Dec 18, 2020

New Supply Chain Solutions to Withstand the COVID storm

Supply Chain
Marcus Jeffery, Territory Mana...
4 min
Supply chain businesses are contending with a plethora of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic; Marcus Jeffery is here to offer some solutions.
Supply chain businesses are contending with a plethora of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic; Marcus Jeffery is here to offer some solutions...

The ongoing pandemic has caused disruption to all industries, and the supply chain hasn’t been immune. Businesses are constantly having to adapt to a rapidly changing environment where social distancing regulations are changing as new information becomes available, and consumer demand for products fluctuates as lockdown restrictions evolve. 

Unsurprisingly, the UK lockdown that began in March caused a boom in online shopping, due to the restrictions placed on non-essential visits to brick-and-mortar shops and supermarkets. In fact, eCommerce businesses have reported a 15% spike in revenue since April. We’re likely to see this increased demand for eCommerce expand even more through the second lockdown and as Christmas approaches – and supply chain businesses need to optimise their operations to cope. 

Ensuring speed and productivity with enhanced technology 

For supply chain organisations trying to stay profitable and maximise productivity, warehouse technology is crucial. One of the best ways to empower staff to stay productive is with handheld mobile devices. Whilst such devices are commonplace in the modern warehouse, substantial upgrades to the technology mean that they can now help businesses withstand the COVID-19 storm. The latest technology has moved beyond the much-maligned, green screen devices of the past towards sleeker, more streamlined designs that offer user-friendly interfaces. 

By moving away from ruggedized Windows operating systems to a modern, touchscreen Android user experience, these devices are not only much simpler to use, but they can speed up the onboarding process for new employees. The fact these devices have a clearer user interface and better emulate the consumer mobile phones that staff will already be used to allows them to hit the ground running without being slowed down in lengthy training processes. This is especially important as increased numbers of new staff have been taken on this year to keep operations running smoothly. Employees on the warehouse floor are under immense pressure to meet heightened demand and a smooth onboarding process is key to unlocking greater productivity and efficiency.  

Wearable devices that improve order picking have also benefited from innovation and upgrades. With wearable devices, employees are no longer hamstrung by slow, manual processes. Hands-free wearables, such as vision and voice-enabled solutions, allow pickers to benefit from increased accuracy and speed, which in turn enables them to complete more orders within the same timeframe. This level of increased productivity is top of mind for supply chain businesses as they approach the peak season of Christmas shopping. 

Reducing errors by staying on top of inventory management

The increase in consumer demand experienced during the pandemic has also brought inventory management into the foreground as, earlier in the year, many businesses experienced stock shortages, which had a knock-on effect on customer satisfaction.  

The first step is matching supply with demand – too much stock and too little demand is just as much of a hindrance to operations as the opposite. Not only does capacity become an issue but the bottom line will be impacted if retailers can’t shift stock fast enough. In order to mitigate this issue, supply chain businesses must track items throughout their journey to the consumer, ensure they keep appropriate stock levels based on predicted demand and that this information is communicated along the chain. With a connected Order Management System (OMS), an out of stock product can be quickly communicated and businesses can ensure it’s removed from the website as quickly as possible to avoid miscommunication with customers and a resulting hit to satisfaction, which would occur if people were to order an item they were later told is out of stock. There is simply no room for errors caused by manual inventory management in this new retail landscape. 

Supply chain businesses can take error reduction and customer satisfaction one step further by investing in more accurate picking. With enhanced accuracy, fluctuating customer demand can be handled easily by fewer employees in the warehouse – as dictated by social distancing regulations. Furthermore, improved accuracy means that there will be a reduction in the number of times an item is handled, due to less errors occurring. Employees can also determine the most efficient route around the warehouse by using voice and vision-picking solutions which allow them to head straight to the location they need to, without unnecessary contact with colleagues or time wasted by taking a longer route than necessary.

Supply chain businesses are contending with a plethora of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Whilst the future remains unclear, making strategic technological investments that give businesses a competitive edge and safeguard against further economic doubts is key. It will be those companies that invest in technology such as handheld mobile devices and voice-picking solutions that will succeed in this challenging year by successfully optimising their operations to cope with unpredictable demand. 

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Jun 13, 2021

Engineering skills gap challenges UK electric vehicle market

Yvonne Paige-Stimson, Global P...
5 min
Yvonne Paige-Stimson, Global Projects Director at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence on how the engineering skills gap is challenging the UK’s EV market

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are hurrying to design and develop electric vehicles to meet the evolving regulatory deadlines. The race to do so while meeting the high consumer expectations for new products is an immense challenge – exacerbated by a shortage of key engineering skills in many national workforces.

