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Unpacking the Future of Materials Handling: Automation and Sustainability

Modern materials handling has undergone a significant change in recent years, as a result of ongoing digital transformation. The world is rapidly changing – from the way consumers now search, buy and pay for products, to how they are manufactured, transported, and delivered across the final mile. In this article, Jim Hardisty, Managing Director, explores what the future could hold…

In terms of materials handling, we are already seeing the huge impact of advanced technologies such as automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). Who would have thought we would see robots and drones fulfilling deliveries at the turn of the millennium? However, even something considered as “unsophisticated” as a plastic pallet box has been modernised. For example, our CabCube 1612 can be RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) and IoT (Internet of Things) enabled, for greater transparency and visibility in the supply chain.

These technologies have enabled a more efficient, reliable, and safe handling of materials, and this is only going to accelerate even further in the years to come. We could eventually see warehouses completely free of humans. What we originally thought of as far-fetched, when watching sci-fi programmes in years gone by, could soon become a reality!

In a world where new technologies are becoming increasingly accessible, warehouse operators face mounting pressure to update their facilities. By integrating these advanced technologies, businesses stand to benefit immensely, enjoying increased efficiency, accuracy, and speed, as well as enhanced flexibility. New technologies will allow warehouse operators to respond more quickly to changing demand and inventory requirements, drastically reducing lead times and minimising human error.

Simultaneously, new technological developments will also lead to automated systems becoming even more sophisticated, which will drive further efficiency gains across the industry. Our customers include many household names from across several industries – including manufacturing, retail and food and agriculture – and we have been working with them closely to ensure they have the perfect plastic pallets and boxes for their automated systems.

Automation and Sustainability

Much like how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an automated system is only as productive as its weakest part. If one component in the system is slow, prone to errors, or otherwise inefficient, then the entire system can be compromised and may not perform optimally. This is why we take the time to fully understand our customers’ requirements and supply them with the correct plastic pallet or pallet box. Plastic pallets have consistent dimensions, which is absolutely vital when using on automated systems, are lightweight and remain durable across their long life span. They are also resistant to moisture and easy to clean.

For example, we have supplied GA Pet Food Partners with 24,750 plastic pallet boxes for use in its £80m Ingredients Kitchen – a fully automated dark store warehouse operated solely by robots. Our GoPalletBox 1311S 3R works seamlessly within its automated systems, helping the client to make huge efficiency gains.

But while we’re excited about the potential of new technologies, we, as an industry, can never lose sight of our responsibilities to the planet. As we look to the future, sustainability must remain a key priority in modern materials handling. More businesses are seeking to reduce waste and emissions by implementing eco-friendly packaging and recycling programmes, as well as using renewable energy sources to power their facilities. We are supporting this approach too – and now 93% of our plastic pallets are made from 100% recycled materials.

Furthermore, I can’t help but feel excited about the untapped potential that lies between technological innovation and sustainability. We’re already witnessing incredible strides in eco-friendly practices, largely driven by new technologies – from solar cycling paths to edible cutlery. I’m excited to see innovations like this make an impact across the materials handling sector in the years to come – the possibilities are immense.

In conclusion, it’s clear that the materials handling sector is on a fascinating journey – driven by continuous advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on sustainability. We’re working hard to keep pace with these changes and to play our part in pushing boundaries.