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Automation trends in the Middle East

Source:Food Bev Asia

Date Published:1/10/2019 09:01:21 AM

In this interview, Alain Kaddoum general manager for Swisslog Middle East shares the company’s forecast for automation in 2019, as well as the challenges and opportunities in the Middle East.

Swisslog, a member of the KUKA Group, is supporting companies like Almarai and Mai Dubai with automated logistics solutions. According to Alain Kaddoum, general manager for Swisslog Middle East, industries including food and beverage are seeing the need for automation to enhance their level of responsiveness and competitiveness. Furthermore, he anticipates greater use of technologies such as flexible robotics.

Alain Kaddoum, general manager, Swisslog Middle East

Alain Kaddoum, general manager, Swisslog Middle East

What is your forecast of trends in automation for 2019?

The supply chain is being impacted by a number of trends resulting both from the broader changes in society and advances in technology. Some of these are:

  • Omnichannel logistics that facilitate smarter deliveries and address changing consumer habits
  • The entrance of digital technologies (blockchain, drones, 3D printing, autonomous mobile robots, IoT connectivity, Big Data and VR amongst others)
  • Customer-centric production and personalisation

These are just a few examples. In general, the future for intralogistics isn’t in a single technology like robotics, or sensors, or even Big Data, but rather how these elements can be tied together. Flexible robotics and data-driven solutions is the direction we see, with the end goals being cost-competitiveness for operations and a higher level of responsiveness and product availability for end customers.

Which trends will be apparent in the Middle East?

Currently we are seeing some very interesting trends in the Middle East, based on which, our forecast for automations trends in 2019 is as follows:

  • Artificial Intelligence and Robotics – the next wave of change is being brought about by artificial intelligence or AI. A warehouse that deploys robots reduces costs significantly while boosting efficiency.
  • Focus on Supply Chain Visibility and Orchestration – Increasingly businesses in the Middle East are focusing on better visibility of supply chains. This is only natural, given that the Middle East is a retail-strong economy. Greater visibility will mean an improved ability to orchestrate the supply chain for efficiency, service and lower costs.
  • Smart Last Mile Fulfilment – Last mile fulfilment is always a big expense for companies. Therefore, there is a clear need to look for efficient and economic solutions.
  • 3D Printing – 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular in the Middle East. Customers with 3D printing capabilities only have to download patterns and create their own parts on site. The aerospace industry is an example of one such sector that has adopted this technique. If this trend continues, it is not an exaggeration to say that distribution centres may become printer farms in the future rather than the warehouses of today.
  • Blockchain & Smart Contracts – Blockchain and smart contracts are very popular in the financial services industry. While it is still a relatively new concept in warehousing and logistics, the current trend indicates that this will be a way of life in the future. Blockchain enables “smart contracts”, which is the ideal solution for quality issues, late payments, delivery disputes etc. that are daily issues for logistics companies.

How is Swisslog driving F&B automation in the Middle East?

Swisslog offers smart logistics solutions across various sectors, including F&B. This industry is more competitive than ever. Unlike in the past, modern warehouses must be able to deliver nonstandard pallets with the variety of products a customer wants, quickly and cost effectively. Product lines are diversifying with more new drinks and flavors, while store orders are becoming smaller and more frequent. The key to suitable storage and distribution solutions therefore is automation.

As a committed partner and full-service provider of automated intralogistics systems, Swisslog delivers everything companies need to optimize their logistics, from planning through implementation. Our order fulfilment and inventory solutions enable companies to achieve the highest throughput at the lowest cost, efficiently handle large catalogs of SKUs, and accurately meet delivery demands and requirements.

Our logistics automation systems are designed to ensure uptime of more than 98%. The aim is to automate and streamline the warehouse storage and distribution processes for faster, more accurate delivery at lower costs. 

Some of the benefits of logistics automation: 

  • Rapid, accurate order fulfilment 
  • High-density storage and optimized throughput 
  • Forecasting accurate, real-time inventory 
  • Product traceability within the Supply Chain 

What opportunities exist in this sector?

