When we talk about the deployment of technology in a warehouse, we often think of robots moving objects without human intervention, thus reducing job opportunities. The reality, however, is quite different. A logistics branch of the Alibaba Group specializing in logistics applied to e-commerce in different regions of the world, including Europe, Cainiao Network demonstrates this by digitizing the logistics industry to unbundle, sort, consolidate and prepare products for sending without impacting the human.
Published on 06-10-2022 at 10:29 – Updated 06-10-2022 at 10:30 a.m.
A strategic anchor point
The inauguration of the Cainiao Logistics hub at Liège Airport on November 8, 2021 represented the most emblematic achievement of the year in terms of foreign investment in Wallonia. Why did you choose Liège? The position of the airport, located in the heart of the Frankfurt-Paris-Amsterdam golden triangle, is central in Europe. The easy accessibility to the rail and road networks and the possibilities of multimodality are also an asset, as is the logistics history of the airport. Before the construction and deployment of its new building, Cainiao Network could already rely on various partners in the Liège airport area to handle the incoming and outgoing flow of goods. Today, the main activities of the eHub of Liège include the rapid transfer of incoming and outgoing goods, de-palletization, sorting of incoming parcels and temporary storage. Object of fantasies as much as of questions, the scale of the project is nevertheless at the height of its ambitions.
The very design of the 30,000 m² warehouse and the digital solutions implemented there stem from a sustainable two-pronged approach: first, developing technology while respecting work ergonomics, with less impact on the health of workers and then improve the traceability of logistics operations, i.e. transparency for consumers, from one point in the chain to another, on the path taken by the products they buy. A good deployment of technology can indeed reduce the intensity of work, while limiting errors of operations, which improves efficiency.
Will robots then replace humans? When the quantity increases, the quality of the logistics flows must follow. Contrary to what one might think, in the buildings of Cainiao, the level of automation is however relatively limited in favor of digitization. For example, according to the less is more principle, the lightweight portable terminal LEMO, developed by Cainiao, makes it possible to digitize warehouse activities thanks to simple operations such as swiping, clicking and typing. This digitization, not to be confused with robotization, does not however occur to the detriment of the individual. The Cainiao Liège eHub aspires to be one such example of this argument. This explains the figure already reached of almost 300 jobs, all profiles combined, logisticians, maintenance agents, security, administrative or executives.
A tracking platform
While Cainiao is the “logistics arm” of the Alibaba group, it is also a package tracking platform. This is how customs formalities are handled as much as possible during the flight. Once on the ground, the goods are traced by devices designed by Cainiao: light and robust, these personal assistants use wifi and bluetooth technology and also allow them to take photos in addition to their scanning function. RFID tags are affixed to specific goods and RFID readers allow incoming and outgoing goods to be directly read, tracked efficiently and their status recorded. Its particularly ergonomic design won it a Red Dot Design Award in April 2021.
These developments are part of the first phase of Cainiao’s global project. Two other phases will soon be completed. The whole project should generate a total of 900 direct jobs, announces the company.
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