The Future of 3PL – The Evolution of Automation

Long gone are the days of the horse and cart making daily trips to the local convenience store, or the baker’s son making home deliveries at the crack of dawn down the cobbled streets on his bike. As fond as those memories are for some the future of 3PL is changing, and it’s changing fast!

Delivery Drones

You may have heard about the Amazon drone delivery initiative which will see small packages delivered autonomously to customers by air to a pre-determined location within a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, due to current aviation laws, this particular idea has been ’grounded’ in cities across the world. This means that it is restricted to rural areas and small towns during its test phase. So we’re certainly still a few years away from having our ‘must have’ items airdropped to us at a moment’s notice but it will definitely come.


However, if you live in London and want something delivered quickly then the courier company Hermes are working on an autonomous solution. Their six-wheeled self-driving drones (pictured) are currently being trialled and use ‘courteous’ special programming to navigate the capitals busy streets. The ‘cool box’ on wheels can deliver packages up to 10kgs in weight and can get to places where its pesky air based cousin is not allowed to venture. The concept behind the Hermes ground-based drones is exciting, but on the streets of London, it will take a lot of getting used to. They certainly need to have the infrastructure carefully planned, tested and in place. Busy commuters could be tripping over them before we know it and you know what they say, ‘Where there’s blame, there’s a claim!’

Autonomy in Logistics

Automation is going to play an increasingly bigger part in the world of 3PL in the years to come. At Culina Group head office in Market Drayton for example, we have a fully automated warehouse where a team of ‘robots’ can pick and move several thousand pallets a day working 24/7/365. The next big development in haulage automation is the ‘driverless’ truck and there are several different variations being thoroughly tested by various manufacturers.

OTTO, a San Francisco based company was bought by UBER in 2016 with the focus on producing driverless trucks. The OTTO model still requires a human to drive the truck onto the motorways but once there the driver is free to leave their seat and let the cameras, lasers and radar take over. The overall plan is to reduce the cost of road haulage while increasing both the economic efficiency and productivity. The OTTO system is a retrofit that can be installed in any tractor unit for $30,000 (£23,500) making it far cheaper than the cost of a whole new vehicle.

‘Platooning’ is another concept and is when a series of HGV’s (usually 2-3) are in a wireless chain with the leading vehicle determining the course and speed of those behind. A platooning experiment which took place in April last year saw trucks from six of the industry’s leading manufacturers make an exciting journey across an international border to their final destination of Rotterdam in The Netherlands with the help of their human ‘co-pilots’. Due to current European legislation and the current limitations of the technology the vehicles still require a human in the cab like the OTTO system, but you have to admit it’s a very exciting time for the logistics industry.

You can learn more about ‘platooning’ in the below video

At the other end of the supply chain, warehouses and depots are getting bigger and are integrating more and more technology into the infrastructure and processes. From vast industrial estates filled with ever-expanding facilities to the almost absurd prospect of Amazons ‘Sky depot’ that would float at 45,000ft dispatching drones carrying packages to its growing and demanding customer base.

At Culina Group we fully understand that the industry is evolving and we believe the latest technologies should be embraced if they can offer benefits to both our customers and our business. OK, so we may not be using autonomous vehicles just yet or have drones flying around in our warehouses picking the stock, but we do use the latest technology where we can. Our latest facilities, including Port Salford and Markham Vale, are packed with the latest technology ensuring that these depots will still be cutting edge and relevant for years to come. It is an exciting time in the world of logistics and we are looking forward to the future and what it will bring. Culina Group is a force to be reckoned with and whatever the future brings we’ll be ready for it!

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