Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (May 12, 2023)

Which musical act have you seen the most in concert?

For me, you can probably guess the answer if you’re a long-time follower of Talking Logistics. Yes, it’s Depeche Mode, and I’m seeing them again in October.

But number two on the list is Seal

The first time I saw Seal in concert was with my wife, almost 30 years ago, back when we were just friends, at the opening of a Hard Rock Cafe in Phoenix. We saw him again after getting married, and again after having kids, and I think we saw him one other time too.

Tonight, we’re going to see Seal in concert again.

I wonder how many times he’s seen us.


Moving on, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week. 

Weaning Consumers Off “Free” Delivery

Last month, USA Today and others reported that “[Amazon] customers living near a free drop-off location who decide to return their package through UPS may have to pay a $1 fee.” As I commented at the time, the goal is to encourage customers to bring their returns to Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh, and Kohl’s locations, which presumably enables Amazon to process returns more cost effectively by using its own assets and creating greater density and economies of scale.

Now Reuters reports that “Amazon is offering U.S. customers $10 to pick up a purchase [at locations such as Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh or Kohl’s stores] rather than have it shipped to a home address, as the e-commerce giant joins other retailers in racing to slash costs for home delivery and returns amid slack consumer demand.” 

I’ll repeat what I said before: Retailers have overfed us with free shipping and returns for many years; now that we’re fat and happy with it, they have to find ways to wean us off it.

The Department of Transportation’s Freight Logistics Optimization Works Initiative: Still Missing Some Key Stakeholders

“Fifty-three companies [up from the initial 18 participants] representing the end-to-end supply chain are now part of the Department of Transportation’s Freight Logistics Optimization Works,” reports Sarah Zimmerman in Supply Chain Dive. “FLOW participants share shipment data on a daily or weekly basis that is then used to create a tool measuring container demand and fluidity.”

According to the article, “New FLOW members include retail giants Costco and Walmart, in addition to railroad Union Pacific. The program is also expected to expand to additional ports, Celeste Drake, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said at a forum last week.”

Still missing from the FLOW initiative: existing network-based technology companies — like E2open, Descartes, Blume Global, Elemica, Kaleris, Transporeon, Uber Freight, project44, FourKites, One Network and others — that are already enabling some of the capabilities promised by FLOW.

As I wrote back in March 2022 when FLOW was first announced, “there are plenty of ‘freight information exchanges’ available in the market today and they are well past the proof-of-concept stage. Is this another case of the government trying to reinvent the wheel?”

Have network-based technology companies been invited to participate in FLOW? If they haven’t, why not? If they have been invited, why aren’t they participating yet?

If you know, let me know.

A Brigade of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

An army brigade has about 5,000 soldiers. What do you call a force of 5,000 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)?

“DHL Supply Chain will deploy 5,000 Locus Origin AMRs across its global network of warehouses and distribution centers, representing the industry’s largest AMR deal to date,” the two companies announced this week. Here’s more from the press release:

The expanded fleet of Locus AMRs will provide DHL Supply Chain with advanced automation technology to optimize its supply chain operations, and improve worker productivity, order accuracy, speed, and efficiency. The robots will be deployed across DHL Supply Chain’s global network, further enhancing its capabilities in e-commerce fulfillment, retail replenishment, and pharmaceutical and healthcare logistics.   

DHL has now surpassed more than 250 million units picked using the LocusONE solution across its global sites. The deployment of the new LocusBots is expected to be fully integrated into DHL Supply Chain’s operations by the end of the year. 

Every day, every month, every year, there are more robots in the warehouse.

That’s what I wrote in January 2022 in “Robots In The Warehouse: A Question Of When.” I’ll end this post the same way I ended that one: 

Whether it is driven by a tightening labor supply or a need to cost-effectively scale operations, companies and logistics service providers will almost certainly continue to implement robots and other types of warehouse automation technology in the years ahead. 

The question for most companies is not if to implement these technologies, but when.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Waiting for You” by Seal