The emergence of new engineering skillsets and capabilities needed for new automotive product introduction risks hindering the move to electrification. If unresolved this could result in failure to meet their fleet CO2 targets set for the coming decade – including the ban of all petrol and diesel car sales in the UK by 2030.

The technological transformation of cars into computers – powered by electric batteries – has created demand for a parallel transformation of the automotive engineering workforce, and a pressing requirement for new skills in software and battery engineering.

The skills of the moment

There is a huge and growing need for tech talent. In the UK alone, programming and software development jobs are growing 7.3% on average every year, and these tech roles are amongst the most in-demand jobs. Design and development engineers from either the mechanical or electronic domain, who can also programme, are the new trend. The car of the future relies heavily on programming languages such as SQL, Java, C++, and Python for development of their embedded systems and tools used in their validation. The most highly sought-after talents are those individuals who have blended to become a multi-disciplined hybrid of several specialities. 

Manufacturing also demands IT skills due to the digital transformation of the production and supply chain environments. It is now heavily reliant on Edge machine-level data processing, with cloud integration of shop-floor assets (such as robots, measurement, optical recognition, machining centres etc) all connected together with visualisation and big-data analytics. Availability of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning expertise becomes a limiting factor to organisations seeking to make real-time cloud-managed decisions governing quality control, predictive performance and optimise asset utilisation.

The trend to Model-Based System Engineering methods is a significant benefit to product development cost and time to market. Recruiting sufficient Computational Analysis Engineers (CAE) for system dynamics, fluids, structures and acoustics, fatigue and forming technologies, is a challenge. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) engineers, in particular, have an essential role in EV development: to evaluate the thermal strategy for the battery architecture and integrated cooling systems, with the mission of keeping the car functionally safe and reliable in all conditions.

Closing the gap

The top drivers of the skills gap reported by employers include strong competition for skilled candidates, a shortage of applicants with appropriate qualifications, and a lack of awareness among young people of the educational routes into engineering occupations. The development goal and long-term solution is obvious: to get more people into studying engineering and widen the diversity of this talent pool. Recent UK Government initiatives are already showing some positive impact on this challenge:

  • Significant changes in GCSEs with promotion of single-science options has led to a 17.3% increase in take-up rate of Physics
  • A-level entries are on the rise for most STEM subjects – take-up of A-level Mathematics continues to be particularly high, making up 12.0% of all entries
  • High proportions of international students, especially from India and China, are studying engineering and technology in the UK, particularly at taught and research postgraduate levels (67.7% and 59.3% of entrants respectively). 

Universities are adapting to supply the future talent for the electrified automotive industry, many now offering combined degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering with dual accreditation. Degrees in Controls and Systems engineering are also gaining in popularity, teaching future engineers to work on holistic problems where there are conflicting needs and complex interactions. Given the time it takes to train a new engineer and for them to become effective in the workplace, the sector is therefore challenged to wait for this influx and mobilisation of in-demand skills to be realised.

Instead, focus turns to being ‘employer of choice’, and companies aim to attract the highest calibre new hires to staff their teams. Despite the distraction to business continuity due to COVID-19, there is no time for complacency regarding the employee culture. The most highly skilled (especially in ADAS, functional safety, system controls, CFD, electromagnetic and power electronics) can literally cherry-pick their next employer with ease, aided by the transparency of website platforms like GlassDoor and LinkedIn. 

Partnering on development

Onboarding of software and tools can significantly help alleviate the engineering skills gap – by embedding know-how, others have developed into their digital multi-physics offerings. Engineers can be assisted in getting the workflows and design rules right, creating an immediate and tactical solution to ease the product development challenges.

We can also seek collaborations and technology partnerships by working with specialist service partners locally and globally in a new ecosystem. The ability to achieve the leap to develop IP, leverage experienced resources for global teams, and offload the risks associated with finding and training the skilled engineers in-house – often gives the best of both worlds.

The unprecedented pressure on the world of engineering to develop new EV models will require collaboration on a new scale. While many countries are pushing to grow and diversify the engineering workforce, the skills gap needs to be closed now to avoid disruptive delays for the global market. As a central part of the evolution to e-mobility for our customers, the urgency of this task is starkly clear, and encouraging novel partnerships to close the skills gap will be vital to ensure our industry meets this historic goal.


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