This Week in Logistics News (June 6-10, 2016)

My Little League team lost its first playoff game this past Monday. We were down 9-0 after two innings, rallied back to take a 12-9 lead, then the other team came back to tie the game in the bottom of the 6th inning, sending the game to extra innings where we ultimately lost.

Last night, facing elimination, we were down 5-2 in the bottom of the 6th inning, down to our final three outs, when we rallied to tie the game, sending it to extra innings again. But this time we prevailed, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 8th inning.

I came home from both games emotionally drained and exhausted (and starving too because I hadn’t eaten dinner). But there’s also something exhilarating about watching a group of kids, over the course of a few short weeks, come together as friends and as a team, overcoming adversity together, celebrating achievements together, and just having plain old fun together regardless of the score. It’s why I coach. It’s why I love baseball. It’s why I can’t wait for our next game on Sunday.

Now, on to the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

For my comments on Thoma Bravo’s acquisition of Elemica, see yesterday’s post, Follow the Money: Investments Rise in Supply Chain Operating Networks. In short, this acquisition is the latest example of investments rising in Supply Chain Operating Networks, which is being driven by various factors including the convergence of commerce, logistics, and technology.

“The robots are coming, the robots are coming!” shouts the warehouse foreman from the rooftop. Last week, I highlighted how Walmart is piloting the use of drones in its warehouses for inventory tracking. Of course, Amazon has been using robots for years in its distribution centers, since its acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012. And based on news reports this week, Google and DHL have their sights on robots in the warehouse too.

In Google’s case, the company was issued a patent this week that, as reported in Quartz, “outlines a theoretical strategy for ensuring that autonomous and remote-controlled robots in a warehouse facility aren’t overloaded as they move cargo around the warehouse.” More from the article:

The patent outlines a series of robots that could be used in a warehouse, and a system for controlling how quickly they move and accelerate to ensure that these bots can safely load cargo. According to the patent: “Example systems may involve automated loading and/or unloading of boxes and/or other objects, such as into storage containers or to and from delivery vehicles.”

In the theoretical situation described in the patent, robots that have been overloaded, or loaded improperly, may not move, or would move slowly, to ensure they don’t tip over while trying to move their cargo. The machines might do this automatically, or after receiving an input from a human who is controlling it remotely.

It’s not clear whether Google is actually developing this system, but considering its work on drones and other robot-related projects, it’s certainly possible.

Meanwhile, DHL announced that it successfully conducted a pilot test including robot technology for collaborative automated order picking in a DHL Supply Chain warehouse in Unna, Germany. Here are some details from the press release:

The robot called EffiBOT from the French start-up Effidence is a new, fully automated trolley that follows pickers through the warehouse and takes care of most of the physical work.

In addition to EffiBOT, collaborative robots for value-added services such as co-packing as well as mobile piece picking robots autonomously navigating through warehouse shelves are being tested. “In the following weeks, DHL will continuously perform tests with different robot types and systems”, says Markus Kückelhaus, VP Innovation & Trend Research, DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “These evaluation results will then determine which technologies will be permanently implemented and position DHL as one of the leaders in an automated future of logistics.”

Watch the video below for a demonstration.

I like how DHL refers to this work process as “collaborative automated order picking.” Maybe humans will be more successful collaborating with robots than they have been collaborating with other humans.

Moving on to technology news, iContainers, a digital freight forwarder and marketplace for instant quotes and booking, announced that it secured $6.7 million in growth capital funding from European investor Serena Capital and others. Here are some details from the press release:

iContainers is on a mission to make the process of shipping freight easier and more transparent. Since launching in 2007, iContainers has pioneered the next phase in worldwide logistics services by removing the complexities of coordinating with multiple parties, varying processes, lag time, and other points of friction that come with the traditional shipping experience.

[The iContainers] platform allows users to browse options for freight services, shipping rates, and scheduling times, with the world’s only online option for door-to-door pickup – so that businesses are able to save time and improve their bottom line. iContainers is also the only logistics platform available to provide a global and end-to-end trade coverage for ocean freight, inland trucking, and custom clearance services across more than 300 global ports in 1,200 destinations.

To date, iContainers has:

  • Helped nearly 5K customers ship goods across 500,000 trade routes to the 1,200 global destinations supported
  • Grown by 100% year-over-year
  • Doubled its number of staff to 40 employees distributed globally in 2015 alone – and is projected to double again by the end of in 2016

iContainers is another example of a new generation of transportation marketplaces and online services that are focused ease of use, faster deployment, affordable and transparent pricing, and meeting the needs of the small and mid-sized business market (for related commentary, see TMS in the SMB Market: The Evolution Toward Software-as-a-Self-Service). The more successful solution providers like iContainers become, the more attractive they become to the bigger fish in the logistics market who are hungry for growth via acquisitions and hungry to penetrate the SMB market.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo