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The changing face of freight and logistics

July 12, 2017

Underpinning the UK's economy, freight and logistics must be prepared for a every eventuality

At some point all of the goods and services we need on a daily basis are part of a supply chain, and can be considered as freight, with this unlikely to change any time soon. It’s how our food and drink reach shops, pubs and restaurants. It’s the bit in between when you have bought something online and it gets delivered to your home or work, or you collect it from a delivery point. It’s how steel, concrete, bricks and blocks arrive at construction sites to build the infrastructure we need; it’s how waste is collected and recycled. Freight and logistics involves every form of transport from ships, boats, barges and cranes to planes, to trains, lorries, vans, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and people.

It’s habitually thought of as something that just happens in the background, with often only the negative aspects that are noticed, especially in urban areas—large vehicles, noise, emissions and conflict with other road users. However, it supports everything we do and the success of the UK is dependent on the efficient movement of goods and services. The UK economy relies on freight to construct, supply and service our towns and cities, and we need to do all of this in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way possible, which provides a fantastic challenge.

A range of factors are influencing supply chains and driving the trends that have been seen over the past five to ten years. The challenges facing the industry look set to increase in particular in urban logistics. Through a combination of market intelligence and consultation with stakeholders, the points below are an attempt to summarise the vast array of factors shaping the industry:

  • Rising demand: increasing population and quality of life
  • Customer demand: pushing service levels up—next day delivery, same day delivery, one-hour delivery, and returns
  • E-commerce: increasing demand, greater breadth of products and commodities, showrooms not shops
  • Connectivity and communication: internet of things, sharing economy, smart cities
  • Mobility as a Service (MaaS): changing perception of travel and transport in general
  • Open data and co-operative systems: open source data, data sharing—collaboration between companies driving efficiency
  • Traction, fuel, emissions: Alternative fuels—CNG, Hydrogen, Electric Vehicles (EVs)—battery technology, range improvements, quiet vehicles, zero emissions
  • Connected and autonomous vehicles: lorry platooning on strategic roads, connected vehicles and infrastructure, autonomous delivery vehicles
  • Alternative delivery modes/types: drones and bots, peer to peer delivery, cycle and e-bike logistics, 24hr delivery as the norm
  • Consolidation, last mile: multi-user shared consolidation facilities, micro-urban consolidation, delivery point consolidation, more last mile operations
  • Changes in point of delivery: home, work, click and collect, local collection points, locker banks
  • Infrastructure: reallocation of road and kerb space, loss of industrial land, mixing land uses—layered buildings, multi-storey warehouses, dynamic shared use loading bays
  • Warehousing: greater automation, reducing manufacturing and fulfilment costs, 24hr operation
  • 3D printing: at warehouse, store, home, work, construction site—eliminating part of the supply chain
  • Policy and regulation: road charging, Ultra Low Emission Zone, Direct Vision Standard, autonomous vehicles only in urban areas

In short, there are a wealth of potential factors that will influence supply chains and urban logistics in the future. The scale of influence and what this means for the industry will be borne out in time. However, a few key factors appear to be almost certain—demand for goods and services will increase associated with increased population, urbanisation and more e-commerce. Competition, within retail and subsequently the logistics sector, is in turn pushing suppliers and hauliers to continuously review their proposition and provide more delivery options and higher service levels to customers. Technology across all areas and the use of data will continue to improve, proliferate and disrupt the industry and open the door to less traditional and more innovative forms of delivery. Operating models and supply chains will change and adapt and there will be a greater need or requirement for collaboration and consolidation in all its forms.

The scale of impact will vary from sector to sector. Business to business (b2b), business to customer (b2c), couriers, manufacturing, construction, and others will all be influenced in one way or another by one or more of the factors and the pace of change has never been higher due to technology. A few perhaps lesser-knowns at the moment would be just how easily and quickly autonomous zero emission delivery vehicles will materialise—human input may still be necessary to complete final delivery, how well can different land uses be mixed and be accepted by the public, and what the impact of the 3D printing will be as its potential is realised.

One thing that will remain consistent no matter what is that freight and logistics and the movement of goods and services will continue to underpin the economy and support how the UK functions. Through our freight and logistics work at Stantec we are working with our clients to develop plans and strategies to prepare, provide for and pro-actively manage all types of delivery and servicing and construction logistics activity. In turn helping them rise to challenges of this fast changing and critically important industry.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

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