Earth day inspires green logistics for trucks, trains, and forklifts

By Ben Ames | May 08, 2019 | 1:36 PM | Categories: Green Logistics

Skeptics may say the vision of a sustainable supply chain is a contradiction in terms, thanks to the emissions spewed by 18-wheeler trucks, cargo jets, containerships, forklifts, and parcel delivery vans as they whisk freight around the globe. The challenge may be tough, but a growing number of logistics service providers are convinced there are business benefits to going green.

Just Monday, supply chain specialist APL Logistics Ltd. announced it is bolstering its sustainability practice by hiring an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps fellow to create a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculator. According to the Singapore-based 3PL, which has its U.S. headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., the calculator will allow customers to model greenhouse gas reduction scenarios.

Ordinarily, the move wouldn’t mean much on its own. But this year, it came shortly after the annual flurry of press releases that hits reporters’ email boxes every April 22, touting sustainable supply chain announcements for Earth Day. This year’s theme was all about cutting emissions:

By slashing emissions in nearly every corner of the supply chain, operators could team up to make a collective dent in the clouds of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, while continuing to turn a profit and still deliver their loads on time.

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OmniTRAX's environmentally friendly locomotive
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Mack's fully electric garbage truck Fuel-cell electric heavy-duty truck from Toyota and Kenworth
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Kalmar's electric Empty Container Handler
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Dot Foods' Orange EV electric yard truck Save Mart trucks will run on renewable diesel

Sharper Image catalog bucks the e-commerce trend with… Post-it notes?

By Ben Ames | January 15, 2019 | 6:14 PM

Conventional wisdom in retail circles holds that e-commerce is displacing traditional paper catalog sales in part because it allows stores to target individual consumers with tailored product recommendations generated by their buying histories.

However, fans of the specialty toy and personal goods catalog “The Sharper Image” may have noticed that this winter’s holiday edition departed from that narrative.

Instead of mailing its typical compilation of gadgets and gizmos, the “Holiday Preview 2018” version included a special twist. Thanks to modern printing technology, the catalog included virtual, digital “Post-it notes” superimposed over various pages, transforming the generic catalog into a list of personalized pitches. IMG_1954

The note on the cover read “Welcome back! Look for this note inside for personalized recommendations based on your past purchases.” Curiosity raised, I flipped to an inside page and found other digital sticky notes reading “CHECK this out!” or “you deserve THIS!” scrawled in a computer font suggesting handwritten script, as if a friend had bookmarked the catalog to highlight thoughtful suggestions.

In my version, a wireless TV speaker selling for $149.99 was marked with a digital note reading “You need this!” while a multi-surface cordless mop listed at $179.99 bore the tag “order it today!” (The note did not answer my deeper question, which is to ask whether normal mops aren’t ALREADY both multi-surface and cordless, and cost considerably less than $179.99).

A surround sound shower system worth $99.99 was marked “take a look!” while a $129.99 smart sensing digital ultrasonic humidifier said “exclusively for you!” and a $99.99 premium innovative defrosting tray was tagged “your new favorite!”

The e-commerce revolution is probably here to stay, notwithstanding The Sharper Image’s clever marketing ploy. After all, online retailing offers a host of other competitive benefits over mail-order fulfillment, such as faster home delivery speeds for orders, an exoneration of the postal fees needed to mail the volumes, and the agility to instantly update inventory and prices.

Still, the approach marked a clever way to push back again a dominant school of thought, showing that logistics practitioners will probably always be adjusting to new sales modes and strategies.

… and in case you’re curious, I did not order any of the curated goods described above. Drop me a line if you want to share a product review of that magical mop.



Birthdays of logistics firms in 2019 show burst of innovation

By Ben Ames | January 04, 2019 | 8:58 AM | Categories: Technology

A post went around social media over the New Year’s break, listing the ages in 2019 of a handful of consumer technology firms. The firms range from upstarts like the crowd-sourced, ride-hailing service Lyft (7 years) and the social network Snapchat (8 years) to stalwarts like personal computer pioneers HP (80 years) and IBM (108 years). The full list follows:

Clouds_dispatches_blogLyft: 7 years
Snapchat: 8 years
Uber: 10 years
Twitter: 13 years
Facebook: 15 years
Tesla: 16 years
Google: 21 years
Mozilla: 21 years
Netflix: 22 years
Amazon: 25 years
Apple: 43 years
Microsoft: 44 years
Intel: 51 years
HP: 80 years
IBM: 108 years

Source: Emil Protalinski, News Editor, VentureBeat

In the spirit of that exercise, we were curious about compiling a similar list for the logistics sector. Here are the ages in 2019 of companies providing supply chain services from freight brokering to robots, shipping visibility, transportation, systems integration, material handling, and retail.

