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Key retail figure focused now on owning the automation

03 June 2024

Joe Morris played a pivotal role in the success of TJ Morris, trading as Home Bargains. In this interview, Joe discusses his new company, ARMS Innovations, which is focused on asset lifecycle management in the warehouse.

WHERE DID the idea for ARMS Innovations come from?

Joe Morris (JM): TJ Morris was an early adopter of automation. I’m an engineer who came from a robotics background and was eager to introduce automation when I joined my brother’s business as Operations Director in 2000.

To me, “owning” the automation — managing the engineers who maintained the equipment ourselves — was crucial. It meant that we, rather than the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), had full visibility of the system data. This ethos has heavily influenced the ARMS Innovations approach.

The ARMS Innovations story begins with the software —a task management system—developed by Jonathan Lane, who, at the time, was the Engineering Manager at the Amesbury TJ Morris site.  

Jonathan created software solutions and a system that, instead of sending errors to a control room, triaged them automatically, directly to the engineers. Once digitised, a new engineer, via mobile handset, has all the information required to carry out their job, as efficiently as an engineer that has worked with the equipment for 10 years or more.

And how did it help improve the TJ Morris Operation?

JM: Digitising tasks enables efficiency improvements of 10-20% in automation, control room, facilities, cleaning, contractor, and operational functions. The total labour saving for TJ Morris was £1,800,000 per annum, per site. 

The continuous improvement journey, over time, brings a 5-10% improvement in system availability. For TJ Morris the 5% improvement achieved equated to £170 million per year in extra capacity. 

Fully digitising these tasks is a big job, but there is big payback and benefits. Following the success of the system at TJ Morris, we launched ARMS Innovations in 2022.

Now, the system is being rolled out to warehouse operators, including major UK retailers. We also provide the onsite engineering teams for customers.

What trends are significantly impacting the UK retail sector?

JM: E-commerce has added instability to retail operations. It demands perfection, which adds a lot of pressure to the operation and demands very high system availability.

You need to have the people and systems in place to get it right the first time. That’s why you automate, that’s why you have no option but to digitise.

A second trend is the loss of ready and keen labour. Prior to Brexit the retail industry became complacent, the abundant supply of labour made it much easier. But many of those people have now left the UK, labour costs are rising rapidly, driven by double digit minimum wage inflation, so the only way to get the product out of the door is to automate. 

Ok, what about the early adopters who are eager to extend the life of their assets?

JM: The typical life of an automated distribution centre is 15-20 years. If you can extend this by 5-10 years, you can achieve a 30-50% extra return on investment. Early adopters of automation are facing this challenge now. Current investors in automation will face this challenge in the future. They need to think about it now.

As well as its software, ARMS has developed a documented process for asset lifecycle management, the ARMS QMS (Quality Management System), to cover all of the process required to design, build and operate a highly automated distribution system. 

For more information, visit www.armsinnovations.co.uk

 
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