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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August 6, 2014
English: Augmented GeoTravel for iPhone 3GS us...
GeoTravel for iPhone 3GS uses augmented reality to display information (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rapidly advancing technology and supply chain management go hand in hand. Most of the articles we write here seem to touch on new tech in one way or another, whether directly with warehouse drones, or indirectly in terms of consumer behavior as more and more of us live and buy online.

Even so, the idea of futuristic electronic overlays integrating with normal human vision still seems more at home with the Terminator movies than it does with terminating inefficiencies in the supply chain.

But early versions of such displays, more commonly referred to as “Augmented Reality (AR)” by those in the field, already live in our smartphones, and it won’t be long before they find their place in the supply chain.


Supply Chain AR at Work and Play

The leisure applications of augmented reality have been first to roll out, as products like Google Glass and even existing smartphone apps work to add contextual information to what we see and hear. When you snap a picture and it prompts contextual information from Wikitude, or you use Shazam to identify the music you’re listening to while out shopping, that’s early stage AR technology at work.

And even at our own work, around the warehouse and out on the road as products move from A to B, supply chain augmented reality is not far from becoming, well, a reality!

Fleet Owner last month offered an interesting breakdown of the potential for the technology in the trucking industry, demonstrating just how close some of the applications are. As they explain, with “consumer-ready AR products to be launched over the next 12 months,” devices designed specifically for the workplace are likely to be with us in the next two or three years.

How might supply chain professionals make use of augmented reality? Consider these scenarios:

  • Product and cargo information is currently held, at best, on a handheld device, or even stuck on a less portable laptop or desktop computer. Handsfree wearable devices could free workers to gain critical information on each package, such as contents, weight, storage location and stock levels, to improve loading, manage inventory, or reduce handling damages.
  • New employees spend a lot of time poring over manuals and training guides. Having those available as a task is undertaken would aid learning “on the job” and possibly result in less of a learning curve.
  • Similarly, when the kind of custom packaging that we undertake requires a certain look and feel, images of the finished package could easily be overlayed alongside the actual to guide assembly.
  • Reduce workplace dangers by identifying dangerous materials or areas and warning the user ahead of time.
  • Warehouses can be tough places to navigate. Having seamless access to product location information and directions to that point could add up to significant time savings.

Even more encouraging is the fact that the privacy concerns plaguing consumer AR products will be vastly reduced when it comes to the private workplace, allowing the technology to roll out based purely on use benefits rather than social norms.

So, don’t be surprised if you see warehouse workers with all kind of gadgets and gear on your next visit!


August 1, 2014

Continuing our #Unpacking series, today we take the tech out of supply chain terminology.

A great deal of technological wizardry goes into getting your goods from A to B (and C and D and etc.), but it need not be as baffling as some of the acronyms and industry lingo make out.

Here to help you bust that jargon is a clarification on some of the terminology you’re sure to hear as you liaise with logistics partners. Continue reading Unpacking: Supply Chain Tech Talk