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What is logistics?

What does the word ‘logistics’ mean to you – what do you think about when you hear the word logistics?
Most of us aren’t even aware of the UK logistics industry. Yet, it’s one of the most successful sectors in UK business. Logistics affects nearly every aspect of our daily lives. It’s quite literally all around us all the time. It never stops, it just continues to grow and respond to the demands we place upon it. One would be forgiven for taking the logistics sector for granted, but, if you scratch beneath the surface a little and understand the principles that define life as we live it, it shouldn’t. After all, without efficient logistics so much is at stake.
Did you know that 95% of fruit and 50% of vegetables eaten in the UK are imported? They arrive by boat, air, and rail nearly every hour of every single day. Our roads, railways, and waterways are the arteries that keep our shelves stocked and the system functioning. Without them, we wouldn’t have any of the things we use, eat, and enjoy. So next time you’re eating your lunchtime sandwich or enjoying your morning coffee, spare a thought for where it’s come from and how it came to you. It all happens right under our noses. The world keeps on turning without us really paying attention, but imagine if it just stopped.
What would you do with a half ton of rubbish you generate each year? That’s just the stuff you see. There’s a further 440 million tonnes of other waste dealt with behind the scenes. In fact, we produce so much rubbish that every two hours we could fill the Albert Hall. But clearing up after us is a dirty job and someone’s got to do it and logistics plays a fundamental part in that. If you’re feeling nice and warm while watching this film, consider the logistics that brought the power to your heating system. A massive 63 million tonnes of coal are burnt in our power stations every year and 70% is moved by train.
And the fuel in your car only gets there because the oil itself is driven to a convenient location for you to get it. Even our alternative energies are hugely dependent on logistics. These farms then generate clean energy, which is harnessed and delivered back into business to supply yet more services. Believe it or not, over 10 billion pounds worth of pharmaceuticals enter the UK every year. A vast majority are brought in by air and then delivered by roads to the wholesalers. As our second biggest sector, the economic health of the nation is also heavily dependent on exports from the UK’s pharmaceutical industries. It’s a big business all made possible through transport logistics.
So other than heating, food, waste removal, construction, manufacturing, our emergency services, our economy, and medicine, what has logistics done for us? Well, without it, every day life would look and feel very different. With no way to ship products from the Far East, there’d be no TV, surround sound, or CD player, for a start. Furniture from Scandinavia and the polish we use to clean it, would disappear. It’s fair to say the price of genuine Turkish rugs would skyrocket too. In fact, without logistics, it would be impossible to obtain the building materials needed to build in the first place. It would be living, but not as we know it.

What does the word ‘logistics’ mean to you – what do you think about when you hear the word logistics?

Simply put – Logistics means getting the right thing, to the right place, at the right time. It started off as a military term but it is now used globally for the storage and movement of goods.

Why do we need logistics – what would life be like without logistics?

The film above, titled ‘Life without logistics’ was produced by the Freight Transport Association and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. It introduces how logistics can affect our day to day lives, and it highlights what life will be like if it didn’t exist. How would we get our bowl of cornflakes and milk in the morning, the chairs we sit on and the table we eat at!

Video reproduced by kind permission of the FTA (Freight Transport Association)

Logistics is more than just transport it also includes storage but more than that, it is how companies plan and organise how raw materials and finished goods get from their point of origin to the consumer and at times back again if we think about returns and what happens in between times.

According to the Council of Logistics Management

“Logistics – is the process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, effective flow and storage of goods, services, and related information from point of origin to point of consumption for the purpose of conforming to customer requirements.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The role of logistics

The role of logistics is to facilitate getting the product to the customer:

  • On time (OT)
  • In Full (IF)
  • To the right person
  • To the right place
  • In the right condition
  • With the right paperwork
  • At the right cost
  • As environmentally friendly as possible

If we order an item from our favourite internet retailer we want to receive that item as quickly as possible, it needs to arrive in pristine condition and we don’t want to pay too much for delivery. If all of this can be done without overly harming the environment, then that is a bonus. We also need the option of returning the item if it doesn’t fit or we don’t like it.

We therefore need to use aircraft, trains, ships, trucks and vans together with warehouses to make this happen.

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