Automating the loading process to improve the HGV driver experience
Logistics companies around the world continue to wrestle with a chronic shortage of HGV drivers. The crisis remains complex and far-ranging, nuanced from market to market, and there’s no doubt the road to recovery will be a long one.
But there is a road to recovery. Take the UK, for example, where recent statistics have been a cause for cautious optimism. The Department for Transport has revealed a record number of HGV driving tests are now underway. Analysis of the latest Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey data shows the number of HGV drivers in employment, though still worryingly low, has not fallen as significantly as in recent quarters.
These green shoots of recovery must now be nurtured to grow. A long-term solution to the shortage doesn’t end with attracting new HGV drivers the industry needs to be able to retain a skilled workforce too. For this, the day-to-day experience of HGV drivers must continue to improve. Automation within the warehouse will not only future-proof a business against continuing staff shortages, but it will create a safer, more efficient, and therefore more enjoyable working environment. Where HGV drivers are concerned, this means a focus on the loading bay, explains Wouter Satijn, sales director, Joloda Hydraroll.
According to recent research undertaken on behalf of Joloda Hydraroll, approximately 90% of UK logistics companies have been affected by the HGV driver crisis. The UK Warehousing Association found that warehouses in Britain are paying up to 30% more to recruit workers. Of course, improving pay is just one part of successful staff recruitment and retention. Important factors for anyone considering a new role, or their future career, also include job satisfaction and safety. However, the role of HGV drivers remains fraught with inefficiencies, which can have a big impact on morale.
A Talent in Logistics survey revealed less than a third of HGV drivers feel valued, with a majority feeling disengaged. After all, who wants to work in a cold, damp, and potentially dangerous unloading bay? Or work a longer shift just to wait in a warehouse car park for the chance to load or unload? A focus on the loading process is a vital next step in warehouse automation. Removing inefficiencies from everyday operations always makes good business sense. The fact that doing so will also improve the working experience at a time of significant staffing issues makes it even better.
Lorry driving, and working in logistics in general, is a demanding profession. It’s very physical and drivers are under pressure to deliver goods to their destination within the allotted travel time. On arrival at the loading bay, however, HGV drivers will often have to wait for hours. When it is their turn, it takes a long time for warehouse operatives using a forklift to load and unload the trailer to load a full trailer, it can typically take 30 to 45 minutes.
This working experience has to improve and that can only be achieved by using automated solutions to speed up the loading and unloading process. For comparison, an automated loading system can complete the loading procedure in less than five minutes. Automating this part of the logistics process also minimises the risk of accidents and product damage, making it far safer for all involved.
Automation in action
In a typical business case, a warehouse or factory might produce 928 pallets per day, shuttling 32 pallets each time across a 27km/ 16-mile journey. To do so would require the efforts of 12 HGV drivers (sharing 3 x 8-hour shifts in 24 hours), as well as three forklift drivers. By automating the loading process, thereby speeding up the turnaround time of each trailer, the company would stand to save 12,350 hours of HGV driver waiting time in just one year a reduction of 85%. This would go a long way in addressing the uncertainty and stress associated with meeting strict delivery deadlines.
During times of staff shortage, automating the loading process also alleviates the strain on HGV drivers and companies by effectively halving the number of shifts required. The need for forklifts is removed from the process entirely, reducing the site’s overall number of forklift driven kilometres per year by 2,642km. It all amounts to a safer and more efficient loading environment, which has a profound impact on the day-to-day working experience. Additionally, for the business, it means a more streamlined and cost-efficient operation, a better use of available space, and reduced damage to equipment and products.
To build and retain a skilled and contented workforce, logistics companies must continue to innovate and improve the HGV driver experience. Automating the warehouse is a journey, and automating the loading process is an essential next step to gaining efficiencies that will also positively impact driver satisfaction and productivity.
The author is Wouter Satijn, sales director, Joloda Hydraroll.
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