Simple shell, superior fitout – the changing design of Australian logistics

February 24, 2016 / By  

The globalisation of logistics has been a key driver of innovative changes to internal fit out requirements in Australian logistics facilities. Third party logistics (3PL) providers are experiencing substantial growth, largely as a result of international retailers’ expansion into Australia. Meanwhile, Australia’s major supermarket groups are also investing in new warehouse and distribution facilities, enhancing their distribution channels. As a result, distribution centres are becoming more efficient, with a faster turnover of goods desired. The best way to achieve this is with automation.

At the most advanced level, automated robotics has the capability to replace physical labour entirely. At this level, warehouses will have a fully automated motorised racking and stock picking system, hard-wired cabling, stronger slabs with higher load capacity, higher clearances, recessed dispatch docks, cross-docking facilities, and a clear span design with minimal columns. However, due to the significant capital required to install such a fit out, occupiers are more likely to introduce mobile automation instead. This is where automated guided vehicles (AGV) – essentially mini forklifts – come in. These completely automated vehicles can operate on any surface and allow for higher stacking and single item picking.

At the top end of the range, global ICT supply chain services company Synnex completed its fully automated logistics facility in Lidcombe (Sydney Inner West) in 2014. The 10,700 sqm facility measures approximately 29m in height and delivers automated picking for bulky stock, automated labelling and dispatch, as well as back-end automation for customer transactions. The facility also offers lights-out automation (requires no human presence). Snack Brands Australia also implemented automation to its existing distribution facility in Smithfield (Sydney Outer Central West).  Snack Brands integrated AGV into their centre, which replaced most of the existing forklift activity. They also introduced two Roll On Roll Off conveyors to efficiently transport pallets from the factory to warehouse. Despite incorporating different levels of technology, both companies will benefit from productivity gains and reduced operating costs.

At present few occupiers are using top of the range high tech retrieval systems. The high capital costs have limited this investment for many. However, research and development on these systems is increasing which should see costs come down over the next 10 to 15 years, potentially persuading more occupiers to take the leap.

What does this mean for the future designs of our warehouses? The major distribution centres in Europe and Asia already have automation integrated into their facilities, suggesting that there are some major design characteristics that we will soon see more of in Australia. Some of the largest centres overseas are more than 100,000 sqm, but in Australia occupiers are considered heavyweights with 50,000 sqm facilities. High levels of automation also require high bays, more cross docking facilities and efficient space configurations.

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