Archives for September 2015

Risky business

By David Maloney | September 23, 2015 | 11:59 AM | Categories: Supply Chain, Transportation

I was in Europe a few weeks ago visiting several distribution facilities for future articles in DC Velocity. While in one warehouse in Belgium, I noticed a stack of fliers in the area where delivery drivers check in. What was odd was that the fliers were warning of the risk of theft of the goods they haul.


Drivers always need to be aware of the security of their goods with which they have been entrusted, but this warning seemed far beyond the normal amount of caution required. The flier displayed a picture of a truck being opened while it was moving at high speed. Apparently a group of thieves in this part of Europe, including Belgium, are pulling up to the rear of moving trailers, walking onto the hoods of their own vehicles, breaking the locks, and opening the trailers to remove goods.


I mentioned this to some of our editors who are our experts in covering the trucking industry and was told that incidents like this have also occurred in the United States. Apparently in one occurrence, the thieves drove a truck backwards at high speed so that the bed of their truck was within a foot of the rear of a trailer for easy pickings.


Possibly the use of rear cameras can help to reduce this threat. Regardless, it seems that if thieves are willing to take risks like these, it is nearly impossible to secure all freight 100 percent of the time. Being ever vigilant is about all that we can do.

Extreme urbanization could force changes in delivery networks

By Ben Ames | September 09, 2015 | 11:23 AM | Categories: Transportation

Last-mile parcel delivery can be the toughest leg of e-commerce fulfillment, and that task may become even tougher as many cities struggle with a trend of “extreme urbanization” that will stress their infrastructure, according to urban planners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The move will trigger consequences like urban sprawl and steep population growth that could make traditional traffic flow difficult or unwieldy, warned Kent Larson, director of the Changing Places Group at the MIT Media Lab and Co-director of the lab’s City Science Initiative.

Urban planners are already designing creative systems to help avoid these bottlenecks, such as “responsive cities” that use networks of sensors to guide traffic and support more efficient public transportation networks, Larson said in a talk at Innovation Enterprise’s Internet of Things Summit, held in Boston September 9.

One of the heaviest examples of swift growth will occur in China, where an estimated 300 million rural inhabitants will move to urban areas over the next 15 years, requiring the country to build an entire new infrastructure in just a few decades.

To avoid spiraling costs and wasted resources, officials are making creative plans. One project in the European country of Andorra calls for incoming traffic to park on city edges and support commutes to destinations in the city center through shared transportation, Larson said.

Autonomous vehicles could also help to alleviate road crowding by allowing more efficient traffic patterns, but many countries face hurdles such as cost and liability that could discourage this approach.

These new traffic flow patterns could also challenge business patterns for carriers and delivery trucks if they fail to adapt their logistics networks to the fast-changing urban landscape.

However, other new urban planning designs could make life easier for office and residential delivery. Urban leaders in Chattanooga, Tenn., are laying the foundation for building a less car-centered community that would allow residents to live nearer to their jobs, schools, and stores instead of logging long commutes on highways, said Larson.

Likewise, planners in Atlanta, Ga., are hoping to build “micro-cities” that are designed to avoid unmanageable urban sprawl by creating zoning laws that support self-contained, decentralized regions. These small cities would allow residents to access most of their needs at local spots, while relying on high-bandwidth connectivity to share the data and business resources people need for work, health, education, and entertainment.

Transportation and delivery systems in these micro-cities would likely follow the private business model lead by the Uber car hiring service, he said.

For more information on MIT’s urban planning research, see cities.media.mit.edu.

The high cost of not caring

By Toby Gooley | September 04, 2015 | 6:56 AM | Categories: Supply Chain, Trade, Transportation

In my first job after college, I worked in the ocean shipping industry. One of my responsibilities was to arrange transportation of hazardous materials, including verifying that they were properly classified, marked, and documented. As part of my training, I attended a safety seminar designed for shipping line employees, freight forwarders, and stevedores. The Coast Guard officer who presented the seminar began by dimming the lights and projecting a photo of a large cargo ship on a screen at the front of the room. Suddenly the slide changed; in the next image the ship had been blown to pieces, with chunks of steel flying through the air and a huge fireball and black smoke filling the sky above what was left of the hull. “This is what happens if you don’t do your job right,” the officer said. “Take it very, very seriously. People will die if you don’t.”

That was nearly 40 years ago, and I have never forgotten that image or the instructor’s warning. They invariably came to mind each time I handled a hazmat shipment during the 10 years I was an export traffic manager. And they were front of mind again earlier this month, when an explosion that originated in a hazardous materials warehouse destroyed a large area in and around the port of Tianjin, China.

For anyone involved in international trade, the news photos of 40-foot ocean containers that had been twisted, crushed, and tossed like empty soda cans by the blasts were shocking. But that is a truly minor consideration compared to the loss of human life and the innumerable injuries suffered by people who lived nearby.

Which brings us to the title of this post. Because someone—business owners, real estate developers, local government officials, maybe all of the above—did not take the risks of storing and transporting hazardous materials very, very seriously, companies were allowed to construct apartment and office buildings dangerously close to huge quantities of those materials. And because someone—the warehouse operator, and perhaps its customers—did not care enough to do everything possible to eliminate those risks, hundreds of people are dead, injured, or missing.

Safe handling of dangerous goods in transport and storage requires appropriate training, strict discipline, constant vigilance, ferocious attention to detail, and an unflagging commitment by every employee at every point in the supply chain to follow the rules and always do the right thing—no matter how difficult, costly, or time consuming that may be. It is challenging, of course, to enforce such practices across supply chains that span the globe. But as the events at Tianjin make painfully clear, failure to do so could have tragic consequences.

Distribution across the Pond

By David Maloney | September 02, 2015 | 7:43 PM | Categories: Material Handling, Supply Chain, Warehousing

I was in Europe last week looking at five effective distribution centers, three in Germany and two in Belgium. While DC Velocity primarily reports on things going on here in North American distribution, it is also important for us to share the worldview.


Europe has always been very advanced in warehouse technology. Many of the industry’s leading automation companies are based on the continent and there tends to be more automation overall in Europe than here at home. There are two important reasons for this. First, land is more scarce and expensive there, especially in Western Europe. Automation helps companies reduce the footprint of their buildings. Secondly, labor is also more costly. Automation helps there too to reduce manpower and save on overall distribution expenses.


Four of the facilities I visited store products very densely in several variations of automated storage systems, including shuttle systems, miniloads, and automated storage and retrieval systems. Two of the facilities operate AS/RS systems inside freezer environments, saving people from having to work in such harsh environments.


I also saw a couple of iterations of goods-to-person picking systems that handle a variety of products from cosmetics to auto parts.


I will be sharing these stories in future issues of DC Velocity. I also shot videos in four of the facilities, which will be used in upcoming episodes of our popular Move It! program. This will allow you to see some of these sophisticated systems in action.


And speaking of seeing distribution operations from elsewhere, Toby Gooley and I will be visiting some facilities in Japan later this year – again, with the goal of helping our readers to see what is going on elsewhere in the world. Stay tuned.

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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