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Reimagining Warehouse Robotics: From Silicon Valley to Assembly Lines

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Reimagining Warehouse Robotics: From Silicon Valley to Assembly Lines

Advancing technologies have increased efficiency in numerous industries. Companies are thankful for robotics and how they’ve changed best practices for running a warehouse. What once was a limited technology has become a staple for warehouses worldwide. 

Warehouse robots can make life easier for human workers and help them be as efficient as possible. Here’s how warehouse robotics has evolved and what the future holds.

How Has Warehouse Robotics Changed Over Time?

Warehouse robotics has dramatically evolved since its mid-20th-century beginnings. The changing technology has made warehouses safer and more efficient. Here are three ways warehouse robotics has changed to benefit companies worldwide.

Starting the Evolution

Understanding modern warehouse robotics starts with the first innovations. Using robotics in manufacturing and logistics on a wide scale began in 1961 in Ewing Township, New Jersey. General Motors (GM) began using a robotic arm from George Devol, the man who built the first programmable industrial robot. GM paid about $18,000 for the robot and changed the automotive industry. 

Devol’s industrial robot may seem primitive in the 21st century, but the machine was crucial in the history of warehouse robotics. The robot, Unimate, transferred die castings onto the car’s body. Unimate improved the safety of GM plants because assembly line workers could harm themselves with toxic fumes from the die-casting transferral. Devol’s Unimate sparked a robotic evolution across auto manufacturing and other industries.

Adding Sensor Technology

Sensors play a significant role in warehouse robotics, letting machines understand their surroundings and act accordingly. Employing sensors gives robots human-like abilities while still keeping their machine identity. Sensor technology is still evolving, as seen in the automotive industry. Sensors help fleet managers make their company safer, considering humans cause most car accidents in the United States. With sensors, autonomous vehicles are a closer reality.

In warehouse robotics, sensor technology has become crucial for similar reasons. Robotics use sensors to navigate the warehouse floor autonomously and perform tasks. Among the most critical advances in this sector has been light detection and ranging (LiDAR). LiDAR technology is essential for robots to create a 3D map and avoid bumping into obstacles. Additionally, they can optimize their routes within the warehouse to remain efficient.

Improved Durability

Increased reliance on robots means these systems must have maximum reliability and durability. Downtime significantly impacts efficiency despite implementing robots to improve it. Research shows downtime costs manufacturers about $260,000 per hour and the auto industry about $50,000 per minute. Fortifying warehouse robots to strengthen them has been crucial for their staying power in the 21st century. 

Developers have strengthened warehouse robotics by improving their bodies and frames. Metal has proved effective due to its safety, durability and efficiency. Manufacturers have found metal castings to be formidable solutions, with about 90% of all manufactured goods containing them. 

How Will Warehouse Robotics Grow in the Future?

The future of warehouse robotics is bright, with a growing market this decade. Facts and Factors research shows the robot as a service (RaaS) global market will grow by 16.5% annually, leading to a $44 billion market by 2028. These four innovations will drive the industry’s growth in the coming years. 

Interconnecting the Warehouse

In its infancy, warehouse robotics may work with small sections of the facility. While effective, this limitation can inhibit warehouse employees and their ability to connect with other departments in the building. However, the future of warehouse robotics is bright with evolving technology in connecting machines across large spaces. 

Evolving guidance systems will let robots work in every section of the warehouse and increase efficiency. While a fully robot-operated warehouse may be unlikely, robot adoption will increase with e-commerce demand. The European Business Review says the world should see about 50,000 robotic warehouses by 2025, emphasizing how widespread this advanced technology has become. 

Expanding Autonomous Mobile Robots

Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are growing a stronger foothold in warehouses because they build upon automated guided vehicles (AGV). The key difference is that AMRs are even more intelligent with their programming. Warehouses can employ AMRs and let them navigate the floor by themselves. Employees don’t have to train them in navigation, saving time and improving efficiency in the warehouse. 

AMR’s evolution has let their responsibility grow in the warehouse. Modern AMRs excel in picking and packing, reducing the burden on human laborers and heightening accuracy in order fulfillment. Even careful human workers might not match the accuracy of AMRs in this task. Many warehouses also employ AMRs in receiving and storage optimization, assisting the company in making the most of its current space. 

More warehouses will adopt AMRs this decade to work alongside their human workers. Evolving technology and increased competition will make it more affordable for smaller businesses and startups. The advantages of AMRs are hard to pass up, considering how they boost safety and productivity.

Wielding Robots for Last-Mile Delivery

Last-mile delivery is the last step, albeit a crucial one, to ensure client satisfaction with their purchase. Humans have executed last-mile deliveries since the beginning of package deliveries, but robotics will soon play a more significant role in this step. Some companies have already tested last-mile delivery robots for bringing food and small items to the end user’s doorstep. 

For example, Kiwibot has machines delivering food on the University of California, Berkeley campus. 

