Data-driven insight in UK Warehousing

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Discover how AI is revolutionising UK warehousing with smarter, more resilient supply chains, from digital twins to AI copilots, promising efficiency and sustainability in an evolving industry landscape.

18 June 20247 min mins
Benefits of storing physical documents in an offsite commercial records centre

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to disrupt, improve and re-model warehouse operations and supply chains in a profound way. These smart tools – from digital twins to AI Copilots – are already making supply chains more resilient, sustainable and cost effective.

Resilient supply chains have been highly sought since the pandemic, which revealed their fragility across the globe. And – done right – AI will elevate people.

Forbes reports that the UK AI market is worth more than £16.8 billion – according to the US International Trade Administration – and is expected to grow to £801.6 billion by 2035.

Companies that aren’t doing, thinking or speaking the AI speak in the UK warehouse sector in one way or another, will struggle to meet customer expectations if they don’t engage.

But it’s not an easy shift. It wasn’t long ago that some operators were still using paper-based systems (and we all know there’s still a few out there.)

The good news is, Britain is home to twice as many companies providing AI products and services as any other European country, and hundreds more are created each year. So for operators embarking on this journey, they can find the expertise locally.

Iron Mountain – which is working closely with data and intelligence AI firm Dexory – is able to engage with them on Research and Development due to their London and Oxford locations.

It’s an exciting time. AI systems – providing the data it’s fed is high quality – will predict stock locations, replenishment and improve productivity. Easier peak anyone?

Inventory visibility

True inventory visibility is the carrot that logistics operators have been after for decades. The introduction of data intelligence platform, DexoryView, across four Iron Mountain sites has been a major win for the company’s inventory management.

DexoryView combines a digital twin online platform and an autonomous data-capturing robot, scanning up to 15,000 locations per hour without disrupting daily operations. The platform automates data collection and creates real-time digital twins, which offer insights across warehouse operations and enhanced inventory accuracy.

Data-driven insights like these can help businesses make decisions on pricing, inventory levels and resource allocation.

By simulating different scenarios within the digital twin, you can test new strategies, optimise routes, and forecast the effects of any changes prior to real-world execution.

This AI and robotics will – according to Peter Long, Senior Director of Operations at Iron Mountain, can – “save circa £80,000 per site in labour alone, with stock and location accuracy at more than 99.9%.”

Dexory is a robotics and data intelligence company. A UK based disruptor, it’s entered the industry with a clean slate, unburdened by legacy Materials Handling ideas. Companies like this are essential to moving the industry forward.

AI Copilots

AI Copilots are designed to work alongside humans, providing constant guidance in various tasks and decision-making processes. These AI companions can answer questions, offer suggestions and even automate certain tasks. A little expert on our shoulder, what’s not to like?

According to Ken Lyon, supply chain technology guru, author and Advisory Board Member at Ti Insight, in Ti’s Supply Chain Technology Trends: 2024, these little assistants could change the game in numerous ways:

  • Analyse real-time traffic data, weather conditions, and vehicle performance to determine the most efficient routes for deliveries, reducing fuel consumption and transit times. They can also factor in driver availability and delivery deadlines to optimise schedules.
  • Analyse data from sensors in vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure to predict maintenance needs and prevent costly breakdowns.
  • AI copilots can analyse vast amounts of data from various sources within the logistics network, identifying hidden patterns and providing insights to help managers make informed decisions.

Ken stresses the point that these technologies should be viewed in most cases as tools to support decision making.

Power hungry

In recent years UK warehouse operators have expressed concerns around access to energy. Volatile prices and supply, plus an increase in energy consumption due to warehouse automation and AI, have encouraged operators to take control of the situation in-house.

Iron Mountain's Rugby Campus has been constructed to support the higher levels of energy its AI and automation are eating up, whilst achieving net-zero carbon emissions. It has PV solar power generation, PIR motion sensor LED lighting, EV car charging stations and rain water harvesting.

Through its partner Tritax, the Rugby Campus holds an Energy Centre combining rooftop solar PV, battery storage grid and combined heat and power plant, enabling round the clock solar electricity around the site. The distribution provides resilience, mixing multiple sources of supply and delivering power over multiple cables, designed to expand and meet increased demands from modern tech.

Getting comfortable with AI technology

AI technology – still a bit of an ‘unknown’ – can make even the tech-savvy amongst us nervous. Those at the top leading the change must be fully engaged in the move. It’s their job to build trust in AI in their employees – especially the non tech-savvy – to gain their buy-in.

Thorough testing and training with AI systems before they’re rolled out will help to build that trust amongst colleagues and avoid unintended consequences. Upskill and elevate (have you spotted someone on the warehouse floor who might make a decent data analyst?)

There is concern that AI could reduce human connection and jobs, which is why some high-profile brands may be deterred from being early adopters. However, if the business devises ways to elevate people, then it’s a win, not a scandal.

And ensuring diversity of thought is critical too. Include representatives from different departments, levels and demographic groups on the change management team to get diverse perspectives. (Having input from both technical and non-technical colleagues is important.) Partner with external organisations which can support valuable context around AI ethics.

As AI takes on more decision making, there needs to be a robust system which monitors for unintended consequences.

And finally, establish feedback channels for employees to voice concerns over AI systems. This way you can find out who is being negatively impacted. This can help surface potential issues and ensure AI systems are developed and used responsibly across the organisation.

AI critical for WaaS

Iron Mountain’s Warehousing as a Service (WaaS) supports its clients with data-driven insights so that together, they can make better decisions on pricing, inventory levels and resource allocation. Utilising the DexoryView platform it can test new strategies for clients and forecast the effects of any changes before they’re rolled out.

Artificial Intelligence plays a major role in Iron Mountain’s 3PL services, and creates the flexibility clients crave in 2024. Responsible adoption of AI at Iron Mountain is providing its clients with a flexible edge.

To find out more about Iron Mountain’s WaaS visit…