Automation for all

A UK specialist is bringing a new business model to the automation and integration sector, which could be good news for SMEs.

Until now, automation projects have largely been for the mega players only. Only the Amazons, Tescos and Wal-Marts of this world have had the heft in terms of investment, capacity, footprint and staff resource to take expensive projects on with a clear ROI goal in mind and without disrupting their massive day-to-day operations.

But now the world is changing. Customer service requirements in terms of delivery speed, accuracy and personalisation are requiring SMEs to think like the big players – and that means automation and digital transformation. The problem for smaller concerns and ecommerce start-ups embarking on such projects often lies in not having the staff bandwidth and expertise to make the jump with any confidence and without incurring damaging disruption to the core business.

This is where Big Box Group comes in. Initially a strong business as a storage and racking specialist, some five or so years ago its founder Iain Gillard began to embrace a new vision of where warehousing was going, in which scanning efficiencies, AGVs and robots and a greater automation emphasis were front and centre. He forecast that SMEs would need someone to help them through the process, to be a reliable expert partner guaranteed to get the job done – and, crucially, to be a single point of contact.

Jason Dyche, the company’s Head of Automation, is himself a veteran of the German warehousing logistics optimisation field. He bought fully into Gillard’s concept, joining Big Box Group in summer 2020, at the height of the pandemic and in the full knowledge that the need for such skills as Big Box could offer would be accelerated by the world emergency.

“What I liked about the Big Box concept was that, with our wide expertise, we could walk into almost any business and we could help them with anything, within reason,” he reveals. “It could be racking, it could be a mezzanine floor, it could be a temporary building, it could be a scanning solution.”

Does that not make them just another consultancy service, though? “Absolutely not,” he shakes his head. “We are not consultants. We don’t charge a consultancy fee. The idea is that we work in partnership, that we are trusted to get the job over the line. And for the client, the beauty is that they have one phone call to make each time, because we will do the rest for them. If the project is a small one, we know we can go back in confidence a few months later and they will want us to do another, larger job.”

Big Box Group’s automation suite of solutions has led to partnerships with AGV supplier Balyo, narrow-aisle UK forklift specialist Flexi and goods-to-person AMR provider GreyOrange. A fruitful relationship has been established with fast-growing Munich-based wearables innovator ProGlove (pictured).

“The beauty of ProGlove is that it can provide a very quick fix in terms of ROI, perhaps 3-6 months compared to other automation solutions,” explains Jason Dyche. “There’s a fast turnaround, too – orders can be ready in a matter of weeks, whereas AMR and AGV implementation can be, say, 12-18 months.”

He says the company will look at any project within the warehouse, from Goods-In to Goods-Out. With that flexibility in mind, how does he go about assessing what is right for a new client?

“I’ll start by asking, ‘What are your objectives as a business?’ Let’s be honest, the answer is usually going to be: ‘We want to increase our turnover without adding to our overheads, in fact we would prefer to reduce those overheads’. My job is to establish how to do that for them most cost-effectively and appropriately,” he says.

It means no two projects are the same. Currently he is working on a large asset-tracking project for a successful manufacturer which has grown so fast that its inventory has become haphazard; on developing a way to move butter from a pallet to a conveying system more efficiently; and on a scanning project (with ProGlove) for a major British supermarket chain.

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