This Week in Logistics News (October 24 – 30)

logistics newsIt’s hard to believe that tomorrow is Halloween. And like everything else over the last six-plus months, Halloween will be different this year. Cities and towns across the country have released trick or treating guidelines that have either canceled the practice or changed it to ensure proper social distancing and mask wearing. In my town, for example, we have a defined timeframe for kids to go trick or treating, with the understanding that no one should be going door to door. Instead, tables should be set up outside. Or, in the case of one creative neighbor, a device that will shoot candy down a tube right to the trick or treater. The pandemic will certainly limit the number of trick or treaters roaming the streets. According to the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween survey, fewer than 60 percent of survey respondents are planning to celebrate Halloween this year; however, those that are celebrating will be spending record amounts. Halloween spending is expected to surpass $8 billion, with an average of $92.12 per participant. For those that are celebrating, 96 percent plan to buy candy, 75 percent will buy decorations, 65 percent will buy costumes, and 40 percent will buy greeting cards. And now on to this week’s logistics news.

Outside of an FDA approved coronavirus vaccine, the most anticipated products of the year are being released by Apple. And as the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPad Air get ready to hit the market, UPS and FedEx are getting ready for the distribution challenges that await. As more consumers flock to the web instead of physical stores, Apple using its network of 300 stores across the US as distribution centers. UPS and FedEx will pick up orders from these stores for deliveries to the end consumer. But for both UPS and FedEx, it goes beyond just delivering to consumers; both companies are using their extensive logistics networks to import the devices and deliver them to retail stores and distribution centers as well. UPS and FedEx are using their global freight forwarding, cargo planes, and small package ground delivery divisions in the process. To put the scale of operations in perspective, late last week UPS unloaded hundreds of thousands of shipments onto 155 miles of conveyor belts for sorting and scanning before being placed in containers for loading onto outbound UPS flights head for destinations across the US.

As multiple pharmaceutical firms race to create a viable COVID vaccine, the logistics of pushing these vaccines out to the masses remains a challenge. Maersk has sealed a deal with COVAXX to ship the American pharmaceutical firm’s Covid-19 vaccine around the world when and if it gets approval by regulatory authorities. COVAXX is currently in phase 1 of its vaccine trial in Taiwan and will roll out phase 2 in the US as part of a partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. COVAXX will also conduct a large-scale human efficacy clinical trial in Brazil. But getting these vaccines delivered will be no easy task. Maersk will oversee all logistics activities to ensure efficient transportation to developing countries. The agreement provides for end-to-end supply chain management, packing and shipping, via air or ocean, ground transportation, warehouse storage and distribution to facilities to support COVAXX’s requirements for a pharmaceutical grade, temperature-controlled supply chain. COVAXX is planning to manufacture 100m doses of its vaccine during early 2021, and a billion doses by the end of 2021.

“Efficient and safe delivery of Covid-19 vaccines around the world is the most urgent logistics challenge we face today”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week announced it will again delay enforcement of a provision of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) that would require wholesalers to verify saleable returned drugs they intend to further distribute. The provision was originally slated to take effect last November, but the FDA announced it would delay enforcement by one year in September 2019. FDA notes that the three-year delay will align the saleable returned product verification requirement with the 2023 deadline for an enhanced drug distribution security system set out in section 582(g) of the FD&C Act.

The coronavirus pandemic caused a major pivot in how businesses have been run with more and more employees working from home. And as the time went by, and people spent more and more time in their homes, they started to notice all the things they would like to change. As a result, home improvement projects have skyrocketed, causing major supply chain disruptions in the process. Many factories were initially shut down, causing a shortage of home goods. And while factory production has by and large recovered, there are still massive shortfalls as consumers are snapping up items faster than ever before. The surge in these home improvement projects has left paint producers with not enough cans and appliance makers short on parts to produce refrigerators, kitchen mixers, and washing machines. This is not exactly the news that homeowners looking to make improvements will want to hear.

Autonomous vehicles are still gaining a lot of traction as more and more companies look to build the self-driving semis. A new partnership between automotive giants has emerged; Daimler Trucks and Waymo have entered into a partnership to build an autonomous version of the Freightliner Cascadia truck. While Daimler got its first road license for an autonomous truck five years ago, this will be Waymo’s first venture into the freight space. The deal provides Daimler with the Waymo Driver suite of vision sensors, software, and computing system. The truck will be equipped with Level 4 autonomous technology, meaning it could drive itself without a human but only in pre-defined areas. It is expected to be available in the US “in the coming years.”

Postmates, the crowd-sourced home delivery start-up, has announced that it is launching a new retail platform ahead of the holidays. The launch is aimed at cashing in on the contactless delivery boom ahead of the holiday season and will allow customers to get instant delivery from clothing, home, beauty, and wellness retailers. The new platform will essentially be a digital storefront that will enable smaller retailers to jump into e-commerce without having to build out their own e-commerce platform. Postmates will launch the platform in Los Angeles with the intent of expanding to other cities next year.

Last week I wrote an article detailing how companies are preparing for the upcoming holiday season, including some changes to Black Friday sales. Target has now announced its plans for Black Friday, and similar to Walmart, they will be very different from years past. Target will open for normal hours on Black Friday, eliminating the early bird doorbusters sales. To help control crowds, Target will monitor and limit the number of people inside stores and allow shoppers to check on the size of a line outside a store and reserve a spot. As e-commerce will be a main driver for the holiday season, Target is doubling its amount of drive-up parking for curbside pick-up. For those customers in the store, Target is equipping its employees with 1,000 more handheld devices so they can help check out customers in aisles, not just registers.

And finally, while the coronavirus has threatened to eliminate the salad bar, a California-based robotics company is coming to the rescue. Chowbotics uses robots to solve several problems in food service including compromised cleanliness and inefficiency. And now, the company has unveiled new technological developments for its fresh food robot Sally that it says allows grocers to “reclaim” this once profitable area of the store. Chowbotics has created a mobile app for contactless ordering from one of its robotic food dispensers while also expanding its menu capabilities to include a large format video interface. The contactless ordering allows for a safe self-service experience that was not possible before.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend, Halloween, and the song of the week, Spooky by the Classics IV.

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