August 27, 2014

If you’re celebrating anything and everything before the end of summer this week, we have another for you to throw on the pile: New York City’s 350th birthday party!

English: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & Ne...
Bird’s eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What, you didn’t buy a gift?

Well, you can keep that credit card in your wallet, as very few folks will be celebrating what we might expect to be quite a historic milestone for our area. It turns out that Americans aren’t big on breaking out the bubbly to mark the arrival of the British, regardless of how many centuries have passed.

As the piece explains, no major events are planned for the city on this particular birthday. Some would argue that 1664 has no business even being recognized as the city’s DOB. These folks would instead direct us to 1625, and the settlement of a sleepy little Dutch outpost called New Amsterdam, on the land where now some of the world’s most crucial financial players ply their trade.

One way or another, there’s not a lot of birthday cake being passed around on either occasion.

An interesting side-note in this history lesson – and one more closely related to our profession – is just how crucial a role the East coast’s ports and waterways played in the ownership and development of our region.

If you read all the way through the New York Times article linked earlier, you’ll notice that the British takeover of New Amsterdam was largely achieved by leveraging their increasingly powerful naval influence at key points along the Hudson River and Verrazano Narrows. The battle was a bloodless one, in part due to the declining power of the Dutch incumbents, but also because the Brits found a way to control these key entry and exit points to the city.

Even today, with air travel dominant and the car as the main mode of transport to traverse the country, ports on the East and West coasts dominate the decisions made by supply chain planners. For sheer size of volume and cost-effectiveness, it’s hard to beat the power of a ship coming into port.

Whether the British knew this 350 years ago, or simply got lucky with one of many imperial “acquisitions” is up for debate. What’s completely certain is that they won’t be invited back for a party!

August 22, 2014

If you missed our monthly newsletter, you also missed an opportunity to discover the unexpected culinary corner that is *drum roll* North Brunswick, New Jersey!

Yes, yes, we’re aware that dining in North Brunswick doesn’t receive the same praise as TriBeCa (or perhaps even Teaneck), but if you know where to look, great food ios everywher. And one man who knows just where to look is Capacity LLC CEO, Jeff Kaiden. Continue reading Capacity’s Culinary Corner: Dining in North Brunswick, NJ

August 20, 2014
Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki, looking west.
The streets of Helsinki will soon see driverless cars mix  with other modes of transport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time we looked at automated vehicle delivery, it involved a courier using GPS to locate a car’s coordinates for order drop off. So not really that automated at all, except for the location and scheduling part.

When it comes to using driverless vehicles for transport planning, however, we’re firmly at the automated end of the equation.

While still a long way off, we already see the technology ready to roll for driverless vehicles. Google’s work in the field has been news for some time, but an ambitious transport project underway in Finland will certainly have the eyes of the world watching, as Helsinki aims to connect up all forms of transport for a seamless, shared transit experience.

The project is sublime in its simple objective, yet unimaginably complex in the underlying logistics. Helsinki will attempt to integrate all forms of transport, old and new, manned and unmanned, into a single app, designed to connect origin and destination with the most efficient route. If that involves connecting up an old bus with a new, shared-use driverless car, all the better.

The theory underpinning all this is that schedules are known, moving parts can now be tracked thanks to geo-location devices, and our own location can be flagged in the same way. By connecting all three and applying some smart algorithms underneath, the optimum route can be calculated based on speed, expense, or any other parameter that matters to the person making the journey.

The parallels and potential applications for driverless, mode-agnostic transport planning in the supply chain are many.

Consider just how similar the proposed system in Helsinki is to solve the challenge that transport planners face every day. It’s often as simple as getting from A to B, but there are hundreds of considerations en route that make actually scheduling the moving parts incredibly complex. Managing this complexity is at the heart of logistics, and any help that technology can offer along the way is warmly received.

A transport planning team with mobile access to an app that calculates the complex variables of their industry gains a significant competitive advantage. The clearest immediate gains are the time saved on factoring in these influences manually to come up with an optimal route. Subsequent spin-off wins could include new transport opportunities being flagged, increased adoption of intermodal transport solutions, and reduced training costs as less-experienced employees can be brought up to speed on complex systems in a shorter time frame.

