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Wincanton: W2 Labs

For over 95 years, Wincanton has entered new industry sectors, ventured into new geographies, broadened their services and used technology to manage the increasing pace and complexity of the supply chain. Innovation, therefore, is a part of their DNA.

As the largest UK logistics firm, providing solutions to some of the world’s most admired brands, Wincanton has always put innovation at the forefront of what they do. In 2017, Wincanton partnered with L Marks to launch W2 Labs to encourage startups and emerging suppliers to pitch ideas for how digitisation can drive improvement across the supply chain. The first three iterations discovered, developed and deployed a series of successful innovations into Wincanton and the logistics market, including empowering the returns process, wireless gloves, employee safety technology, and the creation and launch of the OneVast marketplace.

The fourth iteration of W2 Labs will launch early in 2024.

“If IT is our super-tanker, then we also need the speedboats – in the form of L Marks and so on – to help us with the innovation at that level”

Richard Gifford
Chief Information Officer, Wincanton
ZDNet: Building the future of retail with the Internet of Transport

In 2020, the third instalment of the W2 Labs launched, building on the previous successes. The innovation lab was adapted into a ‘Relay’ format, inviting the startups to join for a specific sprint rather than altogether in one larger intake, which allowed the teams to work even closer with the Wincanton teams.  Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme was adapted to run in a fully virtual environment with over 300 applications received of which 26 were asked to pitch their ideas. Following some brilliant pitches and Q&A sessions, six startups were asked to join from different corners of the world from San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv and London.

Wincanton’s aim is to bring fresh thinking to the supply chain, responding intelligently to business change and developing agile, flexible logistics solutions that respond to the needs of the supply chain for the future.

Working internally and with the support of L Marks, the categories chosen for this Lab were:

  • Dark Store: Revolutionising modern day fulfilment.
  • People: Helping Wincanton secure and retain the best possible talent.
  • Construction: focusing on businesses with solutions which can help to ensure time and cost certainty for large scale construction projects.

With a particularly international group of businesses the remote element worked very well, even with an eight hour time difference for some. The engagement shown by the Wincanton sponsors and mentors was fantastic and remarked on by all the teams.

“We were very impressed at the seniority and level of engagement from the Wincanton management. In other programmes we have not had this level of commitment from some of the highest levels of management”

Luke Gotszling
Chief Executive Officer, Noam 

All the teams worked through their respective categories demonstrating a coherent Proof of Concept and Proof of Value, delivering ongoing commercial outcomes for Wincanton and the participating startups.


ZigZag Global

ZigZag’s technology offers end to end returns solution to the retail market which allows retailers to make returns quick and easy for consumers, giving them the ability to grade their returned products, as well as consolidate, refurbish, locally redistribute, recycle, destroy or even resell their stock internationally.

With the increasing burden of customer expectation continues to transform the e-commerce landscape, returns is one of the key issues facing retailers. By combining ZigZag’s returns management platform with Wincanton’s collaborative logistics expertise, the two companies are able to offer a significant value-add to retailers experiencing increased consumer demand. Paul Durkin, Director Home and eFulfilment at Wincanton, said:

“The changing nature of online sales, coupled with new innovations in the marketplace, means that the retail sector is being disrupted at an unprecedented rate. This is putting retailers under huge pressure to improve their customer service levels, especially the way in which they manage returns so that the customer is able to rapidly repurchase alternative goods.

In ZigZag, Wincanton has identified a partner with substantial expertise, and a compelling approach to tackling the returns challenge. By integrating Wincanton’s eFulfilment proposition with ZigZag’s technology, we are able to help retailers process and consolidate returns, thereby reducing costs, as well as the burden on their customer service teams. As part of our W2 Partner Network, this agreement is a key differentiator for us.”

Patrick Eve, Managing Director at ZigZag, said:

“With retail customers not just desiring, but expecting, both free returns and longer returns windows, our technology aims to solve a complex and expensive problem for retailers.

We’re providing a cheaper and more efficient way for retailers to analyse their returned stock, decide what to do with it and keep their customers happy. In partnership with Wincanton, we believe we can play a huge role in helping Wincanton’s retail customers to lead the charge on this issue.


