Nicola Anderson looks at a vehicle warning system that helps to further improve safety for rail workers

Based on the Health and Safety Executive’s 2019 report, being struck by a moving vehicle ranks as the UK’s second most common cause of workplace fatality, only behind falls from height. This statistic is particularly prevalent for workers operating in the rail sector due to the large number of moving vehicles that they typically encounter during a given working day.

In general, modern trains are very long and are driven by a forward engine, located close to the driver’s cabin. Therefore, when a train is reversing, the driver is often unable to see any potential hazards or track-side personnel at the rear of the train. As such, the risk of inadvertently striking a track-side worker is much higher than when the train is moving forwards.

The location of the engine means that the end of the train is fairly silent and can approach track-side personnel unawares, particularly if they are operating noisy machinery. This problem is further exacerbated by trains often being reversed towards the end of a shift, or during off-peak service times, meaning that track- side conditions are dark and visibility may be poor. These factors can make railways and railyards a hazardous environment for personnel.

To help address this problem, Birmingham-based company, Rail Safety Solutions Limited, has identified the need for a warning system to help improve worker safety. It subsequently filed a UK Patent for this technology in September 2018, which was granted in early PatentNovember 2020. Rail Safety Solutions Limited’s patented invention takes the form of a battery-operated wireless warning system, containing a beacon, an audio speaker and a pair of magnets (60), which allow the housing unit (4) of the system to be easily fixed to the rear of a train.

Prior to reversing, the train operator - or a worker - can fix the warning system to the rear of the train before activating the beacon and/or audio speaker using the respective switches (42 and 44).

Once activated, the beacon emits a flashing light, which provides bystanders with a visual indication of the location of the train. Similarly, the speaker provides an audio message upon activation, such as ‘warning - this train is moving’, to help further identify the potential hazard to any track-side workers. In doing so, Rail Safety Solutions Limited’s product is helping to make railyards and other track-side locations a safer environment.

Patents have a life span of up to 20 years from the date of filing and this valuable monopoly gives the patent owner a period of exclusivity during which they can control the manufacture, sale and licensing of their innovation. Therefore, Rail Safety Solutions Limited can now benefit from the power of a granted patent, helping the business to establish a market for their product. Without patent protection, competitors would be able to freely copy the innovation, flooding the market and diluting the success of the original product.

Now that a patent has been granted, Rail Safety Solutions Limited will also be able to make the most of the Patent Box corporation tax relief on profits generated from the sale or licensing of its product.

Although a relatively simple and straightforward concept, this warning system has the potential to save lives, showing that companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to create a product worthy of patent protection.

It will be interesting to see to what extent this technology becomes adopted by railyards and other rail operators in the near future.

Nicola Anderson is a patent attorney at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.

Gartner has highlighted four steps that transportation companies can take to deliver successful AI projects

As adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the transportation industry continues to slowly grow, Gartner, Inc., recommends that transportation CIOs follow a four-step process to ensure success with AI projects. Many transportation companies recognize AI as a game-changing technology, however some barriers to adoption still exist.

“The current environment has triggered low ridership numbers and operational disruption in the transportation sector, prompting a major need for cost optimization amongst transportation companies,” said Pedro Pacheco, senior research director at Gartner. “Some organizations have implemented AI to help drive cost savings, however that number remains low. According to a Gartner survey only 12 per cent of transportation respondents have adopted AI, while 35 per cent of respondents of other sectors implemented AI to deliver greater cost reductions or a larger revenue increase.”

Analysts recently discussed AI applications in transportation at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2020 EMEA (9-12 November 2020). During the Symposium Gartner analysts explained the most common pitfalls transportation companies encounter when deploying AI. AIDemonstrating the industry applicability and business benefits of AI and integrating it into existing infrastructure are the key obstacles to AI progress in the transportation sector.

Gartner identified four steps that can help transportation CIOs better formulate use cases and identify which business process operations can be extended to AI capabilities.

Step 1: Define AI Use Cases
Transportation CIOs should start by gaining a broad understanding of all areas and use cases where AI can be used in their organization to achieve financial benefits. Essentially, AI must be seen as a tool to solve problems in areas that are critical for transportation companies, such as the reduction of operational costs or greater customer centricity like service reliability and speed of delivery.

