If there are no further major disruptions to the materials handling and logistics industry and to the economic situation in South Africa, supply chain solutions company Unitrans remains positive that it will be able to reach its targets and continue to add value to its clients.
“Through all the turmoil and Covid-19 disruption, we have proved our resilience and our ability to navigate difficult operating conditions,” says Unitrans warehousing petroleum GM Erich Kuhlmann.
He says that over and above embarking on its organic and acquisitive growth strategies, the company plans is to consolidate its existing client base and maintain its long-term partnerships.
“We are also focusing on new business opportunities to further grow our business through continuous delivery of world-class, innovative, cost-effective solutions for our customers.”
He explains that Unitrans is continuously working with landlords and clients to identify and implement cost-saving initiatives. One area of improvement that Unitrans is actively engaged in is formulating strategies to avert increased utility prices and the challenges being faced in terms of the reliable supply of electricity.
“We are implementing fully off-the-grid solar installations and light-emitting-diode lighting throughout our facilities, as well as drilling boreholes for grey water and use in the gardens. We are not only cutting costs for our clients through these continuous improvement projects, but also increasing our efforts to be an environmentally responsible organisation and become green within our facilities,” Kuhlmann tells Engineering News.
Many of Unitrans’ clients, especially in the oil industry, are continually ramping up their safety requirements. Kuhlmann says, as a result, the company is constantly innovating and improving its safety technology to remain ahead of the curve and align to its client’s requirements.
“We have implemented safety features such as additional fatigue monitors, driver safety cameras, and speed and rest stop monitoring. All these features are being improved constantly to align to best practice standards,” he explains.
The company has also implemented a device management system called Sign-on-Glass, that creates a live proof of delivery (POD) for instant order confirmation notification at the point of delivery, once the product has been successfully handed over to the end-user client. An automatic POD PDF image is then created and PODs can be appended with time stamps and geostamps.
Kuhlmann says this improves efficiency in the payment time cycle.
The implementation of the “green” upgrades will be completed in the next few months. Kuhlmann expects these upgrades to reduce clients’ utility ‘ spend by about 75%, thereby saving them more than R1-million a year in utility costs.
“Moreover, the safety features implemented on our fleet and through our centralised control tower have resulted in a 42% improvement on driver awareness, while distracted driving incidents have decreased by 45%,” he adds.
Managing the Pandemic
Kuhlmann says Unitrans has set up a Covid-19 task team made up of key decision makers within the business. This task team meets weekly to discuss the impact of Covid-19 within the business and South Africa.
“We monitor Covid-19 cases and statistics across our business units, as well as the impact on our operations, and we report on these statistics weekly,” he says, adding that Unitrans has strict Covid-19 hygiene protocols implemented which are visible in all operations, as well as contact tracing and isolation rules.
This has been done to ensure there is limited to no spread within an operation if someone has tested positive for Covid-19 or has been in contact with a positive case.
“During the first lockdown and subsequent lockdowns, we have been quick to get all drivers and operational staff signed up with essential service documents to allow them to operate across provincial borders and during curfew hours,” Kuhlmann reveals.
He says Unitrans is currently assisting its staff in the allocated age brackets to register on the government website to sign up and get vaccinated, which it will continue to do as the age brackets open up for registrations.
“We have also had extensive communications internally on our various channels and social media about the vaccination programme and provided informative links to educate our employees about the Covid-19 vaccine and how it can help our society and the country,” Kuhlmann says.
While Covid-19 is being managed, other factors have impacted on the logistics industry, creating a new challenge to be mitigated amid an already ailing economy.
The riots and looting that erupted across South Africa last month, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, had a significant impact on the logistics industry, operations and the people in affected areas, Kuhlmann notes.
The damage to some facilities has resulted in stock losses, production delays, major rebuilding and security costs.
“We were able to mitigate these challenges by implementing risk management protocols protecting our facilities, for our clients, thereby ensuring no damage was done,” Kuhlmann explains. Moreover, some of the company vehicles were also disabled for safety.
He notes that the company is offering counselling for its staff living in the areas that were severely affected.
“We can confirm that our operations are now fully operational again,” Kuhlmann concludes.