Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Robot Installation for Logistics Specialist May Not Play Well with Unions

Autonomous Equipment to Supplement Workforce
Shipping News Feature
US – EUROPE – A cynic might read something more into the latest press release from freight outfit XPO Logistics. Plagued of late by criticism over staffing policy, and specifically targeted by unions, the US headquartered freight group has announced it is to introduce 5,000 intelligent robots throughout its logistics sites in North America and Europe.

XPO is insistent that the robots, which are designed to collaborate with humans, will supplement XPO’s existing workforce and support future growth. The autonomous robots are part of a modular goods-to-person system that also includes mobile storage racks and fulfilment stations. Each robot can move a rack weighing approximately 1,000 to 3,500 lbs, bringing it to a station where a worker fulfils up to 48 orders simultaneously.

XPO says the entire process is controlled by its proprietary warehouse management system which supports same-day and next-day deliveries by shortening order-to-shipment times and helping workers minimise walk-time and manual errors. Bradley Jacobs, chief executive officer of XPO Logistics, said:

“We’ve developed our logistics technology to integrate the latest intelligent automation and adapt it at lightning speed. This allows us to dramatically improve fulfilment time and cut costs. The addition of 5,000 collaborative robots will make our logistics operations safer and more productive in picking, packing and sortation. These are important benefits for our customers, particularly in the e-commerce and omnichannel retail sectors, where order speed and accuracy are essential ways to compete.”

XPO has a strategic partnership with robotics manufacturer GreyOrange Pte. Ltd. that makes XPO the exclusive logistics provider for use of its robots in North America, the United Kingdom and eight European countries and the latest innovation is part of the company’s planned $450 million investment in technology this year.

Other advances include the XPO Direct shared-space distribution network, voice integration with Amazon Echo and Google Home to track the last mile delivery of heavy goods, and the XPO Connect digital freight marketplace with multimodal infrastructure.

However those disagreements with the workforce in several countries in which XPO operates hang over the scene. The latest dispute with the GMB union, already incited over XPO’s House of Fraser involvement, will see a protest at the ASOS site the group manages in Barnsley later this week. These rows follow on from unrest in Europe and the US over gender discrimination, accusations of dangerous working practices and alleged sexual harassment.

Photo: Hopefully union reaction to the innovation will not mirror the early 19th century Luddite revolt.