This Week in Logistics News (November 27 – December 1, 2017)

It’s December 1, the beginning of the end of 2017. How did we get here so fast?

The mad dash begins to finish all the work that needs to get done before 2018 arrives, so without delay, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

If transportation and logistics are an indicator of economic health, things are looking very good at the moment. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, “Resurgent demand in the long-stagnant industrial sector and a big seasonal boost in e-commerce are pushing more goods through shipping networks on the land, water and air, say operators who expect the strengthening U.S. economy to keep the growth going into 2018.”

Here are some excerpts from the article:

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that U.S. economic output grew at a 3.3% annual rate in the third quarter, faster than earlier estimated, and the reports from shipping sites suggest the muscular economic growth is continuing in the fourth quarter.

The nation’s top ports of entry, Los Angeles-Long Beach and New York-New Jersey, in October imported a combined 1,031,127 20-foot-equivalent units…That amounted to a 2.5% jump from the same month last year. For the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, October’s total cargo volume broke the all-time record for the month.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, which measures per-mile pricing for truckload carriers, rose 5.5% year-over-year in October, reaching an all-time high…Online freight marketplace DAT Solutions LLC said it saw the highest number of weekly loads in mid-November than it had ever measured for spot van freight, with demand up 20% year-over-year.

The looming question is what will happen to trucking capacity, rates, and productivity once the electronic logging devices (ELD) mandate starts getting enforced on December 18, and longer term, can our ports and other transportation infrastructure handle the growth? For related commentary, see Ready For the Next Port Crisis? and Two Important Questions About the Future of Freight Moves.

(Random interruption: What item can you find in a supermarket that has a hyperbolic paraboloid shape? Answer at the end.)

Drones and driverless cars were in the news again this week. First is Mercedes-Benz. As reported by Bloomberg:

Mercedes-Benz, conducting the biggest test using drones to ship everyday items like ground coffee and cellphones, said the mini aircraft completed 100 drop-offs to strategically placed vans in Zurich with a perfect safety record and more deliveries are planned for next year.

About 50 individual customers placed orders with Swiss online shopping platform Siroop, choosing “airmail deals” from selected items from retailer Black & Blaze Coffee Roasting Co. for same-day delivery. The drones then flew to four fixed points in the city, covering a distance as far as 17 kilometers (11 miles) to land on the roofs of specially adapted Mercedes-Benz Vito vans. The parcel is carried by road for the final stretch, before the drones return.

While the drones didn’t directly deliver to a customer’s doorstep, they skipped much of the inner-city traffic, and saved one journey from the retailer to the logistics center.

And in today’s Wall Street Journal, there’s an article highlighting how “a San Francisco-based automated logistics firm called Zipline International Inc. is working with the Rwandan government to deliver blood and vaccines by drone on demand.” Watch the short video below for how it works. In short, deliveries of critical medical supplies that normally take three hours or more in local traffic are done in 15 minutes with drones.

Back on the roads, General Motors, Uber, and Waymo are betting that in less than two years, we will all be hailing driverless taxis and cars to take us places. As reported by Reuters:

General Motors Co laid out its vision for self-driving vehicles on Thursday, telling investors it planned a commercial launch of fleets of fully autonomous robo-taxis in multiple dense urban environments in 2019, in a challenge to rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo.

Until now, GM has said autonomous vehicles were a big part of its future but did not give many details. Now, it has outlined more broadly its strategy, in which self-driving Bolts could be manufactured at scale at GM’s existing plants, driving down costs, and rapidly deployed in major metropolitan markets through a ride service to disrupt incumbents.

Underscoring the competitive landscape, Uber said last week it planned to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd, in a nonexclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. No financial details were disclosed.

Is this another case of technology far outpacing what society and the law are ready for? And will the technology, specifically driverless cars on urban streets, really be ready in a couple of years? If you attended this year’s CSCMP EDGE 2017 conference and listened to Professor Mary “Missy” Cummings’ keynote speech on “The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Logistics,” you probably walked away, like I did, with some serious doubts.

Finally, in software news, BluJay Solutions unveiled its MobileSTAR mobility platform, “a flexible, easy-to-deploy platform that manages the last-mile delivery experience for shippers and carriers of all types.” Here are some details from the press release:

MobileSTAR is a configurable end-to-end application that connects the shipper, operations, management, drivers, and customers with real-time data and automated workflows. For shippers, MobileSTAR can replace manual, labor-intensive tracking processes, without costly integration to telematics providers. Drivers, both private fleet and common carriers, can download the BluJay MobileSTAR application on iOS or Android devices and be immediately connected to the network. The application also provides the benefit of street-level route optimization.

MobileSTAR delivers key functionality including:

  • Real-time connectivity to inbound and outbound shipments
  • Workflow integration
  • Electronic manifest generation
  • Point-to-point and street-level routing and optimization
  • Proactive customer shipment alerts
  • Proof of delivery and pick-up with signatures and picture
  • GPS tracking and geofences
  • Ad-hoc pick-up and delivery management
  • In-depot / in-warehouse management
  • Business intelligence and reporting

The foundation of this solution comes from BluJay’s acquisition of Blackbay earlier this year. As I wrote at the time, “one of the things the BluJay team is most excited about is Blackbay’s logistics application framework, which the company plans to use as its mobile development platform moving forward across its entire TMS solution footprint.”

Well, here we are almost 8 months later, and MobileSTAR is the realization of that promise. I haven’t seen a full demo of it yet, but BluJay provided a preview of some of the features announced this week at its user conference back in April.

I’ll just repeat what I wrote earlier this year:

Mobile technologies in transportation and logistics have come a long way over the past decade — that is, since the iPhone was first introduced, followed by Android devices. And when it comes to last-mile and home delivery operations, mobile technology has become indispensable.

In short, compared to other emerging technologies, mobile is well past the hype stage and delivering (no pun intended) real value to companies today, especially retailers and logistics service providers with last-mile and home delivery operations — and I believe the best is yet to come.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

(What item can you find in a supermarket that has a hyperbolic paraboloid shape? Pringles!)

Song of the Week: “Run for Cover” by The Killers