While last-mile delivery robots have existed for a few years, logistics professionals should expect this service to expand worldwide in large cities. The next step for last-mile technology is to make these robots more efficient. TeleRetail, a Swiss company, has developed the Pulse 1 robot to reduce emissions and energy consumption. The Range+, a newer, solar-powered robot, embodies the shift to renewable energy in robotics. 

Cutting emissions is a focal point for warehouses and e-commerce as a whole. Packaging, transportation and building energy consumption combine for a detrimental environmental impact, so increasing robotic efficiency is necessary.

Employing More Drones

Expanding robotics in and out of the warehouse will rely on drones. Crewless aircraft has evolved sharply in the last few decades and will only improve with its technology. Warehouses can employ drones for multiple purposes, such as inventory management, inspection and monitoring. Modern drones have cameras and sensors powerful enough to give warehouse managers a real-time look at their stock. 

Drones will open the door to expanding warehousing and shipping this decade. With drone technology, shipping companies can easily reach rural areas without using boats or crewed aircraft. Additionally, drones will reduce shipping times and increase customer satisfaction when they can receive their orders in a few hours rather than a few days. Companies like Amazon are heavily investing in this technology.

Taking Modern Warehousing to a New Level

Efficient warehouses are a must, considering today’s e-commerce demand. Shareholders demand well-oiled machines no matter what the company ships worldwide. 

With robots, warehouses have increased productivity and reduced downtime thanks to speedier processes. The future of warehouse robotics is bright, with evolving technology pushing warehouses forward. 


global supply chain inequality

Social Inequality as Business Risk: 13 Factors Affecting the Supply Chain

The world is becoming increasingly interconnected and globalized, forcing businesses to navigate a complex landscape of risks and opportunities. While traditional risks like market fluctuations and supply chain disruptions have long been a concern, social inequality is emerging as a significant and often underestimated business risk. 

Social inequality encompasses disparities in income, education, health care, opportunities and access to basic resources among different segments of society. 

The Link Between Social Inequality and the Supply Chain

Social inequality can affect the supply chain in several ways. The supply chain is a complex network of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and any disruptions or imbalances within this network can lead to significant challenges for businesses. 

Here are some of the critical factors that illustrate the connection between social inequality and supply chain risks.

  • Labor Market Disparities

Social inequality can result in significant disparities in the labor market. Businesses rely on a diverse workforce to function efficiently. When a large portion of the population lacks access to quality education, health care or equal employment opportunities, it limits the pool of skilled workers available for hire. 

A lack of skilled labor can affect a company’s ability to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions. This talent scarcity can lead to higher labor costs, lower productivity and increased recruitment challenges, affecting the supply chain’s performance.

  • Supplier Diversity

Supply chain sustainability has become a focal point for many organizations. Socially responsible procurement practices include working with diverse suppliers. However, social inequality can hinder the growth and development of minority-owned businesses. 

Companies that fail to engage diverse suppliers may face regulatory and reputational risks, potentially disrupting the supply chain. 

  • Regulatory Compliance

Governments and international organizations increasingly scrutinize businesses for their contributions to social inequality. Failure to comply with regulations to reduce inequality can result in fines, legal battles and negative publicity. Compliance with labor laws, environmental regulations and fair trade practices is essential to maintaining a resilient supply chain. 

  • Consumer Expectations

Because of social media and the ability for instant communication, consumers are more aware and vocal about social inequality issues. Companies consumers see as contributing to inequality or exploiting vulnerable populations can face consumer backlash and boycotts. 

Engaging in these practices can directly impact the demand for their products and disrupt the supply chain. 

  • Reputation Management

Social inequality can tarnish a company’s reputation if the public perceives it as exploiting disadvantaged communities, engaging in discriminatory practices or neglecting its social responsibilities. 

A damaged reputation can erode consumer trust and investor confidence, affecting the business’s long-term viability and supply chain stability. 

  • Resource Scarcity

Inequitable access to resources, such as water, energy and raw materials, can hinder the smooth functioning of the supply chain. Companies may face price volatility, shortages or regulatory constraints related to these resources, resulting in production delays and increased costs.  

  • Political and Regulatory Risks

Social inequality can exacerbate political and regulatory risks. In regions with significant inequality, there may be a higher likelihood of civil unrest, protests, violence and government interventions. These factors can disrupt transportation, trade and compliance, affecting supply chain stability. 

  • Volatility

Social inequality can affect economic volatility, impacting consumer demand and market conditions. Businesses must anticipate these fluctuations and adapt their supply chain strategies to minimize risk. 

  • Security Risks

Areas with high social inequality may experience higher crime levels and security risks. These risks can affect the safety of goods in transit and the security of supply chain facilities, requiring additional security measures and increasing operational costs.

  • Cultural and Language Barriers

A problem often overlooked is that social inequality can also manifest in cultural and linguistic diversity. These differences can create communication challenges within the supply chain, resulting in misunderstandings, delays and mismanagement of resources.

