Walid Khoury, Managing Partner at warehousing technology specialist ALS Logistic Solutions, says artificial intelligence and augmented reality now play a significant role in the logistics of online retail and must now be applied to enhance productivity in the air cargo warehouse
What are the most significant technologies developments introduced in and around the air cargo handling warehouse in the last couple of years?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is not new any longer. The link between devices aims to minimise human involvement and increase the effectiveness of operational processes. That is what logistics operations have successfully implemented in their day-to-day activities. The IT infrastructure of air cargo terminals and high-bay warehousing is fully based on the principles of IoT. Taking into consideration staff availability, high cost of equipment and their breakdown, such machines as Elevating Transfer Vehicles (ETV) and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) are built to speed up and effectively operate the material flow inside the warehouse by using the latest technology currently available.
How do you see this developing next year and beyond?
The storage, transfer, sorting and retrieval of cargo between the warehouse and the landside, or vice versa, will increasingly become fully automated, with interfaces to the airline and customers. All vehicle movements are guided by the Inventory Control System without human interface – but with a possibility of operator override in manual mode in case of an emergency. This is successfully implemented in several terminals worldwide, and ALS is working on improving this process to make the ULD build up semi-automated, to reduce space and manpower requirement.
To what extent has COVID-19 changed the landscape?
The ‘new’ consumer buying habits are unlikely to return to what they once were, even after a vaccine is widely used and life returns to normal. Due to this major change, the growth of e-commerce and its future influence will be far greater than it has ever been. Air cargo is the heart of e-commerce and the upward trend in volumes is seen across the globe. Consumers are demanding faster, better and more cost-effective deliveries than previously known and the only way this can be done is by air. Cargo terminals are not yet being replaced by purely e-commerce terminals, but the separation of volumes is now more evident. Pure e-commerce terminals are on the rise in Europe and Asia.
The cargo growth that was created by the pandemic has largely occurred due to the e-commerce rush. I believe that there will be a range of positive reactions in the industry and mainly in new e-commerce terminals. Some businesses like pharma, cool chain and online shopping will invest in new facilities to protect their customers and continue to invest in their development to have a cutting edge over the competitor next door.
The air cargo business is built around fast deliveries. For the industry to remain competitive, it must digitise all the processes and documentation. The trends are: ONE Record, e-freight and e-AWB to move the industry into a complete paperless operation, and as solution providers, we partner with all our customers in the supply chain through data sharing to make sure the warehouse data helps the process to be able to plan and deliver on their promises to customers.
To what extent are initiatives like IATA’s ONE Record or ONE Source significant in your plans and developments for the air cargo sector?
IATA’s ONE Source is designed to provide the air cargo industry with a wide range of information on infrastructure capabilities and the certifications of service providers. This is not new to the industry but was very much accelerated due to COVID-19 crisis, when shippers of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals’ demand for accurate information for time- and temperature-sensitive shipments was extremely important for the business and industry growth. ONE Source lists critical information on the latest operational details, which are of extreme importance for airlines, cargo facilities, freight forwarders and shippers, etc. We can interface to these platforms with our smart WMS solution to provide accurate information on shipments inside the facilities.
From voice recognition to driverless trucks, artificial intelligence definitely sharpens the market and creates more opportunities. AI and augmented reality (AR) have become major game changers when it comes to online shopping. The warehousing industry needs to use this and develop similar methods to help the warehouse handler visualise the products that they’re handling – whether it’s a clothing item, pharma product or cosmetics. It will enhance the productivity of the e-commerce centres and reduce the time for more accurate deliveries.