Furthermore, it’s easy to see an entire industry popping up alongside this sort of software, providing customization for the unique transport challenges of each business and helping managers navigate the roll out of such systems. Service providers already exist across the realm of warehouse management systems and freight transit tracking, so it would be no great leap to say that a support system would be required for automated transport planning.

Overall, it’s another reason to keep your finger on the pulse of technology and watch those newswires. Or you could just continue to follow this blog and watch our Facebook / Twitter / Google+ feeds… we’re here to keep you moving!




August 15, 2014

An interesting online article from Area Development magazine takes a look at just how likely it is that we’ll see a rapid move to intermodal supply chain solutions by North American companies.

Map of the North American Class I railroad net...
North American Class I railroad network from 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To support this theory the writer points to an impressive 30 new inland port operations that are now functioning or in the works since the turn of the century. Two-thirds of these are also new as of the past five years, showing the increasing vitality of the trend.

Where unloading facilities open, storage and distribution centers are sure to follow, and the fact that rail freight volume has quadrupled in the last 25 years makes the resurgence of rail connections a very real phenomenon.

The domination of shipping ports and trucking companies has made the coasts the center of attention for as long as most supply chain professionals can remember. Of course goods move all over the country from there, including plenty of internal distribution points, but the promise of rail is that there are towns all along the lines in desperate need of economic regeneration.With development funds being channeled as widely as Ohio and Pennsylvania to Tennessee and New Mexico, a majority of the country stands to compete for the potential new business that new inland facilities bring.

Some of the driving factors here are positive, others less so. We wrote last year about the potential to bring back the true appeal of “Made in the USA,” which many Americans value and would help to kick the economy on to the next step of its recovery.

On the downside, the lack of investment in our roads and bridges is forcing supply chain planners to reevaluate the risk and costs associated with trucking, which helps to make planners pause for thought when it comes to taking advantage to train moves.

In reality, the future of cargo movement will be a carefully crafted blend of sea, rail and road freight (with air reserved for those vital, valuable items that your purchaser simply must have tomorrow!)  The revitalization of the country’s railroads and internal distribution points is nonetheless something to be celebrated, and a trend that the industry will be watching intently.


August 11, 2014
English: a Freightliner truck pulling an Inter...
A Freightliner truck heads north on I-95 in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summer is rapidly running its course, which means the edge of peak season is approaching for supply chain professionals. As we explained last month in our June review, we know it’s easy to miss out on some of the more salient industry news items as the month rolls by.

Our answer to this is to do the work for you and pull together a bite-sized review of the major numbers and announcements. So, here are the reports and trends that made the media during July:

  • Intermodal freight movement continues to be up for the year, with a 5.9% gain over the same period in 2013. Railroad are also seeing steady gains over the first 30 weeks of the year, with cumulative volume up 3.6% compared to 2013. Railway Age provides the full figures here.
  • Industry advisers sought additional long-term funding for U.S. infrastructure from lawmakers, beyond the expected relief funds designed to “avert the immediate crisis.” A bipartisan group of 12 current and former transport secretaries made no bones about warning Congress that the temporary funding bill being considered, which allocates almost $11 billion more, won’t be enough to fix the country’s transportation system.
  • And speaking of emergency funding, UPS will spend some $175 million of its own to shore up its seasonal operations as we head toward the holidays. Last year saw several companies fail to deliver on a busier than expected peak season, which Big Brown clearly intends to avoid as packages hit the road this year.
  • A Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey found that almost three-quarters of  U.S. CEOs have plans to redesign their service and fulfillment supply chains, fueled by a renewed confidence in our field as a driver of revenue. Tough economic conditions had pushed supply chain operations firmly into the category of cost savings for several years, but the deeper competitive advantage that improvements can bring are now gaining wider recognition as growth picks up.
  • Meanwhile, a study by Harris Interactive shows a good number of consumers focusing on costs when it comes to ecommerce, most notably shipping costs. Being forced to pay to move a product was the number one annoyance for online shoppers, with 66% describing shipping costs (admittedly vaguely) as their “pet peeve.” Meanwhile, the second most significant annoyance was not getting a product that looks like its online image. So the message is clear for ecommerce fulfillment, build shipping into your product price (and make sure what you send looks the same!)


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