“Transportation CIOs should work closely with several experts and vendors who can help them identify specific AI use cases and quantify their benefits,” said Mr Pacheco.

Step 2: Create an AI Growth Plan
Transportation CIOs should develop a concrete plan that demonstrates how AI can help the company achieve growth – either by setting specific revenue targets or through cost optimization that ultimately frees capital to make other investments. The growth plan should also focus on both short payback period actions and long-term deliverables. Some companies, such as Tesla and Bosch, created entire standalone AI teams that not only develop AI applications but educate their organizations on the benefits of AI. This approach enables a greater variety of AI applications across the entire organization.

Step 3: Present Plan to the Board of Directors
Once the AI growth plan is finalized, transportation CIOs should present it to the board of directors. In many cases, this plan will imply adapting the company’s long-term strategy to account for the benefit of AI, along with the necessary investment. As such, showing both long-term growth opportunities and short-term wins to the board of directors is important. To address possible initial skepticism, ensure several case studies that demonstrate successful AI projects are included.

Step 4: Gather Resources
In order to progress and complete an approved AI growth plan, transportation CIOs need to garner the right resources. Gartner analysts said that if the right AI skills and capabilities do not exist internally, talent can be acquired, or external partners can be selected to help the organization acquire an AI skillset.

“Developing successful AI applications requires a multidisciplinary team that gathers both IT expertise and business process owners. This is critical to validate that business requirements are carefully set as well as to ensure the AI solution will tackle the business problem,” said Mr Pacheco. “Companies that are serious about AI need to embrace it as a company-wide priority rather than relegate it as an IT-only objective

Gartner, Inc. is the world’s leading research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500. It equips business leaders with indispensable insights, advice and tools to achieve their mission-critical priorities today and build the successful organizations of tomorrow. Its unmatched combination of expert-led, practitioner-sourced and data-driven research steers clients toward the right decisions on the issues that matter most. It is a trusted advisor and an objective resource for more than 14,000 enterprises in more than 100 countries — across all major functions, in every industry and enterprise size.

Warehouse space: a new strategy for a new reality. By Steve PurviBy Purviss

In the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, logistics professionals will be seeking to create supply chains that are far more flexible and resilient. Inevitably, a re-think on how much inventory is deployed across the network will be a major factor in reducing risk and securing supply. A new, intelligent strategy on managing space could hold the answer?

Covid-19, the associated lock-downs, and the double hit to both supply and demand, has challenged supply chains and distribution networks in ways unprecedented in the history of advanced economies. Some have stepped up to the plate in remarkable style, others are scrabbling to find workable solutions, and some of course have simply collapsed.

Challenges have extended across all supply chain activities, from sourcing, through transport and distribution, to the adoption of safe working practices. A common factor for many supply chains has been radical change in retailers’, manufacturers’ and shippers’ Warehousing arequirements for warehousing and warehouse-related activities. In some cases, sales activity has slowed to a standstill and firms need somewhere, anywhere, to de-stuff containers and store goods that are still coming in from suppliers. In other sectors, health and groceries most obviously, demand has soared. However, the need to maintain safe distances while increasing throughput raises the floor-space requirement even further.

ECommerce and home delivery, to which much retail activity is moving, is notoriously hungry for warehousing/distribution center space. Manufacturers too have backlogs, not only of finished goods that retailers cannot currently take, but also of raw materials, intermediate and part-finished goods that are waiting on disrupted supply lines.

According to a report just published by property consultants, JLL entitled ‘Covid-19: Global Real Estate Implications’, the disruption to global supply chains will significantly impact the industrial and logistics property sector worldwide. The report notes the ‘outbreak is likely to elevate the issue of supply chain risk mitigation and resilience’, making it likely businesses will start re-shoring or near sourcing, as well as diversifying sourcing, resulting in additional regional demand for industrial facilities.

The report also points out that there could be a reversal of thinking on running lean supply chains with low inventory cover, leading to businesses deciding to increase their inventory levels in the long term – all of which would increase demand for warehousing space.

