This Week in Logistics News (December 1 – 7)

logistics newsAmazon is used to making headlines, especially as it continues its technology evolution within its warehouses. One area that Amazon has focused on is the use of robots in the warehouse. In fact, Amazon holds an annual contest, dubbed the Amazon Picking Challenge, where teams compete to build robots capable of efficiently picking and packing items. Well, Amazon made the headlines with its warehouse robots again this week. This time, however, it was not for innovation. Instead, an automated machine inside the 1.3 million-square-foot facility in Robbinsville Township accidentally hit and punctured a 9 ounce can of bear repellant. The main ingredient in bear repellant is capsaicin, a chile pepper extract, which causes the bear’s mucous membranes to swell. This makes it difficult for the bear to see and breathe. The problem is that it has the same effect on humans. The warehouse area was cleared after the incident, and 24 workers were transported to the hospital. Amazon is looking into how the incident occurred. Ouch. And now, on to this week’s logistics news.

Over the last few weeks, 67 cases of E. coli have been reported in the US and Canada, linked to romaine lettuce grown in six California counties. As a result, all romaine products and salad blends not containing romaine exported to Canada will face new standards in the wake of new labeling in the US. These new labels must include the growing region and harvest date on individual packs and cartons. Now, all romaine that is exported to Canada will be referred to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). According to the CFIA, romaine products from California and other regions of the US must be “accompanied by a letterhead, on a separate page, showing a Proof of Origin signed by the exporter declaring the municipality, county and the state.” The CFIA warned that new regulations will put added strain on the Canadian side and could lead to delays in deliveries.

A few months ago, President Trump created a task force to overhaul the Postal Service. The task force has now released its report, which calls for cutting costs, relying on private partners, and charging more for “non-essential services.” One of the big changes the task force is calling for is to develop a new pricing model that will remove current caps on pricing and charge market-based prices for packages that are not considered to be “essential postal services.” This would raise costs for Amazon and other businesses that rely on the Postal Service for package delivery. The task force indicated that the Postal Service is currently unsustainable and must make these changes in order to avoid a financial collapse that would require a taxpayer bailout.

As I’ve written about here before, Amazon is constantly looking at ways to speed up and improve its delivery network. One of those initiatives was Prime Air, which uses Prime-branded Boeing 767-300s operated by Amazon’s cargo partners. The service is designed to move products around the country between fulfillment centers, reducing its reliance on other carriers while speeding up the flow of goods. The company announced plans to expand its Amazon Air operation at the Rockford airport in Illinois. The gateway in Rockford will be expanded and open next year and will allow for increased capacity and package sorting. Cargo operators serving Amazon are routing six flights a day through Rockford, which is a main reason the airport has set cargo records two years in a row.

Uber Freight has launched a new tool that it believes will give its customers unparalleled rate transparency. The tool, which is named Lane Explorer, gives shippers the ability to see real-time market rates on their lanes up to two weeks in advance. The shipper can then lock in those rates and begin to build a load. The prices are available in a two-week window, and shippers can choose the date they wish to move their freight. The goal is to give shippers the same transparency that drivers have using the app. For drivers using the app, nothing will change. They will continue to see the load pricing upfront and choose the best load for themselves.

Autonomous vehicles have generated a lot of attention lately. This has mainly been in the context of autonomous trucks and drones. However, Rolls-Royce and Finnish state-owned ferry operator Finferries have successfully completely the first run of a fully autonomous ferry. The ferry Falco used Rolls-Royce’s Ship Intelligence technologies to navigate autonomously during its voyage between Parainen and Nauvo. Falco is equipped with a variety of advanced sensors which enable it to build a detailed picture of its surroundings. The sensor data is relayed to a remote operating center on land; if problems arise, a captain in the center can take control of the ferry. The return journey was controlled by remote control.

In the competitive fast food landscape, ordering ahead for pick-up is becoming an important component. Burger King has deployed a new feature in its mobile app that does just that and more. While customers can place an order through the mobile app for pick-up, the company is also trolling McDonald’s. From now until December 12, customers that are within 600 feet of a McDonald’s can unlock a new feature on the app called the “Whopper Detour.” This feature allows the customer to buy a Whopper for 1 cent; the app then reroutes the customer to the nearest Burger King. The app works by geofencing McDonald’s locations across the country. This is a great example of combining a great marketing strategy with fulfillment technology.

And finally, diesel prices have declined for the seventh consecutive week, bringing the cost to its lowest level since May. After a 5.4-cent decrease during the week ending Dec. 3, the U.S.’ average price for a gallon of on-highway diesel is now $3.207. Prices fell in all regions during the most recent week, with the most significant decrease being seen in the Midwest region, where prices dropped by 6.8 cents. The nation’s most expensive diesel remains in California at $3.922 per gallon, followed by the West Coast less California region at $3.406 per gallon. The cheapest fuel can be found in the Gulf Coast region at $2.989 per gallon.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, Green Jelly’s the Bear Song.

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