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edition 3 (238)
March 2019
Warehouse & industrial

One step ahead of the future

Agnieszka Zielińska

One step ahead of the future
Robbert Heekelaar, the vice-president of architecture and emerging technologies at Prologis

WORLD As technological progress and digitisation open up new possibilities for the warehouse and logistics sector, one company aiming to stand out in this field is Prologis, which in November last year opened a laboratory in San Leandro in the USin order to test and research innovations for the sector. It features a virtual test platform, with both the physical and the virtual laboratories integrated with each other. In this way Prologis intends to gain an insight into the changes that the company and its clients will have to face or embrace in the future.

“We want to be one step ahead of what lies ahead of us, which is why we are employing our knowledge and experience and taking the opportunities we have to improve our competences and services. Our laboratories will be a kind of school and source of knowledge for the sector. We are currently testing out a wide spectrum of innovative systems: from storage equipment to smart metering tools, including temperature sensors and intelligent lighting. The laboratory should ensure that we obtain a thorough understanding of the entire sector,” emphasises Robbert Heekelaar, the vice-president of architecture and emerging technologies at Prologis. At present such experimentation across the warehouse sector is mainly related to IoT and robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. “The aim of our research is to optimise the work of warehouses, and the supply chain, to streamline the work and promote data analysis. We expect that in the future the sector will also be more focused on how to acquire and retain qualified employees,” adds Robbert Heekelaar.

“In France Prologis has decided to introduce its EEGLE pilot system in one warehouse building, which allows tenants to remotely monitor and manage processes in the warehouse, as well as to generate 3D models based on the data collated. Another example from France is an FM Logistic warehouse where autodocks have been introduced to improve the unloading of vehicles. Amazon, meanwhile, has installed the KIVA system in its distribution centres, which among other things controls the operations of robots,” points out Maciej Kotowski, a consultant in the market research and consultancy department at JLL.

Maciej Kotowski, a consultant in the market research and consultancy department at JLL

Time and money

Similar laboratories have yet to open in Poland, where there has not been any research carried out on such a scale u. However, both warehouse developers and their tenants have been actively introducing new and innovative technological systems. According to Anna Głowacz, the director of the industrial department at Axi Immo, innovation requires not only testing but also time. In her view, at the moment warehouse developers are generally tending to follow the demand from their clients. “When the requirements of the tenants change, the developer also starts to look at the optimisation and efficiency of the space. Innovation in the warehouse sector does not necessarily mean coming up with new inventions, but rather involves introducing improvements through the use of the latest technology to accelerate and increase efficiency during the design, construction and use of warehouse and production space,” explains Anna Głowacz. In her opinion, innovations are usually first introduced by companies in highly specialised sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, the automotive industry and international e-commerce. “For instance, Polish pharmaceuticals distributor Neuca has opened an automated warehouse in Toruń, which uses dispensing machines that make it possible to dispatch more than a thousand boxes of medicine within 24 hours. Schenker and its partner Cisco, meanwhile, have installed automatic product recognition systems for locating and segregating the goods,” adds Anna Głowacz.

Nevertheless, according to Maciej Kotowski, the warehouse market can still look on such innovations with a degree of caution and at a distance, regardless of how much of a hot topic they may be. “Their widespread use is still a distant prospect. The market in Poland and Europe has not yet reached the kind of maturity where it can deploy advanced technology on such a large scale. For now the high implementation costs are effectively prohibiting tenants from such a long term investment, as it can only be recouped after about 10–15 years,” he says. In his opinion, the innovations that the warehouse sector is most eager to embrace at the moment are the green technological solutions designed to have a positive impact on the environment and reduce energy consumption.

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