According to a global market research group Euromonitor, the UAE is one of the world’s leading food and beverage markets, worth Dh52.4 billion in 2015. As per estimates from JLL Research, retail supply in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is expected to increase from 6 million sqm in 2016 to 7.5 million sqm gross leasable area (GLA) by 2019. If overnight visitors are considered, Dubai has more outlets per million than New York. This underlines Dubai’s positioning as a global F&B destination. Growing demand in UAE restaurants and fast food chains is expected to give an additional boost to sales in the same category, reaching Dhs40 billion in 2021.

Changes in society are transforming the F&B sector, too. For example, look at the impact of Expo 2020 on the UAE F&B sphere. With thousands of venues opened just in Dubai, consumers are looking for convenient, easy-to-prepare and exotic foods. The food industry is changing fast with new products, convenience meals, organic foods and exclusion diets. Regulators and consumers want to see full Farm to Fork traceability.

To compete, any business needs a highly dynamic warehouse and distribution system to cope with higher outputs and shorter change-over times. Rising costs, changing consumer habits, SKU proliferation and environmental pressures are driving manufacturers to implement new processes simply to keep up. To deliver the right product at the right time to the right place, the food industry needs flexible logistics systems that can ensure delivery of accurate inventory and order forecasts, optimize throughput and ultimately create a competitive advantage.

Which areas of the F&B sector are most challenging?

The typical challenges of running a warehouse are magnified in the deep-freeze environment. It’s hard on staff and equipment. To solve this challenge, we take a goods-to-person approach over person-to-goods picking. We automate any of company’s manual storage, distribution and order picking processes. This keeps employees out of the deep freeze. It also improves speed and accuracy. Swisslog’s Cold&Controlled solutions for material handling, order fulfilment and inventory control reduce risk and complexity. It gives 99% uptime due to reliable automation concept, reduce labour cost, maximise throughput guarantee fresh food delivery to end-customers, control over the cold chain due to food traceability. As demand grows, floor space becomes limited and invaluable as well. An automated system that uses high-density storage, stacked vertically or multiple-deep, also optimizes your floor space. It also decreases energy costs from cold lost through the roof.

Another challenge for F&B businesses – in this challenging environment, their success is based on versatility, efficiency and excellence. While an F&B business needs to deliver high quality across the entire cold chain, they also need to consider ecological impacts and ergonomics. The business needs to handle mixed case orders as efficiently as single SKU pallets and enable safe last mile delivery. And they need to accomplish it all on a framework that allows handling smaller, more frequent orders that can be tracked throughout the entire supply chain.

Which logistics systems are in demand in the F&B sector?

The ideal automated warehouse should support F&B manufacturers to stay as flexible as possible, to improve efficiency, enhance productivity and deliver fresh products and beverages to customers fast. It should offer the agility to react to promotions, seasonal and long-term changes in customer demand.

Some automated logistics technologies used today in the F&B sector are as follows:

  • Automated Pallet Warehouse Systems - Pallets are heavy and energy-intensive to store and retrieve. Pallet warehouses therefore need solutions that maximize throughput and storage density, while reducing energy consumption and keeping costs low. Choosing the right automation solution for a pallet warehouse depends on several factors including the shape, size and height of the high bay warehouse, the number of different products stored in your warehouse as well as the number of pallets stored and retrieved per week, day or hour.

Unique requirements should be taken into consideration to design automated pallet warehouses specifically for certain business needs.


  • A traditional high bay warehouse based on Vectura stacker cranes - It performs equally well in temperatures as low as -30°C in a frozen food warehouse or in ambient environments as high as +50°C. Depending on the storage density and throughput requirements of a warehouse, it can handle one, two or more loads in single, double, triple and multi-deep layouts. Vectura cranes operate at heights up to 50 meters. They are also capable of handling large and unusual loads.

Vectura is shipped in modules which are easily assembled on–site. That means that the roof of the warehouse doesn’t need to be removed. This ensures a rapid installation and minimal risk of disruption to existing operations. One crane can be assembled in one day.

Unique mast design enables low weight, which dramatically reduces energy consumption of up to 20% compared to other pallet cranes.