The list reveals a burst of innovative data sharing and robotics products launched on the market in the past decade, as well as impressive longevity for software providers and traditional transport platforms.

What results will a similar exercise produce in another 10 years? At the rate our industry is creating clever solutions, the answer is sure to surprise. Check back in this column in 2029 for the big reveal…

Uber Freight: 2 years
Convoy: 4 years
RightHand Robotics: 4 years
6 River Systems Inc: 4 years
FourKites: 5 years
Fetch Robotics: 5 years
Project44: 5 years
Convey: 6 years
Transfix: 6 years
10-4 Systems: 7 years
XPO Logistics Inc.: 8 years
Uber: 10 years
Echo Global Logistics: 14 years
GlobalTranz: 16 years
Intelligrated (now a unit of Honeywell): 18 years
MercuryGate International Inc.: 19 years
Amazon.com Inc.: 25 years
Manhattan Associates: 29 years
JDA Software Inc.: 34 years
CMA CGM:  41 years
FedEx Corp.: 46 years
Penske Truck Leasing Co.: 50 years
Walmart Inc.: 57 years
J.B. Hunt: 58 years
Knapp AG: 67 years
UPS Inc.: 112 years
C.H. Robinson: 114 years
A.P. Moller-Maersk: 115 years
Swisslog Logistics Automation: 119 years
Union Pacific Railroad: 157 years
BNSF Railway: 160 years
Dematic (now a unit of Kion): 200 years

Dinosaurs, robots, and comic strips fill logistics sector holiday cards

By Ben Ames | December 20, 2018 | 7:37 AM

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It’s December in the logistics industry, and that means one thing—it's holiday peak shipping season. The annual rush fills trucks and warehouses with piles of parcels, and it fills email inboxes with blizzards of electronic holiday cards.

Many companies use the Christmas and Hanukkah season as a simple news hook to offer “holiday sales” for trade show tickets or to book briefings with company executives at upcoming conferences. But a few firms take the chance to share messages of generosity, care, or humor—here’s a roundup of notable examples.

The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) sent out a cartoon drawing of a dinosaur in a Santa Claus hat, while soliciting donations for the group’s charitable work. Firms associated with ALAN help provide many of the forklifts, warehouses, and trucks that deliver key items like food, hygiene, and cleaning supplies to areas impacted by hurricanes and fires.

Warehouse management system (WMS) software vendor Snapfulfil also asked for holiday tips, saying it would add any funds collected to its own charity donation to The Make-A-Wish Foundation, the charity group that supports children fighting severe illnesses. A video from the firm show an animated warehouse fulfilling holiday wishes.

WMS provider DMLogic LLC kept it simple with a link to a seasonal, musical card. Transportation giant Ryder System Inc. “delivered” good tidings and joy with an animated e-card. And warehouse robotics vendor GreyOrange did the same with a classic holiday card wishing warmest greetings of the season. Their twist? The winter scene was printed on a bright orange background…

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Mobile warehouse applications provider Lucas Systems added some humor with a comic-strip Santa Claus working with his elves to handle last minute e-commerce wish lists…thanks to Lucas’ “Jennifer” voice-directed picking product, of course.

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Cloud-based logistics software provider OrderDynamics sent us another cartoon-based card, suggesting that Santa had finished his rounds early thanks to deploying omnichannel distribution strategies.

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And warehouse robotics startup 6 River Systems Inc. posted a tweet reading “For those about to rock, Chuck salutes you.” Wondering who “Chuck” is, and what he has to do with Christmas? The firm makes autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that roll around DCs carrying inventory from point to point. And in the firm’s tweet, they take on a new skill—Christmas caroling. Watch the clip to see the Chuck bots boogying to a mash-up of the seasonal carols “Ring Silver Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”


Oracle trolls Infor by sending free Tesla taxis to rival’s software show

By Ben Ames | September 26, 2018 | 11:32 AM

Some good-natured heckling has broken out in the usually staid market for enterprise computing products. Tech firms usually ignore each other when their competitors hold conferences, even taking care to refer to other companies with a passing reference to their headquarters’ home state or to the color of their logo.

So New York-based business software vendor Infor expected the typical ground rules to hold when it opened the doors for its Inforum user conference in Washington, D.C. this week. However, rival enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM) vendor Oracle Corp. had other ideas.

First, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle started poking at Infor with Twitter posts proclaiming “Don’t be misINFORmed about #retail.” The message included a link to a pointed Oracle blog post titled “Be Informed About Infor: 6 Reasons Yesterday’s ERP Can’t Deliver for Your Business.”

