This Week in Logistics News (April 8-12, 2019)

Today’s post was written by a robot.

Well, not really, but robots are already writing news stories. As Nicole Martin (a human, I believe) highlighted in a recent Forbes article, “The Washington Post has a robot reporting program called Heliograf. In its first year, it produced approximately 850 articles and earned The Post an award for its ‘Excellence in Use of Bots’ from its work on the 2016 election coverage.”

If you’re a robot looking to write a guest commentary for Talking Logistics, please contact me. No experience necessary, but if you can also deliver groceries, mow the lawn, fix my front door, and fold laundry, that would be great.

In the meantime, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

A Halloween Brexit

The never-ending Brexit discussions have been a bit of a horror show for the business community, as companies try to plan around the uncertainty of what will happen. Therefore, it’s only fitting that the latest deadline for reaching an agreement has been pushed out to October 31, 2019 — yes, Halloween.

As reported by CNBC:

After two years of Brexit negotiations, the U.K. was meant to leave the EU on March 29. With Parliament not backing the deal on offer, the government asked for a short delay to April 12 in order to get backing for an alternative Brexit strategy.

As that has failed to materialize, May was forced last week to ask for a longer delay to June 30 in order to prevent the U.K. leaving the bloc without a deal.

Knowing that reaching a deal by the end of June was probably unrealistic, the EU and UK agreed to a “flexible extension” of the Brexit deadline until Oct. 31.

Will the additional time help? Who knows, but if Halloween arrives with no deal in place, it will be all tricks and no treats when the sun sets.

Robots Everywhere

Robots continue to dominate the headlines:

Amazon has acquired Canvas Technology, a robotics startup based in Boulder, CO that makes an autonomous cart (along with other automation-related technologies). Here’s a video of the technology in action:

Meanwhile, “Walmart is expanding its use of robots in stores to help monitor inventory, clean floors and unload trucks,” as reported by Sarah Nassauer and Chip Cutter in the Wall Street Journal. According to the article:

The country’s largest private employer said at least 300 stores this year will add machines that scan shelves for out-of-stock products. Autonomous floor scrubbers will be deployed in 1,500 stores to help speed up cleaning, after a test in hundreds of stores last year. And the number of conveyor belts that automatically scan and sort products as they come off trucks will more than double, to 1,200.

The company said the addition of a single machine can cut a few hours a day of work previously done by a human, or allow Walmart to allocate fewer people to complete a task, a large saving when spread around 4,600 U.S. stores.

Giant Eagle is also deploying robots at its stores. According to Progressive Grocer, “Giant Eagle has unveiled a pilot program with Simbe Robotics to deploy Tally, Simbe’s autonomous shelf-auditing and inventory analytics solution, at the grocer’s Giant Eagle and Market District stores in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and Akron, Ohio.” Here are some more details from the article:

In the pilot, Tally sends detailed data reports to store teams every 30 minutes that capture, report, and analyze the state and availability of merchandise. The reports help the teams address controllable out-of-stock and pricing situations while optimizing each store’s product layout. The solution requires no infrastructure changes to the store and operates safely during normal store hours alongside shoppers and employees.

The future is already here. It’s clear that robots and humans will be working together in warehouses and stores moving forward. Will they become friends and go out for a beer together after work? If humans decide to strike, as Stop & Shop workers are doing here in MA, will their robots colleagues join them on the picket line?

Software Advancements: Amber Road, Elemica, and Paragon

There’s more going on in the industry besides robots, especially in the software realm.

Amber Road (a Talking Logistics sponsor) “has expanded its support for customs filing in Europe, in conjunction with the launch of a new multi-country customs warehousing platform.” Here are some details from the press release:

The new multi-country customs warehousing solution delivers a single platform from which to take advantage of the cost savings and supply chain efficiencies when moving bonded and non-bonded inventory in and out of Europe.

Supply chain transactions are enhanced with product compliance information to create an electronic version of the customs declaration, which can be directly filed with customs. With embedded business process orchestration frameworks, trade flows can be rapidly defined or reconfigured based on changes to the business or aligned with the specific requirements of a new customs modernization program.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Talking Logistics episode where I discuss “the last customs mile” with Ty Bordner from Amber Road.

In blockchain news, Elemica (a Talking Logistics sponsor) announced a partnership with Centrifuge to create a blockchain-based visibility and financing offering. According to the press release:

Centrifuge is actively working with Elemica to build a network and collaborative space to solve the challenges of decentralized finance. Centrifuge and Elemica will work together to enable supply chain finance, improve supply chain processes and explore various additional use cases, making transactions more manageable and easily authenticated.

There are many use cases for blockchain in supply chain management, but relatively few of them make sense at the moment from a cost vs. benefit vs. other available technology perspective. But supply chain finance, especially in global trade, is certainly among the most promising and compelling.

Finally, Paragon Software Systems announced that it has enhanced its fleXipod proof of delivery system with a map-based track my driver service. Here are some details from the press release:

This functionality enables logistics operations to provide customers with access to live status updates on the progress of their deliveries […] Logistics operators using Paragon’s proof of delivery software now have the option to upgrade the system to include, in both emails and SMS notifications, a link to the new driver tracking functionality. The interface can be branded and customized to provide a range of relevant information such as how many deliveries are left before an order arrives, providing customers with accurate information about arrival times so they can plan their day accordingly.

This is another example of how software providers are innovating their delivery solutions to help their customers differentiate themselves in the market by delivering an enhanced customer experience.

And with that, have a happy weekend.

Song of the Week: “When Am I Gonna Lose You” by Local Natives