Clearly, businesses will need to look carefully at how they adapt their supply chains for a new reality post Covid-19, and importantly, how they flex their warehouse space requirements to build in resilience. But before reviewing forward strategies, what have businesses been faced with, here and now?

Enquiries to Bis Henderson Space in April 2020 give a flavor. We have seen manufacturers of, for example, flat pack furniture and kitchen units needing storage because, as no one is moving house or refitting their kitchen at this time. We have been asked to find space to support the spike in healthcare demand. Some requirements are more esoteric – storage of goods intended for a fast food chain’s cancelled promotion, and for goods supporting a major sporting event that has now been postponed to next year.

There are businesses that need space to which they can ‘pull back’ non-essential lines to concentrate on more important products. With much construction work stalled, there is expensive kit that needs to be kept somewhere secure. A trend that may yet be seen is the opportunistic buying of ‘fire sale’ goods in the current depressed markets – these materials and goods will also need to be stored. Some needs are fleeting – one business urgently required temperature-controlled storage, as in the early days of lock-down their usual site was not accepting ‘foreign’ drivers. Other requirements may extend for a year or more, even if lock-down is lifted quite soon.

The nature of the facility required also varies. Some just require deep, dark storage. Others need working space for break-bulk, repackaging, order picking with perhaps significant requirements for labor and IT support as well as space. Others again have minimal floor space requirements – they just need to increase their cross-docking capability. And of course, some need reefer or environmentally controlled facilities, or high security, even bonded, warehousing.

Many businesses are navigating their way through the crisis by throwing extra assets, and cash, at the problem – extra staff, additional vehicles, but also for expensive warehouse space in a seller’s market. It’s worth noting that warehouse estate is attracting premium money from investors, and the UK is reckoned, by Savills and other agents, to be ‘under-warehoused’ even in normal times.

For many, this extra expenditure is unsustainable except in the shortest of terms. Tesco, for example, estimates its cost base has risen by between £650 million and £925 million on an annualized basis. Sales admittedly have soared, but on the lowest margin, basic, groceries. Tesco had the advantage of being able to bring back on line two significant facilities that it had been in the process of selling: other firms are not so blessed.

Amid the frenzied acquisition of warehouse space, it is hard to discern much implementation of deep, pre-existing, strategy. And that is strange as, although the combination of depth, reach and scale of the Covid-19 impact is certainly unprecedented, supply chain shocks are very common.Warehousing b

Covid-19 counts as a natural disaster, but there are others – regionally, many supply chains have not fully recovered from February’s floods. Weather ‘events’ in far-away places – floods in Bangladesh, typhoons in the Philippines – are an accepted hazard for the apparel industry. Globally, the effects of the Japanese tsunami of 2011 on sectors from automotive to electronics are well remembered. And it can seem that ‘100 year events’ now happen every month.

Other circumstances that impact on warehousing requirements have a more human element. ‘Preparation for Brexit’ has become a regular event, rather than the one-off that most businesses anticipated. There are planned events – for example stockpiling in advance of moving or re-equipping a production site, or against a major sporting event, or to support a new product launch. More generally, many companies see predictable activity peaks in the run up to Christmas, Easter, or the summer – weather permitting.

There is also the Black Friday phenomenon. The whole sales and promotions scene is out of kilter – back in the day, these were either to launch a new product into, it was hoped, a successful future, or to clear stocks of the less successful lines, not the almost continuous drive for turnover at the expense of margin.

In the process retailers, and more remotely their manufacturers, have lost an important tool. Sales and promotions could be used judiciously to manage demand, promoting turnover in slack times or on slow-moving lines, and conversely to spread peaks that otherwise would exceed the capacity to supply and so result in lost sales.

Yet in a time when almost every industry, rightly or wrongly, claims to be a lean, ‘Just in Time’ operator, many businesses seem deliberately to exacerbate the peaks and troughs. To work, JIT requires either a steady state, or at least accurate demand forecasting with a high degree of confidence. And so, however lean or JIT a business is at point of production, across the supply chain, buffer stocks are back.

Inevitably, post Covid-19 businesses will be looking to build far greater resilience into their supply chains. This will call for greater flexibility, enhanced agility and most likely, higher levels of inventory in the network.

