This Week in Logistics News (January 11 – 17)

logistics newsOne hundred and one years ago Wednesday, a bizarre disaster struck the city of Boston: the Great Molasses Flood. The disaster has also been known as Boston Molasses Disaster, the Great Boston Molasses Flood, or, in a clever play on words, the Boston Molassacre. In the North End, a storage tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst, sending a 25 foot tall wave of molasses through the streets at speeds of 35 miles per hour. Pedestrians were hurled through air as debris flew in all directions. The wave of molasses was strong enough to toss a truck into Boston Harbor. In all, 150 people were injured, and 21 were killed. The cleanup efforts took weeks for the immediate downtown area, and months for the rest of the Greater Boston area and its suburbs. Residents claimed that for decades, you could still smell the sweet aroma of molasses on a hit summer day. And now on to this week’s logistics news.

The trade war between the US and China has taken its toll on both countries. Now, the two nations have signed a partial trade agreement as “phase one” of trade negotiations comes to an end. In an agreement signed this week, China agreed to purchase $200 billion worth of additional US goods and services compared to its orders in 2017, when it imported over $185 billion of US goods. Among the products it has promised to buy are soybeans, pork, cotton and wheat. In return, the US has agreed to cut tariffs on $120 billion of Chinese products from 17 percent to 7.5 percent. However, all signs point to a more difficult second round of trade negotiations, with tensions between the two nations continuing to build.

In the past, I have written about how retailers are moving beyond the use of robots in the warehouse and deploying them in the store. In that article I mentioned that Walmart has deployed Bossa Nova robots at more than 350 of its stores nationwide. The company is now doubling down on its efforts and will expand its robotic workforce to over 650 stores nationwide by this summer. The robots are equipped with 15 cameras and roam the store aisles checking for pricing issues, out-of-stocks, and shelf irregularities. The robots then notify a store associate via their handheld device of any issues that need to be resolved. The shelf scanning capabilities free up associates to attend to other tasks and service customers. As NRF 2020 showed, the role of the store associate is rapidly changing, and robots can help to usher in this new era.

logistics newsCiting poor performance, Amazon temporarily suspended FedEx’s ground delivery for Prime shipments last month. Questions abound as to whether this was really based on performance or if Amazon wanted to use its own logistics arm for the bulk of its holiday deliveries. The decision certainly caught some third-party sellers off-guard, leaving them to scramble to find new carriers. Amazon said that once the performance of FedEx improved, sellers would once again be able to use the company’s ground and home services. Earlier this week Amazon informed third-party sellers that they can resume using FedEx’s ground delivery shipping services. According to FedEx, service levels had been strong during the peak holiday season, with an average transit time of 2.4 days for Ground packages and 18 percent of Ground packages were delivered early. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the Amazon-FedEx relationship moving forward.

Instacart is known as one of the pioneers of the now established crowd-sourced grocery delivery model. However, one thing that many people may not have known is that the company offers a grocery pick-up service at more than 1500 stores across 30 states. The service includes over 50 retailers, including Albertsons, Publix Super Markets, Wegmans Food Markets, Schnucks Market, Price Chopper, Gelson’s Markets, Shop ‘n Save and The Fresh Market. Instacart sees 2020 as the “year for grocery pick-up” and is increasing its click and collect service to reach all 50 states by the end of 2020. The service allows customers to choose a pick-up location that is most convenient for specific days. It also includes location-based notifications to alert the store when the customer is close so the order can be waiting curbside.

As supply chain sustainability gains more steam and companies look at ways to reduce or eliminate emissions, Werner Enterprises is joining the parade of zero-emission battery-powered electric truck testing underway in California. The Omaha, NE-based truckload company will use a Peterbilt 579EV model capable of hauling 80,000 pounds for a year of testing in the Los Angeles area. Not surprisingly, California is seeing a surge in electric truck tests given its strict emissions laws. The state makes testing zero-emission trucks quite affordable as it uses money raised from excessive carbon fines as incentives to reduce the cost of electric trucks. California wants to rid its highways of diesel-powered trucks by 2035.

logistics newsSpeaking of sustainability, Taco Bell announced plans to make all of its packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025. This includes everything is customer facing, including the wraps that hold your taco, the bag it comes in, cups, straws, and boxes. The company will install recycling and composting bins in restaurants where local infrastructure permits, and the new packaging materials will also be free of PFAS, phthalates, and BPA. The task will certainly be difficult however; just because items are deemed reusable (such as its mini-skillet bowls that are microwave-safe), does not mean that customers will actually reuse them. The ultimate goal will be to make all packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable, and get customers on board to discard of it appropriately.

Ford has shown itself to be innovative in the use of technology for last mile deliveries, especially with its partnerships with Walmart and Dominos for autonomous vehicles for home delivery. The company is now taking part in trials for both warehouse and last mile robots. The robots are designed by Agility Robotics, feature arms and legs, and walk upright. The robot can be used within the warehouse to move items between locations and to a pack station. Ford is also testing the robots for the last 50 feet of deliveries. The robot can feed information from its sensors back to the delivery truck to receive additional computing power enabling it to overcome unexpected obstacles. This is certainly an exciting approach to the use of robots.

Transplace has acquired Lanehub, a cloud-based platform and community focused on shipper-carrier collaboration by automatically identifying and connecting companies with complementary freight lanes to save on shipping expenses. According to Transplace, Lanehub’s software is geared towards matching recurring freight lanes on a consistent basis, resulting in reducing transportation cost, increasing fleet revenue, and also improving carrier service and performance. A purchase price was not disclosed.

GlobalTranz has acquired Cerasis, a customer focused, technology driven and data empowered provider of managed transportation and third-party multimodal logistics services. This is the latest move in GlobalTranz’s growth by acquisition strategy, and eleventh in the last three years. According to GlobalTranz, Cerasis will help expand the company’s growing managed transportation, final mile, and reverse logistics capabilities.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood.

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