One of the solutions which came through the Dark Store category was BionicHive. A very exciting business solution focusing on a fleet of synchronous robots within a warehouse facility. The SqUID (robots) have been estimated to reduce operational costs by 30-70% and can offer further potential growth as more robots enter operations.
SqUID, is said to be the only solution that can go vertically to any height of a storage shelf rack, allowing floor to ceiling picking and put-away without any change to the packages or the actual shelf racks.

For the purpose of the programme, it was decided that the most suitable facility to test the BionicHive fleet would be Wincanton’s site in Corby. The warehouse is 25,000 msq and utilises adjustable pallet racking (APR), ideal for BionicHive’s robots. As it stands the majority of the picking is undertaken via APR under human supervision.

Due to Covid travel restrictions, the team conducted a virtual simulation at BionicHive’s HQ demonstrating how the SqUID works. The racking used was adjusted to mimic that used by Wincanton. It was a huge success seeing as the Wincanton teams not only managed to see them in action, but this spurred on a number of operational discussions and further talks.

As well as demonstrating the robots in action, the BionicHive team processed and analysed the current warehouse management system (WMS) data and looked at the comparison and the value add. Discussions are ongoing and once international travel returns a site visit to Corby will take place.

With products and innovations such as BionicHive it’s difficult to not get excited, in particular when one considers the productivity savings that can be achieved. During the lab, BionicHive even caught the eye of Elon Musk and tweeted “The robot future is coming”.

Parkour SC (former CLOUDLEAF)

Ventures Portfolio Cloudleaf

Addressing Construction, Cloudleaf provides users with continuous visibility into the context, condition, timing and location of the assets throughout their supply chain. When talking of condition monitoring, the tracker can report what temperature the asset is,what vibration levels it has incurred and even the moisture it may have been exposed to. The user can set rules for the asset to not pass a certain temperature for example, and the tracker will inform the user if or when it does.  Throughout the Lab, a clear POV was demonstrated by the Cloudleaf team, successfully tracking nationally and internationally a number of assets, and providing real time data and insight into the condition, location and context of these assets throughout the transit.

One of the use cases for the lab was an asset which was tracked between the UK and Italy. It was very exciting for both teams to see the live location, condition and many different stages of the four day trip. This particular asset was of high importance and valued in the 10s of millions of pounds. The successful tracking of extremely high value large items both nationally and internationally showcased the value of the Cloudleaf product. Shipment information and issue resolution workflows can be configured based on business rules set by Wincanton. Analytics and detailed KPI reports can be generated providing the end-to-end history of the assets journey and can be shared easily with any interested party.

Understandably there is a wide applicability across the Wincanton business for such a solution not only in the successful tracking but also in accountability of the items tracked and their condition prior, during and post delivery. Discussions continue between Wincanton and the Cloudleaf so we look forward to seeing where their potential partnership goes next!


For the People category, ThriveMap successfully showcased a very innovative solution to a growing industry issue facing not only logistics, but many aspects of the UK employment sector, due to a combination of both Brexit and Covid.

Improving the hiring process at Wincanton and its partners is a strategic priority for the business. Considering the scale and size of the operations which Wincanton manages, be it a warehouse operation or an industrial site, the hiring process is crucial to ensure the operations run cost effectively and smoothly.
ThriveMap makes hiring better by creating ‘realistic job assessments’ that reduce new hire attrition, saves time and improves new hire performance. They do this by creating a digital day in the life experience of a job allowing candidates to gain a real understanding of the role before they start.

“Our research shows that 1 in 2 people leave a job because the reality of it doesn’t meet their expectations ahead of joining.”

Christopher Platts
Chief Executive Officer, ThriveMap 

For the Lab, ThriveMap focused on one of Wincanton’s partners Screwfix, and one of their warehouses managed by Wincanton in Litchfield, and looked to address three main objectives:

Saving time which can be attributed to a direct cost saving
Improving retention of new recruits
Improving quality of new recruits.

They looked to address this problem by automating the hiring process entirely. ‘From apply to “hi” in 24 hours’.

In a highly competitive market due to a labour shortage, time saving through an innovative solution is crucial. It improves retention and the quality of the applicant at a time when those that do want a job want it quickly and they are in high demand. Although faced with some setbacks, the results have been extremely positive post-lab, with ThriveMap in discussion with Wincanton to explore a POC 2.0 and further explore areas they visited throughout the lab.


