Cambridgeshire haulier drives consolidated deliveries and shared charging forward

Nearly 200 organisations have come together in the Freight Innovation Cluster – convened by Connected Places Catapult – to strengthen ties within the logistics sector. One new member is Welch’s Transport which is developing a freight consolidation centre to reduce the number of trucks heading towards Cambridge.

“We didn’t mean to be pioneers; we just did what we thought was the right thing to do,” remarks Jamie Sands of haulage and warehousing company Welch’s Transport, which this year introduced a fully electric 19t heavy goods vehicle to its fleet, and installed a 150kW rapid charging point at its Cambridgeshire base for any passing haulier to use. “Then we turned around, and it seems everyone is watching us.” 

The company hopes that by offering its supercharger at cost to drivers of electric delivery vehicles it will encourage other hauliers to invest in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure too. “We want to instil a new way of thinking for hauliers, so that when other companies install their own chargers they will offer them for everyone’s use too.” 

Now the family-run company – which next year celebrates 90 years in business – is developing an urban consolidation centre at its 3,700m2 warehousing facility near Duxford, close to the A11 and M11, and around 12km south of Cambridge. The centre aims to accept freight from participating businesses heading towards the city. It will then arrange for onward deliveries to be consolidated into fewer goods vehicles at set times to reduce freight miles, cut congestion and improve local air quality. 

Welch’s Transport is looking to work with a local science park on the outskirts of central Cambridge to trial its consolidation and onward journey service. Goods would arrive at the company’s warehouse, be sorted into cages before being loaded on to appropriate vehicles destined for the science park, with some sites receiving multiple deliveries a day.

“We have the processes in place, the people, the space and vehicles to make it happen,” adds Jamie, who is the company’s Group Operational Support and Systems Manager. Some customers may fear that the new approach will slow down deliveries, as people are so used to parcels arriving swiftly – or just-in-time. But as Jamie points out: “This is a new mindset that people will have to get used to, in order to help with decarbonisation. 

“For the freight sector to decarbonise in the coming decades, it definitely needs some investment in electric vehicles and new thinking too around how goods are delivered.” 

He adds that a further development of the consolidation service could involve a ‘micro fulfilment centre’ where a further sorting of parcels is carried out inside a large vehicle, to allow onward deliveries to be made by an electric-assisted cargo bicycle.

Company welcomed onto the Cluster 

This autumn, Welch’s Transport was welcomed on to the Freight Innovation Cluster, which is supported by the Department for Transport (DfT) and delivered by Connected Places Catapult as part of the Freight Innovation Fund programme. The group meets to discuss opportunities for the freight sector, identify new ways of solving challenges, and create a forum for learning from each other, facilitating networking and relationship building. 

One new business relationship being strengthened by the Cluster is between the haulage company and Optimize, which offers AI-based route optimisation software to ensure vehicles take the most efficient journeys. Optimize is one of 67 firms which joined the Transport Research & Innovation Grants programme this summer, also delivered by the Catapult on behalf of the DfT. 

“The software integrates with our traffic management system, and is very specific about how many miles will be saved, and how long deliveries are likely to take; which helps to overcome any range anxiety associated with driving electric haulage vehicles,” says Jamie.

“We tell it all the jobs taking place that day and driver work patterns, and it churns out the best routes to take and the most efficient order in which to make the deliveries. We are seeing 10 – 15% efficiency gains using the system.”

Since joining the Cluster, Jamie has met several other companies including Electric Assisted Vehicles which offers cargo bikes for last mile deliveries, and Curb Cargo which has developed a delivery consolidation system in the City of London. 

“I’ve spoken with some incredible people and organisations through the Catapult,” he adds. “Collaboration in this space is so important: when it comes to decarbonisation, there are many challenges and no one solution fits all.”


Find out more about the Freight Innovation Cluster.