Next, Oracle marched right up to Infor’s doorstep by sending a fleet of bright red Tesla sedans to the taxi line outside the Inforum convention center. Offering free cab rides to pick up conventioneers exiting the show, Oracle had wrapped the trendy cars with the marketing message “MisINFORmed? Get the cloud facts. Oracle.com/realcloud."

Oracle even launched a social media campaign to promote the stunt, posting a tweet that read “#Inforum2018 attendees, the #OracleFreeRides Tesla X’s are all charged up and ready to take you to the Convention Center or wherever you need in DC. Tweet @OracleFreeRides to book a ride."

To be sure, Infor is not shy about seeking publicity—the company has inked endorsement deals this year with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, PGA’s Brooks Koepka, tennis player Jack Sock, Ferrari race cars, and Triumph motorcycles, Infor CEO Charles Phillips said in a keynote session at his show. So the marketing feud may benefit both sides. And in case the other ERP and HCM players are feeling left out, don’t worry… Oracle also sent its Teslas to Microsoft Corp.’s Ignite developers’ conference being held this week in Orlando.

Infor user conference features trumpets, tubas, and trombones

By Ben Ames | September 26, 2018 | 10:27 AM

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Attend enough IT trade shows and you’ll quickly become accustomed to the soundtrack of thumping pop songs that preview the arrival of company executives on a keynote stage.

So it was unusual when business software provider Infor strayed from that script at its Inforum user conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Even as the standard radio fare piped over large speakers, the crowd was distracted by the sight of a live marching band dressed in full regalia in the cavernous halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

A moment later, the group unleashed thundering drums, sizzling brass, and high-stepping dance moves as they marched in full uniform past the array of interlocked chairs and water bubblers. This was the renowned “Showtime Band” from Washington, D.C.-based Howard University, and they are more accustomed to marching at college football halftime shows and presidential inaugurations than at business conferences.

But it turns out that Infor CEO Charles Phillips is a graduate of Hampton University, a rival school located just down the road in nearby Hampton, Va. Having seen Howard’s “Showtime Band” march many times in the past, he decided to invite them to the Inforum show when the conference chose a D.C. location, Phillips said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Supply chain superhero Jack Ryan hits the TV screen

By Ben Ames | August 29, 2018 | 8:48 AM

The first time readers met Jack Ryan was as a character in the pages of Tom Clancy’s 1984 spy thriller “The Hunt for Red October.” 

Clancy soon brought the fictional C.I.A. analyst back in books like “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “The Sum of All Fears,” and a dozen more. Alec Baldwin played Ryan in the 1990 film version of Red October before Harrison Ford took over the drama and suspense franchise.

Well, now Jack Ryan is back again, and he has a new cover identity—a supply chain logistician for the U.S. Department of State who stumbles onto a terrorist communication pattern that unveils a looming global threat.

Amazon.com Inc. is launching the original TV series on Friday on its Prime Video network, and judging by the trailer, the supply chain superhero will have no problem dispatching terrorists as he trades in his sport coat and cocktail party chatter for body armor, live grenades, and automatic handguns. Jack ryan 91cUoTx7ogL._UR534 400_FMJPG_

“Don't judge an analyst by his cover” is the tagline for the series, which features a new actor in the title role—John Krasinski, who was previously best known for his work in the comedy TV series “The Office.” Krasinski starts off the new series reprising that role, as he plays a modest pencil-pusher with a desk job who has trouble impressing his dinner date with tales of shuffling manifests and receipts… until his job suddenly catapults him into danger.

Listen in at the 25-second mark of this trailer to hear Krasinski field questions about his job from the actor Abbie Cornish, who plays his dinner date.

“So, what exactly does a state department supply chain logistician do?” Cornish asks. “I work behind a desk; I write reports,” Krasinski replies, waving off his career as being “boring”… until a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter suddenly lands on the lawn of a fancy reception to whisk him off to a Pentagon briefing and then to chase terrorists in Yemen.

You know, just another typical day as a supply chain logistician.

Blockchain zoo spawns CryptoKitties and Fishcoins

By Ben Ames | March 23, 2018 | 3:15 PM

A basic definition of blockchain isn’t that tough to grasp—it’s like a shared spreadsheet (a “distributed ledger”) that can’t be changed by any individual member without the approval of their trading partners. That distributed design model generates a high level of data security, which means the technology could be a helpful tool for supply chain tasks like tracking goods or making payments.

For example, FedEx has launched a pilot project that uses blockchain to improve supply chain visibility by supporting digital data exchange among shippers, carriers, and retailers, company executive Sean Healy, senior vice president of transportation, international, planning, and strategy, said in a published report.