But how should this stock be managed? Is there a cleverer way of flexing storage capacity with demand, improving efficiency and customer service, while keeping costs to a minimum?

Clearly, going forward, companies need an intelligent strategy for their warehousing requirements. They know there will be peaks and troughs in activity, although they may vary in the confidence with which they can predict either timing or scale. They also know that to use their own assets to fully provision against short-term peak demand would be hugely expensive.

Typical strategy
So, the typical ‘strategy’ is to identify a ‘core capacity’, probably linked in some way to average throughput over the year. That will be served from the business’ own assets or through long-term contracts with 3PLs and might account for 90 per cent or 95 per cent of annual activity. Peaks that exceed that capacity are accommodated by short-term leasing of ‘emergency’ warehousing on a spot market.

On the face of it, that may sound like a reasonable strategy. But there are several problems. Firstly, emergency warehousing of that nature does not come cheap. Short leases are expensive, if the peak is for an event like Black Friday or Christmas there will be many other companies looking for space and driving prices up – and available space may not be in an ideal location for efficient transport and distribution.

Additionally, and depending on the profile of the various peaks and troughs and how they overlap, that ‘core capacity’ may spend much of the year seriously underused. That not only represents capital unnecessarily tied up but may also lead to considerable effort in Warehousing cengaging extra warehouse staff at peak to bring operations up to capacity – before then bringing in the emergency facility as well.

It is also worth bearing in mind that offloading the problem onto a 3PL may not solve the issue. The 3PL has quoted for your business on the basis of clear predictions of volumes and timings. If that suggests, for example, that there is a three-month period where ‘your’ distribution center is half empty, the 3PL will almost certainly have offered that capacity elsewhere. If an unanticipated ‘emergency’ arises the 3PL may not be able to oblige at a reasonable price, or at all. This may not be the 3PL being difficult – it’s how they control costs and leverage their assets.

Resilient strategy
However, there is an alternative strategy. That is to significantly lower the ‘core capacity’ of in-house or 3PL warehousing, and accept that coping with peaks, whether predicted or not, is far from an ‘emergency’ but a normal way of operating. This approach requires access to a range of sites, suitable in terms of size, location, duration of availability, access to labor, IT and other facilities. By tapping into the network of resources available through an independent space broker, and by working with them on a long-term partnership basis, a coherent plan can be developed that builds resilience into the supply chain. Importantly, the relationship needs to be year-round, not ‘just for Christmas’.

As situations develop, forecasts firm up and requirements crystallize, a rolling shortlist of possible solutions can be maintained. Likely sites can be inspected in advance and assessed to ensure that robust processes and continuity are assured – if we use this facility does that require a change in working practices, or in our distribution network, or our IT? Continuous assessment and analysis can enable the early securing of the best facilities at a reasonable cost – far preferable to those available under an emergency spot transaction. And because all this is planned, business can be switched in and out of the additional facilities seamlessly, with minimal impact on the costs and efficiencies of the supply chain and the customers it serves.

In conclusion
Covid-19 is certainly unprecedented in scale, but the problems in supply chain inventory and storage that it is exposing are pre-existing and, not uncommon. The world is increasingly uncertain, and our ability to manipulate supply and demand to our convenience is much diminished.

For many, ‘core’ or ‘steady state’ inventory is a decreasing proportion of the whole: much more is falling into the unpredictable, higher risk segment and that has a big impact on warehousing strategy.

Businesses that win out will take a strategic approach to utilizing flexible storage space on a planned, on-going and coordinated basis, creating a continuous dynamic buffer that flexes with the business. They will work with a specialist space broker/facilitator, not to locate a shed at the last minute, but to analyze the supply chain, the inventory requirements and characteristics, as well as the resulting warehousing needs and solution.

Steve Purvis is Operations Director at Bis Henderson Space. Bis Henderson Space specializes in helping businesses access additional warehouse space and operational services quickly and effectively by matching them with businesses that have spare capacity in their warehouse or by finding longer term alternative property solutions. Bis Henderson Space is able to deploy complex solutions at pace, negotiating flexible contracts specifically tailored to customers’ requirements.

