The mere mention of autonomous transportation still evokes images from sci-fi movies for some people. But, the reality is that this concept is not pie-in-the-sky talk — it’s really here. And it won’t be long before it’s mainstream. In fact, PwC’s 2017 Commercial Transportation Trends report revealed that 2016 was a breakout year for new technologies in the commercial transport industry, even while many companies still resisted them. Although information systems have been disrupting carrier operations and logistics for years with mapping, GPS and other driving technologies that help companies respond more quickly to customer shipment demands, autonomous transportation is taking things several steps further.
According to the 2015 Manufacturing Report by Illinois-based accounting firm Sikich LLP, 53% of those polled are still using manual processes to measure key performance indicators (KPIs). Eleven percent of survey respondents reported using custom built/legacy applications to monitor their KPIs and only 26% are using an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution. So, if you’re reading this and your company still isn’t too far down the automation spectrum, it may offer some consolation knowing you’re in good company.
When looking for ways to optimize productivity in a warehouse or DC, oftentimes the emphasis is on time- and labor-saving features and functions of hardware and software with less attention given to ergonomics, which is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. Unless your company plans to run a totally automated warehouse, it’s important to look beyond equipment speeds and feeds and consider ergonomic factors, such as equipment design and feel and the workflows employees follow to complete their daily tasks. A few tweaks could make a world of difference not just in productivity, but safety too.
Despite a lot of talk about mobile payments over the past decade, we’re still way behind many other countries. Right now, in China, for example, there are entire cities where cash is virtually not used and plastic is being used less and less. A recent article from NPR reported that China did $5.5 trillion through mobile payments last year (about 50 times the amount in the U.S.). India is another country where mobile payments is skyrocketing. Research from Statista projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 138.7 percent in India’s mobile payments transaction value between 2017 and 2021, resulting in nearly $2.6 billion (U.S. Dollars).
The holiday rush is quickly approaching, and if last year is any indicator of what’s ahead, retail sales are about to skyrocket, beginning with Black Friday. Last year, online sales grew 20% over 2015 and overall retail sales grew 10.5%, reaching $97.7 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31. Black Friday was the top online shopping day ever in the United States last year — until it was surpassed by Cyber Monday sales a few days later.
Amazon isn’t the only company finding common ground for humans and robots in its warehouses. Earlier this year in Tennessee, DHL began testing robots to assist its pickers in order fulfillment. Rather than pushing a bin or cart, the robots work alongside workers, helping them pick out medical devices that need to be shipped quickly. Third-party logistics provider Quiet Logistics Inc., which fulfills online orders for retailers like Bonobos and Zara, uses the same type of mobile robots in one of its warehouses to support its employees.
A lot of companies say they are developing packaging for ecommerce shipping on an ad hoc basis, usually as Amazon specifically requests them to do so. But with the pace and scale of change happening in retail, no one can afford to wait to start thinking more systematically about how they’re shipping packages to consumers.
Traditional punch clocks were the first time clock systems to be used to track employees time and attendance. They typically work this way: an employee punches in and out of work with a paper punch card. While they are simple to use, they do not protect businesses from time theft and profit loss. In the restaurant industry, this fact can be especially troubling, with employees working all different types of shifts, unlike a more traditional 9 to 5 scenario. Keeping track of time and attendance in the restaurant industry can be a real headache, especially if owners and operators are relying on outdated equipment.
Sustainability, carbon footprint reduction, and supply chain transparency have, over the last few years, merged and morphed into what is now being called corporate social responsibility (CSR). A 2015 CSR study found that more than 80% of participating consumers take CSR into account when deciding what to buy or where to shop. While some retailers’ CSR efforts are driven largely by pressures of legislation and public opinion, others are discovering additional benefits beyond compliance, such as improved brand image, wider access to investment capital and an enhanced ability to attract the right employee talent just to name a few.
Recently, we’ve been focusing on the explosion in e-commerce sales, which are growing at 3x the rate of total retail sales, per Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium. This trend is creating several new challenges for retailers — from order fulfillment to returns processing. One example can be seen by observing a typical online order comprising a: t-shirt, comic book, perfume, and pack of ball point pens. In a large fulfillment center, these items might literally be on opposite ends of the facility.