XPO is partnering with Nestlé, the world’s biggest food and beverage company, to build a digital warehouse of the future in the heart of the UK. Along with state-of-the-art construction and automation, this new facility will house a dedicated innovation space – part tech lab, part test environment – where our team will work to transform the future of logistics.

More than three years ago, XPO and Nestlé began to plan for a distribution center of unparalleled vision – a warehouse that would prioritize digitization and advanced technology in every facet of its operation. Work crews finally broke ground in Leicestershire, UK this past June. When the 100-foot-tall, 638,000-square-foot building opens in 2020, it will be environmentally sustainable and centrally located next to the M1 motorway and a regional airport, with easy rail access to four major ports and the Channel Tunnel.

The warehouse will be Nestlé’s premier UK distribution center, housing a cross-section of its biggest brands. Most of the building will be dedicated to managing stock with predictive analytics, automation and robotics, with a separate section housing an innovation center – a place for XPO to test and deploy new logistics technology.

“Let’s try that here.”

XPO invests more than $450 million a year in technology and has R&D projects all over the world. The new innovation center won’t replace these efforts. Rather, it’s the perfect venue for testing new tech in a real-life operating environment.

It’s also more than just a physical space. Richard Cawston, managing director of supply chain for XPO Europe, says that the test lab’s cultural aspect is central to its development. “The idea isn’t to build a warehouse that will be outdated in a decade. We’re building a center of innovation that will be just as relevant to Nestlé’s supply chain in 20 years as it is on day one.”

That culture of exploring new frontiers will permeate the facility, Richard says. “We’re running toward technology. The car park and visitor sign-in; the way we move products around the building; the way people interact with equipment, or with payroll, or when booking holidays; the ways we’ll use internet availability – from every conceivable direction, we want to offer the best possible digital experience.”

XPO’s team has already identified 19 potential innovations for the facility, covering everything from simple QR codes to exoskeletal suits for workers. Other innovations under consideration include trailer bay doors with built-in sensors, autonomous vehicles that can lower the risk of accidents, and automated cleaning robots to keep the facility spic and span. “We want to build a culture where every operation can be supported in innovative ways,” Richard says. “We always want to be the first ones to put our hands up and say, ‘Hey, let’s try that here!’” 

Visiting Innovation

Richard notes that in addition to developing and testing new tech, the innovation lab will also serve as the building’s visitor’s center, showcasing the site’s exciting technology. “We’re even going to build gantries so that people can safely view the entire operation from above.” And though the building won’t be open to the public, the visitor’s center will keep busy hosting customers, college students, local school groups and so on. 

The warehouse we’re creating in partnership with Nestlé is still two years away from completion, but excitement about it is already palpable within XPO. After the facility comes together and is outfitted, it will undergo a solid six months of testing before opening for business – but our innovation wheels will be turning long before the first Nestlé’s KitKat bar leaves the shelf.