Seeing into the Future

Last week saw the first major event that we have run since we launched our new strategy and identity. It was reassuring and energising to see so many colleagues from across the temperature-controlled logistics industry together. The Future of Refrigeration Conference was a forum for competitors, suppliers, advisers, regulators and commentators to meet, learn, and debate the big issues, opportunities and challenges facing the future of our industry.

Being our first I have to admit to a few nerves running in to it, would the delegates turn up? would the format (especially our new Innovation Zone) work? would the quality of the content match up to our ambitions? I was quickly reassured though as we got underway with a large engaged group of delegates, universally excellent speakers and real buzz in our networking areas.

Focus on Innovation

Our pre-conference appetiser was our Innovation Zone, where selected partners, gave short ten minute introductions to products and services that are currently or have the potential to change the cold chain. These included TRAILAR whose solar powered energy generation solution is being deployed across a range of vehicles, including refrigeration, turning long talked about potential of solar power into a reality. Mobius who have developed a safe, affordable product temperature monitoring solutions with live data tracking. RGVA Vehicle Graphics gave us a glimpse into a future whereby the graphics applied to a vehicle could serve to clean the air on polluted roads.  Hulsteins showcased their ECOGEN hybrid technology that allows operators to run their diesel-powered trailer fridges off the engine alternator. And GMS Group showcase how innovative thinking in how security is managed in a business can transform productivity.

Big Picture

Getting our main conference underway, Paul Jackson, Managing Director of Chiltern Distribution set the tone, he explained the reasons behind the changes to the Federation and the conference. He reminded everyone that “the way we work and the equipment we use has never been more closely scrutinised, we are being asked to deliver more with less, more volume, better reliability, better safety, reduced environmental impact, all these things require investment and yet rates and margins are getting tighter.”  He also set out a sentiment that resonated throughout the day explaining that whilst robust competition will always be the key to successful innovative logistics, there are a number of challenges that will only be addressed through collaboration.

Professor Michael Bourlakis of Cranfield University reminded everyone of the trends that are shaping European logistics. A reminder to us all that logistics is driven first and foremost by the changing world we operate in, the big picture trends of population change, digitisation and environmental concerns are all driving the cold chain.

His messages were backed up later in the day by the insights of Professor Toby Peters of the University of Birmingham who showed convincingly the links between the challenges of delivering cold chain across the world and the UN’s Sustainable Developments Goals.

Hearing these nationally and internationally respected academics speak, really brought home to our audience how what we do fits into the major challenges facing our country and the globe. This is a exciting thought. It left me even more sure about the crucial role that the Federation has to play in making sure our members are represented in the debates ahead.   

Different but the Same

Nick Davies, Head of Transport and Sustainability at Sainsbury’s, had the audience’s rapt attention as he talked through the way his company has continuously adapted its logistics operation to changing retail marketplace. He charted how the business has had to adapt to serving a similar volume of product to twice as many stores over ten years.  He showed impressive results in driving efficiency, reducing environmental impact, whilst maintaining service levels. He was candid in the importance of collaboration in meeting the challenges of the future.

Nick Hay, Chief Executive at Fowler Welch had a similar message. He challenged the audience to think radically about the way we drive efficiencies. He set out the importance of collaboration between third party logistics companies and their customers in identifying the right balance between speed and responsiveness and efficient sustainable operations.

He also challenged the room to think in terms of opportunities for multilateral co-operation between customers and logistics service providers, making sure that as far as possible the supply chains used to deliver goods match the profile, lead times and shelf life required for the product.

Technology Solutions

Our technology session, chaired by Gideon Hillman Director of conference partner The Supply Chain Consulting Group, guided the audience through the key question of how technology can solve problems in the future.

The theme of the presentations from the three speakers was about making sure the application of technology was part of a thought through strategy and not an end in itself.

Alan Hunt, Managing Director of Schmitz CargoBull in UK and Ireland explained how the trailer has evolved from ‘a box on wheels’ to be a sophisticated responsive tool providing real time management data to logistics managers. He was refreshingly candid in his explanation of the importance of working together with other equipment suppliers to develop bespoke solutions that meet the business strategy of clients. He was followed by Joe Grealy of ThermoKing FrigoBlock who gave a comprehensive overview of the pace of technological change in vehicle refrigeration.

Lyall Cresswell, Founder of the Transport Exchange Group – who also deliver the Federation’s innovative Cold Chain Exchange – talked about the platformisation of the supply chain. He charted effectively the explosion of the use of buying and sharing platforms in modern life. He left the audience in no doubt about the extent to which the trend is already impacting on freight and logistics. His question for the audience, how can you shape your business to use this trend to your advantage?

A View from Whitehall

Will Evans, Policy Manager at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and I rounded off the conference. Will providing a clear overview of the Governments’ objectives as set out in the Clean Air Strategy. He stressed the vital role transport must play in meeting the tough and urgent objectives that the government has set. He also made clear that the government’s preference was not for regulation but for collaboration with industry to meet objectives.

I was able to explain the work we are doing with Defra to develop a joint plan for tackling emissions from refrigerated transport. I am genuinely optimistic about what we can achieve by bringing all the relevant parts of this challenge together, be they operators, manufacturers, or government.

The Future  

It was a positive and energising day. I was struck by the warmth and enthusiasm from all involved. It left me clear that whilst we can’t predict the future we have many reasons to be optimistic about it.

This event would not have been possible without our partners, thanks to you all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *