For smart working, you need smart solutions, and innovative technology has seen United Pallet Network (UPN) not only revolutionise their processes and cope with the effects of the recent pandemic, but also ensure efficiencies in the future, whatever that looks like.At the beginning of this year, with no idea what lay ahead, the 93-strong network of palletised freight depots invested in a new SmartHUB, streamlining the arrivals and unloading process at its central hub.Combined with its SmartPOD and SmartDOC support systems, the full operational management system cuts down unnecessary paperwork and waiting times, and, ideal for the new social distancing measures, a reduction in face-to-face contact time between drivers and depot staff .All this has been developed by UPN’s in house IT development team, set up to ensure that the systems built to ensure the smooth working of the national company met its specific requirements without relying on a third-party IT developer.Dave Brown, Managing Director of UPN, said: “We took ownership of our IT development because we know best what we want from a system and to make sure it did exactly what we wanted it to do, we decided that the best way was to do it ourselves.“Although the sector as a whole uses similar technology, we believe we are seen as a leader in the market. We were the first to introduce live signature capture, for instance, which is something everyone uses now.
Investment in technology is always worthwhile, but this year it has really proven to be true. We had launched our new SmartHUB at the beginning of the year and found it invaluable when lockdown was imposed in March as it allowed us to meet distancing measures without too much trouble.”UPN provides its members with a comprehensive range of palletised freight delivery services across the UK and Europe. Its 93 member haulage companies use its centralised system to provide an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable groupage service for moving anything from one to ten pallets for next-day and regular delivery. e only privately-owned pallet network in the UK, its slogan is First Class Travel for Palletised Freight and it achieves that aim with over 98% on time, safe, secure deliveries and the widest range of service options available.To facilitate this, UPN recently moved to a new hub at its base in Litchfield, increasing the size of its premises and investing around £3m in adapting the new 230,000 square foot site.Although growth is only natural for a successful company, Dave Brown is also conscious that as one of the smaller pallet networks, it’s important to maintain a membership level that in turn ensures service levels remain as high as they are. All freight moved is from members, keeping the focus where UPN believes it should be.“We want to grow, and we are growing, we have a number of new members in the pipeline, but we don’t want to end up with a situation where we can’t deliver the level of service we want to,” he explained.
“Flexibility is everything and the focus is not simply on volume, it’s on ensuring we keep up our standards and that our service levels are not affected. e knock-on effect for our members of being part of the network is that their own customers, who bene t from being able to move a small consignment quickly and easily, turn to the member for large haulage needs or storage, so they gain more business as a result.
“Retail changed during the COVID-19 situation, when more people were at home either furloughed or working from home and so our network had to respond to that. Rather than a large consignment of pallets going out to stores, there would be smaller amounts going out more frequently for home delivery. at, combined with the fact that it may be a while before people feel con dent in returning to shopping in retail outlets the way they used to, if they ever do, means that hauliers have to be flexible, and UPN provides that flexibility.” The success of UPN is delivered through its SmartHUB which takes technology out of the office and into the field, providing drivers with everything they need for a smooth route into or out of the hub.Whereas previously drivers would have to get out of the cab and go into the hub to sign in and await instructions for unloading or loading, the new system includes an in-cab app that allows them to sign in as they arrive and be directed into position. e app includes the vehicle’s manifest to cut paperwork and removes the need for face-to-face interaction.Drivers are given an in-out slot at the hub and plan their arrival accordingly, and the app also tracks the vehicle’s route to further improve time management, so that if there’s a traffic issue, for instance, the hub can rearrange the work ow and cut down unnecessary waiting time.“
All of our incoming freight arrives at night ready to go out for delivery the following morning, and we have something in the region of 190 to 200 double desk vehicles coming in each night,” said Dave Brown. “It is vital that we have a way to make that process as straightforward as possible. It also allows us to manage our own shift patterns so that we have the people we need at the times they are most needed.“Technology has transformed the industry and we knew we had to be at the forefront of that. For the sake of the efficient running and the success of the business, but also from a sustainability point of view. The more efficient we are, the greener the transportation of goods from one place to another than is something everyone has to think about these days. Everyone wants to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible, and we can help them to do that with efficient processes of our own.” e next process that will need attention is likely to be over the next few months as the details of how imports and exports in and out of Europe will look as the Brexit regulations take shape.
Currently, there is no clear picture of how the system will work for mainland Europe, or, more importantly for UPN, into Ireland.Dave Brown said: “Ireland is an important market for us and that is something we are keeping a very close eye on. It looks like we won’t have a great deal of time to prepare once the negotiations are finalised but there’s not a great deal we can do about it. Goods will have to keep moving, so we will have to come up with a solution of some kind, and all we can do as a network is stay on top of what’s happening and work to make it as smooth as possible for our members when things change on January 1 2021.“ e fact is that this sector has overcome some incredible challenges this year, and faces the Brexit situation on top of all that. I’m incredibly proud of our membership, it has been a testing time but they have demonstrated their strength. “Getting goods to people, essential goods a lot of the time, is what we do and I think people have come to realise how important we are. We’re key workers, we’re not the NHS in the front line, but we do provide a vital service – when supermarket shelves are suddenly empty, people realise just how important.“ e important thing is to remain upbeat and positive about the future, be as prepared as we can be and keep things moving.”For more information visit www.upn.co.uk