Labour shortages in warehousing caused by a combination of Brexit and the pandemic is leading to greater than ever levels of interest in automation, according to materials handling specialists Linde.

The company has experienced significant automation enquires in the last quarter for labour intensive areas of the warehouse such as picking, packing and shipping customer orders.

Says Kenny Watson, a lead on Automation at Linde: “We are experiencing a major upturn in demand as companies look for a solution to the continuing warehouse labour shortages which are adversely impacting on supply chain performance. This heightened interest is also reflected in the fast-growing appointment of automation directors in companies we are now dealing with.

“As more than 50% of an average distribution centre’s labour force is involved in picking, packing, and shipping customer orders, automated solutions in these areas are attracting a lot of interest.

“This includes our fully automated guided vehicles and narrow isle truck which moves goods in and out of storage locations, as well as our semi-automated order picker where the truck independently follows the picker’s walking path reducing the time of picking considerably.”

Linde’s current experience is further evidence of labour challenges in the logistics industry and specifically in warehousing operations.

According to research by Logistics UK 13% of businesses recently reported severe warehouse staff shortages and the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) revealed that some warehouse operations had vacancy rates of more than 20%. Last September a separate report highlighted that warehouses in Britain were having to pay up to 30% more to recruit staff after a chronic shortage of workers. The situation led to the Chief Executive of the UKWA arguing that the focus on Britain’s HGV driver shortage had overshadowed the labour problems that the warehousing sector was experiencing.

Linde has invested extensively in semi and fully automated warehousing trucks in the last couple of years since the pandemic begun covering goods in, storage, supply to the production/assembly area, order picking, dispatch and goods out for shipment,

Added Watson: “Whilst online shopping was fast growing before Covid it has exploded since. This has led to ever-increasing volumes of goods being generated, placing more pressure on the supply chain at a time when the labour market has been depleted by the effects of Covid and EU workers returning home following Brexit. Consequently, more and more companies appear to be planning to invest in automation.”

Kenny Waton of Linde