This Week in Logistics News (October 28 – November 3)

logisticsFor the first time in franchise history, the Houston Astros are world series champions. The Astros outlasted the LA Dodgers in a thrilling seven game series to bring home the crown. As soon as that final out was made, the real planning began. And no, I’m not talking about how the Astros can build off of this year’s team in free agency to defend the title next year. I’m talking about the victory parade. There are an incredible amount of details that go in to that plan, from getting the team and trophy to the parade, to coordinating police details and blocking off streets. It is a logistics nightmare, but one of those nightmares that a city doesn’t mind dealing with every so often.

And now, on to the news.

Walmart is rolling out a new robot to help make re-stocking shelves more efficient. The shelf-scanning robots will debut in more than 50 stores across the US allowing store associates to re-stock empty shelves faster. The robots are approximately two feet tall and include a tower that is fitted with cameras that scan aisles to check stock and identify missing and misplaced items, incorrect prices, and mislabeling. The robots pass that data to store employees, who then take care of the problem. The company has been testing the robots in a handful of stores and does not foresee a situation where the robots will replace human workers.

The Postal Service is getting ready for the holiday season with a new offering: next-day Sunday delivery. The program is available in 20 major US cities and allows consumers to place online orders with participating retailers before a cutoff time Saturday. According to the Postal Service, “postal carriers pick up merchandise from local stores for delivery the following day, similar to the Sunday package deliveries it now handles for Amazon.” The Postal Service has not identified which retailers may sign on to the pilot program, but Walmart is one company that is considering the service.

UPS will outfit 5,700 trucks with collision-avoidance technology to help drivers avoid accidents. The company said more than 60 percent of its tractor-trailer fleet will have the technology, including every large tractor purchased since June 2015. The technology provides blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, electronic stability control, and forward-collision warning with automatic brake application. While drivers would remain in full control of the truck, the technology would alert drivers to moving and stationary objects in front of the tractor, as well as moving objects surrounding the vehicle.

According to the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) Chief Economist Bob Costello, the trucking industry could be short 50,000 drivers by the end of 2017. The shortage eased in 2016, due to a freight recession. However, now that freight volumes are accelerating, the problem is re-surfacing. In the report, ATA projects the shortage to reach 50,000 by the end of 2017, and if current trends hold, the shortage could grow to more than 174,000 by 2026. Driver turnover is on the rise, which is exacerbating the problem. While the eventual hope is that autonomous trucks can help to ease the shortage, the industry is years away from this as a viable solution.

Amazon is looking to improve its online grocery presence and bring in more customers. The acquisition of Whole Foods was the first major piece of the puzzle. Now, the company is making a more subtle move that it hopes will pay off. Amazon announced that it is slashing its fee for businesses that sell low-cost, non-perishable grocery items on Amazon.com. Amazon previously charged 15 percent on all grocery items, but will now charge only 8 percent on the lower-priced goods for at least the next year. This move will allow more businesses to sell on Amazon, as the fee structure before made it nearly impossible for these businesses to be profitable. This move should eliminate that barrier and bring more grocery items to Amazon’s customers.

India is moving forward with drone deliveries as a viable reality. The aviation ministry unveiled a proposed policy to allow commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The policy classifies drones into five distinct weight-based segments. For drones to be used commercially, they will need to be registered with the aviation regulator. One of the key parts of the proposal is a requirement that the drone operates in sight of the pilot during daytime hours only. The draft will be put up for consultation for a month, and the final rules are likely to be out by the end of December.

And finally, diesel prices have jumped to the highest point since mid-2015. Diesel prices increased an average of 2.2 cents across the US, bringing the average price for on-highway diesel to $2.819. The U.S.’ cheapest diesel can be found in the Gulf Coast at $2.639 per gallon, followed by the Lower Atlantic region at $2.729 per gallon. The most expensive fuel is in California at $3.185 per gallon, followed by the West Coast less California region at $3.020 per gallon.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day.

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