Drones behind the scenes – the as-yet-unseen benefits. By Rohit Gupta

For some years now, drone technology has been billed as the next big thing. For many, the main associations which spring to mind when thinking about the technology are their uses in military defense, surveillance, awe-inspiring landscape photography and wedding videos. Elsewhere, we have seen them wreak havoc at Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

Despite these incidents, drones have huge potential for businesses across many industries, including retail, logistics and healthcare. In fact, it was recently predicted that commercial drones will have an annual impact of $31 billion to $46 billion on GDP in the US alone by 2026. The technology also presents many societal benefits such as reducing crime and saving lives.

The ability of drones to offer these benefits is due to the technology’s ability to capture data from its surroundings and to process this to inform actions. Whether autonomous or supervised, drones have evolved now to have both great range and precision, able to collect a constant stream of various data depending on what sensors are integrated. The application of artificial intelligence (AI) to these data streams will only improve the value of drones.

Here, we explore some of the less obvious benefits the technology can bring to various industries and how to tackle the issue of trust.Drones

  • Reducing human risk: The surveillance potential of drones can really come into its own when it comes to reducing human risk. The range and agility of the technology, combined with its increasing affordability, allows drones to access and assess areas that would otherwise pose huge potential danger. For example, in the aftermath of a natural disaster or explosion when searching for missing or injured people, or to support in the inspection of tall structures or remote oil rigs. The technology can allow teams to conduct rigorous search and rescue or make repairs as quickly and safely, without putting human life in unnecessary danger.
  • Reaching all corners of the world: One of the main criticisms of delivery by drone technology, is that it is unlikely to catch on because the existing infrastructure, already meets consumers’ needs. However, there are places where they can be essential. In remote areas that are cut off from reliable regular transport networks, the delivery of medicine for example, can be relatively cheap, and improve and even save lives. Communities without road, rail or air links, either permanently or as a temporary result of conflict or natural disasters such as a hurricane or earthquake, can also rely on drones for the fast delivery of essentials, including food packages and medicine.
  • The future farmer: Many farms in countries like the US and Australia are too big for a single person, or even a team of people, to manage the entire area of land. Previously, some of the largest farms have depended on the use of small planes to get access to certain areas of farmland, which are expensive to run. Drones offer a cost-effective alternative The technology can also be used to treat crops with on-board sprays with great precision enabling entire fields to be treated far more quickly than with traditional machinery. This level of data collection and analysis is beyond even the largest teams of people. Drones allow for quicker and continuous assessment of vast spaces, both indoors and outdoors, and ultimately will drive improvements in agricultural processes and efficiencies by applying this data analysis to ongoing operations.
  • Keeping in touch: Another example of how the technology can benefit society and solve a recurring problem of providing temporary structures, such a festivals, pop-up venues or emergency shelters with network coverage and Wi-Fi, is through adding telecoms equipment to drones. It works by essentially functioning as a short-term hotspot for that location. This same use can be applied in areas where the power has gone down following a natural disaster or outage, reconnecting communities in an emergency and again assisting in locating individuals.

Putting trust in drones
It was recently found that only 23 per cent of UK adults support deliveries by drone because of the risks associated with it, whether it is about their deliveries being dropped, drones stolen or delivery drivers losing their jobs. Negative stories, whilst rare, do have an impact on the general perception of drone technology, and therefore organizations need to be cognizant of the speed at which they deploy them.

However, the benefits drones can provide in certain circumstances can be substantial, leveraging their prodigious data-capture abilities and allying these with AI-driven analysis to give valuable insights and drive better decisions. As the technology continues to improve in accuracy and ability and organizations refine how the technology can be used to solve complex problems, they will provide increasing value to society and industry. Whilst the sci-fi film imagery of our skies buzzing with drones will for the moment at least remain a fantasy, what is clear is that drone technology will continue to play a vital role both now and in the years to come.

Rohit Gupta is Head of Products and Resources, Europe, at Cognizant. Cognizant is one of the world’s leading professional services companies, transforming clients’ business, operating and technology models for the digital era. Its unique industry-based, consultative approach helps clients envision, build and run more innovative and efficient businesses. Headquartered in the US, Cognizant is ranked 194 on the Fortune 500 and is consistently listed among the most admired companies in the world.

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