This Week in Logistics News (July 29 – August 4)

Yesterday afternoon, I went to my town’s transfer station to drop off recycling and garbage. As I was dropping off my recycling, my car door was open and the Beastie Boys were playing on the radio. I was approached by a 15-year-old (give or take) who looked at me and said “Is that the Beastie Boys? My dad loves them.” I instantaneously felt old. But I also had a moment of nostalgia. I was just about this whippersnapper’s age when I went to my first concert – Lollapalooza at Quonset Airport in Kingston, RI. That was 23 years ago yesterday. I was excited to see the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, George Clinton, the Breeders, and A Tribe Called Quest, along with a handful of bands I had never heard of. It was a phenomenal concert and experience, and I can only hope that this kid’s first concert experience was (or will be) just as fun.

And now, on to the news.

Walmart is trying to increase the number of items it sells online in an attempt to keep up with Amazon. And the company is going about it in a way that goes against its “Made in America” campaign – looking to vendors in China and other countries. One of the main reasons companies have items manufactured  overseas is purely financial; goods made in other countries are generally significantly cheaper to manufacture. For Walmart, this is only part of the rationale. The main driver is that some of the goods the company needs simply are not manufactured in the US. According to sources, since February, Walmart has been inviting sellers from China, the UK, and Canada to list on the marketplace section of Walmart.com, which previously was reserved for US based sellers only. Walmart has said these sales make up less than 5 percent of its seller base. It will certainly be interesting to see how the move pays off, and whether Walmart can shrink the gap in its products offered.

Walmart is also expanding its links with online to offline grocery platform JD Daojia by adding another 50 stores to its delivery service. JD Daojia is backed by JD.com, which already has a partnership deal in place with Walmart. Under the original agreement, JD Daojia’s two-hour delivery operation was available to customers within a three-kilometer radius of more than 80 Walmart stores. Customers place an order through Walmart’s location-based app, and JD Daojia takes over from there. The online company now has more than 25 million registered customers, while Walmart has 426 stores in nearly 170 cities across China.

DHL Supply Chain is testing the use of augmented reality glasses at its operations in Columbus, OH for two customers. The company is testing both Google Glass and Vusix to streamline warehouse operations and fulfill orders for a major fashion retailer and a technology firm. According to DHL, the glasses have increased pick productivity between 6 and 15 percent. Adrian Kumar, Vice President of Solutions Design for DHL Supply Chain in North America said:

“We immediately saw benefits, including increased accuracy and pick productivity. It works best in omni-channel e-fulfillment, which is the ideal profile. A picker with an RF scanner is constantly looking at the gun to get pick commands, hitting the confirm button and doing things in sequential fashion. But with the glasses they see an augmented image along with the item number, location, pick quantity and more. And they can allocate among 12 different orders, using the many visual cues.”

Amazon has designed and released a new set of delivery lockers designed for apartment buildings and other complexes. The lockers, names The Hub, are geared towards those residential buildings without a doorman, concierge, or mailroom service. Customers in the building will have a pick-up code they use to gain access to their package. The lockers come in both an indoor and outdoor version, and are not only for Amazon packages. According to Amazon, deliveries are accepted from “all carriers” and you can “receive packages from anyone.”

UPS has announced that it is expanding its ability to ship alcohol, wine, and beer around the world. With more and more consumers looking for hard to get craft beverages, this could be a big move for UPS. UPS provides a direct to consumer wine shipping export service from select countries in the European Union to China, South Korea, and Japan, and now also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, India, Macau, South Africa, Switzerland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. For all destinations, UPS provides certified and safe packaging specifically designed for the transport of wine bottles (up to 12 bottles per box for still wines and up to 6 bottles for sparkling wines) that can be ordered through UPS call centers.

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV) has won the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge. The annual contest brings engineers together to build a robot that can identify, pick up, and stow warehouse goods. Cartman, the budget priced robot from ACRV, went about the challenge in an unusual way from past winners. Rather than building a traditional robotic arm with a pincer mechanism, the robot uses a sliding mechanism that picks up products from above. The four-day event was held in Japan, and the winning team of engineers walked away with the $80,000 prize.

And finally, CommonSense Robotics announced that it has raised $6 million in seed funding from Aleph VC and Innovation Endeavors. The company wants to make near-instantaneous deliveries accessible to smaller businesses with micro-fulfillment centers that can be built inside existing retail spaces. CommonSense has been working on a way for retailers to be able to make quick deliveries while maintaining the same margins as the brick and mortar store. Each fulfillment center combines robotics and artificial intelligence to automate the preparation of orders, including receiving inventory, picking orders and packing them. Then deliveries are carried out by the retailers themselves or third-party services.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, my favorite Beastie Boys song that I feel has flown under the radar for the last 30 years, Rhymin & Stealin (with a great Led Zeppelin sample from When the Levee Breaks).