Storekat joined the first iteration of W2 Labs in 2017.  As Storekat had not launched a product before entering the lab, the use case for the programme was to develop an MVP for warehouse underutilisation and improved efficiencies, through the concept outlined within Storekat’s application. This was a key pain-point for Wincanton and having a solution that directly addressed these issues provided significant operational benefits.

Storekat emerged from the programme with a working MVP that addressed the key issues faced by Wincanton. Storekat have capitalised on their ongoing relationship with Wincanton by developing a fully functioning product, OneVast, for the marketplace. Wincanton and are now managing 44.6m sq/m of space through the OneVast solution, making Storekat the largest provider of this kind in the UK. In order to assist Storekat in the development and deployment of this product both L Marks and Wincanton chose to make a strategic investment in the company and Storekat have received matched commercialisation grant funding from the Australian government

OneVastWarehouse launched publicly in June 2019 as a collaborative platform matches buyers and sellers of warehouse space, allowing companies that need on-demand access to storage to find it quickly, and warehouse owners the opportunity to advertise underutilised space to generate a new income stream.

“We have pioneered collaborative warehousing for a number of years, but with oneVASTwarehouse we are virtualising our services and getting a better utilisation rate for our customers’ warehouse space. This has evolved from a great idea, created through Wincanton’s W2 Labs programme, in which we explore digital innovation in logistics.

“We are all in a race for space – to find it, to secure it and to generate the best value from it – and oneVASTwarehouse is a brilliant way to virtualise Wincanton’s huge breadth of services, while achieving a far better utilisation rate for our own and our customers’ warehouse space.

“oneVASTwarehouse is exactly the kind of collaborative innovation that defines us.”

Adrian Colman
(then) Chief Executive Officer, Wincanton 


ProGlove have developed a wireless glove with built-in barcode scanners and gesture-sensing features. Barcode scanning is a vital element in logistics. Typically, workers would bear a conventional pistol scanner to carry out the thousands of scans they need to process on a regular day. However, this means that they would have to pick up the device each time they need to scan and put it back down when they had finished. With ProGlove logistics staff carry the scanner with them as part of their work gear and they do not have to reach or search for it. It is sitting on the back of their hand, and they can initiate it effortlessly whenever necessary. Effectively, they do not lose valuable seconds that add up to costly losses throughout the day.

Taking part in the second iteration of W2 Labs, it was assessed that ProGlove would help Wincanton to save up to 4 seconds per scan which has tremendous potential and can easily cut down overall scanning time by up to 50%. Additionally the glove was shown to reduce typical errors, such as mis-picks, by 33%.


Musculoskeletal injuries caused by sprains or strains are one of the main causes of accidents for logistics companies. Soter Analytics diagnoses and coaches workers on how to avoid injury problems through a wearable solution and an app. By detecting behaviours and movements that have a high probability to result in injuries and coaching the worker on how to avoid high-risk movements over a 12-day programme, the risk of a musculoskeletal injury can be reduced by up to 70%. Following the lab, It was decided the trial would take place at an IKEA facility which has had a lot of manual handling problems in the past, following the success of this demonstration 30 potential Wincanton’s sites showed interest in the product with ongoing discussion taking place.

Since then, Wincanton has utilised two solutions from Soter Analytics to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries among colleagues. SoterSpine is focused on lifting activities, such as picking operations, while SoterShoulder is designed for pushing activities such as roll cage movements and home deliveries.

Both solutions consist of a lightweight wearable sensor worn on the collar of workwear, close to the shoulder or spine. The device measures and monitors the wearers at-risk movements, providing real-time audible, vibration and visual biofeedback. This software platform uses an algorithm to identify problematic movements and the risk of ergonomic injuries with all data collated for deeper analysis on the management dashboard. Artificial intelligence then creates a personalised coaching programme for individual Wincanton colleagues to prevent back and shoulder injuries in the workplace. And if a colleague is returning to work after experiencing an injury the Soter devices will capture data to mitigate further injuries, which in turn provides training to manage the avoidance of re-injury.

Today, Soter Analytics is used across eight operations at Wincanton and has delivered a 30% reduction in Spine Hazards per Hour, reducing incidences of poor bending, back twisting and repetitive movements for colleagues in the warehouse.