I’m into my fourth decade in Asia and the region has continued to excite me with its dynamism. With almost continuous growth over the last 50 years, this continent of 4.4 billion people has become richer faster than any other region of the world. And we have every reason to expect it will continue this upward trajectory. There may be the occasional blips, like the 1997 Asian Crisis. But as the crisis reveals, Asia has the tenacity and the capacity to pull through and forge ahead.
As the region prospers, it has thrown up fresh opportunities for the industry. I like to expand on three developments now taking place in the region as companies respond to different change drivers.
Order fulfilment centres in China
China is the biggest ecommerce retail market in the world with annual transactions of over a trillion Renminbi. On Singles’ Day on November 10, more people logged on to Alibaba, China’s most popular e-commerce site, than the entire population of Brazil.
Upsized warehouses are springing up in response to the exponential increase in e-commerce sales. Built by order fulfilment centres to provide e-retailers with backend support, whatever the nature of the products may be, these giant warehouses are equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of SKUs and as much as a million picks a day.
What kind of system is most appropriate for the job you may wonder? Well, given the fluidity of the business, as clients and products change from day to day, they are equipped with different storage systems for products of different shapes and sizes.
Picking is likely to be manual using the goods to man concept where conveyors will bring the products to pick stations for picking, and there can be over a dozen pick stations to handle the volume and velocity. With the installation of par-excellent, robust IT system, these giant warehouses can be made to run with clockwork precision.
Ramp-up warehouses in Singapore
With its good infrastructure and connectivity, Singapore is a veritable node for the logistics industry. Many of the leading lights in logistics are based here, with operations spanning the supply chain, from freight forwarding and warehousing to specialised handling and optimisation services. Encouraged by the region’s growth, many are expanding their operations in Singapore.
In recent years, we have seen a noticeable shift to ramp-up warehouses amongst 3PLs. Commonly found in Hong Kong, ramp-up warehouses are multi-storey warehouse buildings with large vehicular ramps to allow two-way direct access for container trucks on every level.
By opting for ramp-up warehouses instead of conventional ‘cargo-lift’ warehouses, 3PLs can maximise the plot ratio in land-scarce Singapore. As the ramp-up warehouse offers direct vehicular access to all warehouse units, facilitating efficient movement of cargo, they give 3PLs an edge, as they can accommodate different customers on different levels.
Unmanned automated warehouses in Australia
Warehouse operators are improving their work processes and modifying their work practices in response to ever tighter occupational health and safety rules. Some in Australia are taking it a step further to pre-empt more stringent rules they expect to kick in relation to operators’ safety.
We are seeing the first unmanned automated warehouse in Australia, where pallets and products move on a system of automated conveyors, cranes, robots and ASRS, coordinated by programmable logic controllers and computers running logistics automation software. Not only are the warehouses compact, requiring less building space, it almost guarantees an accident free work floor.