February 2, 2016

It’s a new month once again, which means another opportunity to look back at the world of order fulfillment and remind ourselves of what happened up and down the supply chain as 2016 got underway. Continue reading Order Fulfillment in Review: January 2016

April 7, 2015

Is it really April already? Yes, the seasons have changed and one-third of the year has already rushed by. If you haven’t yet planned an annual review of your operations, spring is a great time to do so.

Even as we’re busy preparing a must-attend webinar for all of you who want to keep customers coming back for your outstanding order fulfillment, we’ve still compiled the most important logistics industry stories from the past month, in case you missed them. Continue reading Logistics Industry Review: March 2015

April 8, 2014
English: Industrial robot for wood processing ...
Will the future of manufacturing be about more than just machinery? | Image Credit (Wikipedia)

Is it time to replace robots with humans?

No, that’s not a typing error, it’s a question that more and more companies seem to be asking, as the human side of manufacturing fights for focus in a world of automation.

It’s not just small-scale local artisans, either; mass-produced vehicle maker Toyota is also now considering the efficiency advantages of a larger skilled human workforce.


Man vs. Machine?

Although it’s tempting to pit one against the other (even if only for sci-fi fantasy reasons), the future is likely to be one that blends both the robotic and human side of manufacturing.

We wrote last month about it being only a matter of time before the limitations on commercial  drones are lifted. Combined with the promise of 3D printing technologies and the general trend towards automation for many decades, there are plenty of arguments for a machine-heavy future.

But the reality, as Toyota points out, is that efficient manufacturing requires the best of both worlds; human and machine working in sync.

There are two main reasons to return to a more balanced production process. For one, an over-reliance on automation drags human workers down to the level of the robotic parts of production, removing common sense and an ability to improvise.  At the moment – and probably the forseeable future – even the most advanced production systems can’t replicate the complex human reasoning that adjusts to assembly issues, fluctuating resources, or a thousand other complications that can arise.

Secondly, the drive for increased quality while remaining cost-effective efficiency is a concept that requires some input from knowledgeable, skilled human workers. When reviewing processes for long-term improvement that continues to pay back via better products and fewer defects, being able to call upon the expertise of those who do the job is vital.

Robots can’t yet offer flexible reporting or weigh all the alternatives, including the seemingly crazy ideas that often prove valuable. That takes an individual or team that not only knows the production process inside out, but who also have the skills and intelligence to devise and implement improvements.


Consumers Demand Quality


At the other end of the spectrum, there’s also the consumer perspective to consider.

A sizable segment of buyers is demanding a return to more verifiable production methods for a variety of reasons, including economic and ethical considerations. Whatever the drive behind the movement, there’s now room again for businesses to set themselves apart by their methods of manufacturing, rather than merely the cost that feeds in to the final price.

From this angle, companies can use their skilled human workers as a unique selling point. Our second point above becomes even more important, as the people involved in production are a visible, vital part of the marketing process, as well as the manufacturing.

Taken from either angle this demonstrates a sound basis for a return to not only human manufacturing, but also locally-made products. As we discussed last year, this might well help to fuel a wider ‘Made in the USA’ movement that creates more jobs and products closer to home. We certainly don’t want to rid ourselves of robots, but we’re always excited to see skilled people making a difference in the production process!


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March 27, 2014
Raphael Pirker, Founder, Team BlackSheep
Raphael Pirker, drone activist? (Photo credit: LeWeb13)

Drones have become a topic in any conversation about the future of retail and e-commerce. Sure there are all of those pesky practical considerations about drones hitting people, houses, electric wires, etc. But the biggest obstacle, until earlier this month, appeared to be the federal government.


The FAA was master of the skies – at least it was until earlier this month when an Austrian entrepreneur challenged the agency and won. Raphael Pirker was hit with a $10,000 fine by the FAA in 2011 for flying a five pound styrofoam drone above the University of Virginia to film the campus for a promotional video. The FAA charged that he had operated without a license and flown recklessly close to buildings, cars in a tunnel and pedestrians.


In throwing Pirker’s case out, the NTSB administrative judge also threw out the FAA regulation banning drones. Saying that there was no “enforceable” rule against Pirker’s drone, and that the government’s claim amounted to a claim of jurisdiction over everything in the sky, including, “a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider.” Pirker’s company TBS Avionics operates out of Hong Kong.


Where does this leave us? At present, there are no laws against commercial drones. That’s likely to change soon as we confront safety issues. Even Pirker contends that there do need to be safety regulations in place. There is a difference after all between a five pound styrofoam drone flying around the Virginia countryside and a fifty pound drone circling the State Liberty. Time will tell whether the commercial drone market becomes the growth industry that Raphael Pirker glimpses on the horizon.






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December 3, 2013

Rarely a company to fly far from the news, Amazon hit the headlines again over the weekend, this time with the revelation of Prime Air delivery drones to CBS’s ’60 Minutes’.

Setting aside the (purely coincidental, of course) publicity received just in time for a competitive Cyber Monday and the sheer weight of regulatory/privacy/Skynet concerns, the story has set the social web alight with alternative ideas for delivery drones. Continue reading Five Fantastic Alternatives to Amazon’s Delivery Drones