  • A dynamic PowerStore shuttle system - The modularity of the PowerStore pallet shuttle system enables storage of up to 60% more pallets compared to manual systems. It can also be individually tailored for all shapes and sizes of warehouse buildings.

PowerStore pallet storage systems can be used in a wide range of environments, from -30°C in frozen food storage to 50°C. It can be used in buildings with unusual shapes. PowerStore is ideal for manufacturing businesses, especially those in the fast-moving consumer goods and food and beverage industries.

  • Monorail – F&B warehouses normally require a transportation system capable of covering long distances compared to traditional transportation in and around your pallet warehouse. Monorail can be used in deep freeze temperatures down to -30°C and ambient up to 40° C. It carries loads of up to 1,500 kg. Longer twin loads elements can carry 3,000 kg.
  • Integrated Automatic Transport Systems – The F&B warehouse often requires solutions for the transportation of pallets, cartons, bins, trays and even odd-sized loads. An automated transport system that can integrate completely the warehouse to optimize the flow of materials is always useful.
  • Robot-based picking & palletizing for higher warehouse performance – Our robot-based solutions combine KUKA robots and Swisslog’s intralogistics knowhow. They are designed to reduce operational costs and improve warehouse efficiency, as picking and palletizing can make up to 60% of warehouse operational costs, and are the most time-consuming processes.


  • ACPaQ - automated mixed case palletizing; It is configured using modules and scalable for small, mid-size and large distribution centers handling up to 500,000 cases per day. ACPaQ can be used in ambient temperature and chilled warehouse zones, and can handle almost all types of cartons, shrink wrapper or foiled packages, and pallet types used in retail & beverage industries.


What is the role of automation in quality control?

The F&B supply chain involves numerous processes, workers and touchpoints. It is a well-known fact that quality is critical in this industry. Products must always remain traceable and safe, something that is not always easy to achieve in a system that has so many processes.

Automation, however, can change that completely. Traceability plays an important role in the F&B industry. An automated system deploying modern analytics tools can reliably track products and goods from source to fulfillment. The entire food manufacturing value chain is experiencing a technology driven transition. The networked digital world is introducing faster and more intelligent ways to manage and optimize the food supply chain, improving visibility and safety, and facilitating compliance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Software plays a crucial role in logistics automation operations as well. Such material handling software as SynQ, for example, can also help you unite all processes. It can visualize your system in 3D and allows you to synchronize automation equipment, robotics, people and processes for peak performance, and offers intelligent services for smart management.


How is Swisslog making this possible in the region? 

In the Middle East, we have two examples of automated logistics solutions delivered for the F&B industry. One is for Mai Dubai, UAE, and another for Almarai in Saudi Arabia.

Mai Dubai, the Dubai-based bottled drinking water company, has commissioned Swisslog to automate its storage and distribution logistics at its new mega expansion project in Dubai in order to reach its 2020 goals. The order value of the project amounts to 21 million US dollars.

The major expansion project includes planning and implementing a new six-aisle automated high-bay warehouse for raw products and packaging materials. A few hundred meters away, another high-bay warehouse with 17,560 pallet locations will be erected for finished goods.

The Saudi Arabian group Almarai is one of the largest vertically integrated dairy companies in the world. To serve the growing domestic and international markets, Almarai invested in automated picking, stacking and storing solutions from Swisslog and KUKA for their palletized fresh and refrigerated foods. Challenged by the climatic environment with an extremely high temperature range (from +50 ° C outside to 3°C -5°C in refrigerated environment), several warehouses have been installed for palletized finished goods and a fully automated picking and goods distribution center. The technologies include:

  • Swisslog Vectura pallet stacker cranes for the high bay warehouses
  • Swisslog ProMove conveyors for pallets Automatic Reefer Loading System (ARLS)
  • Swisslog Monorail, Electric suspension system; >40 in Consolidation Facility only
  • Automatic picking modules supplied by KUKA
  • SAP EWM, (Extended Warehouse Management System) to control the material flows and data intelligently and efficiently.

To ensure that the new logistics center runs smoothly and is ready for Industry 4.0, Almarai uses the Swisslog System Operation service concept (24/7) and the latest augmented reality service features.



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