand continues to be normal, customers will expect brands to contract their delivery times,” he adds.
Last mile's role in ESG
Demand and volume weren’t the only things that have changed during the pandemic - businesses looked closer to home and as a result became more sustainable. Bricks and mortar stores were transformed from mini-showrooms to quasi-fulfilment centres. Online retailers and other businesses sought local solutions to ship more faster. In densely populated London, UK alone, Accenture found that delivery van emissions dropped by 17%, while Chicago, USA and Sydney, Australia saw similar emissions savings.