That high security also lets some groups make their own web-based money, using blockchain as the technological foundation for virtual currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. But blockchain quickly gets weird when you look at some of the more creative ways it gets applied. Try to follow me here:

But wait, what does all of this have to do with material handling or international shipping? That remains to be seen, but blockchain is enabling new ways of handling the basic activities that fuel logistics business transactions. In the words of CryptoKitties, “The future is meow.”

Tool tracks evil bunnies on Facebook

By Ben Ames | March 14, 2018 | 2:27 PM

The typical e-commerce consumer of 2018 lives online, skipping between smartphone apps and social media feeds with ease. In a world of short attention spans, young shoppers view opening a new web page or dialing a phone number as a boring and onerous distraction.

So where is an eager shopper supposed to turn when the item they purchased an entire day or two earlier has still not appeared on their doorstep? HighJump Software Inc. says it has solved that puzzle with an app that embeds a “Where’s my stuff?” function directly within the instant messaging feature of your Facebook profile.

HighJump unveiled the “Social Connector” tool at its user conference in Dallas on Monday, making the pitch that embedding customer service in social media would deliver personalized supply chain visibility data directly to individual shoppers, instead of making them stutter through phone trees or fill out online forms.

Execs showed off the chatbot in a live demo on the convention stage, using the Facebook page of HighJump’s fictitious microbrewery, Evil Bunny Brewing Co., a straw company created by HighJump to demonstrate its software capabilities.

Posing as an impatient customer, HighJump’s vice president for product management, Jackson Bilbrey, opened a Facebook chat window and typed “order status 1234.” That entry triggered the tool to use its automated chatbot capabilities—developed by HighJump using Facebook’s application programming interface (API) framework—to query the virtual retailer’s supply chain database. The chatbot instantly asked Bilbrey to double-check his invoice number, correct a typo in the digits, and then provided data on the estimated delivery date for his Evil Bunny products.

The “Social Connector” tool can currently provide data about parcel shipping, allowing retailers to communicate more effectively with consumers, HighJump Chief Technology Officer Sean Elliott said in an interview. Future versions of the chatbot could also support instant-message queries of track and trace or warehouse management system (WMS) data, Elliott said. And while the chatbot currently lives in Facebook, it could just as easily take up residence on other social media platforms, he said.

But wait, what if you’re an online shopper who’d rather ask “Where’s my stuff?” by shouting questions across the room than by typing into a keyboard? Fear not, UPS Inc. has you covered. The logistics and shipping giant on Wednesday launched a spoken-word chatbot that allows customers to call out questions to their smart speakers, Android or Apple phones, or other devices.

The product is an expansion of UPS’ existing chatbot function onto the Google Assistant platform, which powers the voice recognition capability used in “Google Home” speakers and other applications. The chatbot now uses its artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret spoken questions like “OK Google, ask UPS about my packages,” and respond with spoken answers.


“Ace Ventura” is a highlight reel of parcel delivery errors

By Ben Ames | February 08, 2018 | 10:49 AM

Watching “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with your 12-year-old son is a great way to share some guilty belly laughs and prurient giggles. But the 1994 comedy film starring Jim Carrey also offers a secret benefit to anyone following the fields of parcel delivery and last-mile logistics—it could serve as a reverse training video for customer service.

The movie opens with a scene of Carrey impersonating a delivery driver for a well-known, Atlanta-based transportation and logistics firm whose name is a three-letter acronym. Dressed in the familiar brown uniform and ball cap of UPS Inc.—sorry, Carrey’s version is called “HDS”—the actor carries a cardboard box as a ruse for his secret mission to rescue a kidnapped shih tzu dog.

In real life, UPS is renowned for providing meticulous training for every parcel carrier and truck driver about the most efficient way to carry the company’s packages. Seasoned delivery drivers know the rules for every task from stepping off the bed of a truck to wheeling a dolly stacked with boxes.

However, the “Ace Ventura” character submits his faux-package to a series of abuses and tortures that would make any delivery professional flinch. By the time he walks a full city block, Carrey has tossed a box marked “Glass, Handle with Care” down a flight of stairs, drop-kicked it over a railing, and used it as a pommel-horse for a cartwheel routine. All that takes place before he deliberately gets it stuck in a set of elevator doors. And the goofs continue when “Ace” requests a customer signature as proof of delivery, before whisking the receipt away from the enraged recipient before he can file for damages.

In a market where parcel delivery is increasingly crowd-sourced to amateur drivers and where carriers hire thousands of part-time laborers every holiday peak season, perhaps the silly film could serve as a training video that highlights the worst infractions a courier could commit. Hey, we all need some humor to break up our stressful days.

And in case you’re worried about the missing shih tzu, have no fear, “Ace” carries that particular package with exemplary care.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

Thoughts from our editors.

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