  • Health Disparities

Disparities in access to health care and overall health can affect workforce productivity. In areas with high social inequality, there may be a greater prevalence of health issues, leading to increased absenteeism and reduced worker productivity. 

  • Infrastructure Disparities

In some regions, there may be disparities in infrastructure development. These inequalities can result in inconsistent transportation networks, unreliable energy sources and inadequate communication systems. Such inequality can hinder the efficient movement of goods through the supply chain. 

  • Education and Training 

Social inequality tends to result in unequal access to educational and vocational training. Between 1970 and 2016, the income gap between the top and bottom of wage earners grew by as much as 27%, demonstrating the severity of the wealth divide. 

This lack of access can affect the availability of skilled labor in certain areas, impacting a company’s ability to find qualified employees and potentially leading to skill gaps within the workforce.

How Can Businesses Mitigate Social Inequality Risks in the Supply Chain?

  • Supplier Diversity Programs

Implement supplier diversity programs that actively seek out and support minority-owned and disadvantaged suppliers. These programs contribute to social equality and enhance supply chain resilience by diversifying the supplier base.

  • Ethical Sourcing

Prioritize ethical sourcing practices by conducting due diligence on suppliers to ensure they adhere to labor and environmental standards. Regular audits and assessments can help mitigate risks associated with suppliers engaged in exploitative practices. 

  • Workforce Development

Invest in workforce development initiatives that promote education and skill-building in disadvantaged communities. These initiatives can help bridge the labor market gap and provide a more qualified and diverse talent pool.

  • Stakeholder Engagement

Engage with stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors and communities, to understand their expectations regarding social responsibility. Address their concerns and communicate your commitment to reducing social inequality. 

  • Regulatory Compliance 

Stay informed about evolving regulations related to social inequality and labor practices. Develop robust compliance mechanisms and work closely with legal and compliance teams to ensure adherence.

Navigating Social Inequality in the Supply Chain

Social inequality isn’t just a societal issue – it poses significant risks to businesses, particularly those with global supply chains. The factors affecting the supply chain in the context of social inequality are multifaceted and interconnected. 

To effectively manage these risks, companies must adopt a holistic approach that considers labor practices, resource management, political stability and their reputation within their communities.

By recognizing the impact of social inequality on the supply chain and taking proactive steps to address these challenges, businesses can build more resilient and sustainable supply chain networks. Moreover, by contributing to efforts to reduce social inequality, companies can create a fairer and more stable global business environment. 


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How to Amend 5 Factors Driving Younger Workers Away From the Supply Chain

There is a severe labor shortage in many essential roles in the sourcing, manufacturing, shipping and logistics sectors. Baby boomers are leaving in droves as they reach retirement age and the younger generations of workers have no desire to work in the supply chain.

Why aren’t Millennials and Gen Z interested in the numerous job openings? What can business leaders do to improve their hiring success among these demographic groups? 

Here are some effective strategies for attracting and retaining young workers in supply-chain occupations.

The 5 Factors Driving Young Workers Away

Everyone has a personal reason for avoiding a career path, but these five overarching themes have clearly impacted young people’s career decisions.

  • Lack of Awareness

The biggest reason for the supply chain’s talent shortage is a general lack of awareness among Millennials and Gen Z. Many people don’t know about the numerous job positions available in this industry and only consider the entry-level roles, such as warehouse workers and truck drivers. They don’t see the advancement opportunities hiding behind the scenes.

Moreover, many people don’t know what a supply-chain job entails or the industry’s challenges. A 2022 survey of economic literacy found 40 percent of Americans can’t give a concrete definition of “supply chain” or explain its current state. Employers must do their part to raise awareness for the industry, for the sake of the company and for the country.

  • Weak Culture

A strong company culture is one of the main things young workers look for when browsing for new jobs. They want to work with friends, not with acquaintances. 

They want the company to make the work environment fun and supportive, not bland and disconnected. Creating this environment can be challenging in the fast-paced world of supply chain management.

  • Differing Values

Young workers might also have values that differ from supply chain companies. Sustainability and work/life balance are the top two priorities for Millennials and Gen Z. 

While there are many initiatives to make supply chains more eco-friendly, it’s impossible to guarantee a balanced work schedule for entry-level positions in this industry.

  • Limited Hybrid Opportunities

Almost half of all work-eligible people in the 18-29 age range say they prefer the hybrid work model over a 100 percent in-person position. Most supply-chain jobs have to be in person all the time, which presents a major conflict of interest. This problem has become much more prevalent in the last few years, thanks to COVID-19.

  • Obsolete Technology

The final major factor driving younger workers away from the supply chain is obsolete technology. Millennials and Gen Z grew up in the age of the internet, and are more tech-savvy than baby boomers. 

They don’t want to work in an environment with outdated and dysfunctional devices. They want to use state-of-the-art tools to make their jobs easier and accelerate their career advancement.

How Businesses Can Make Amends

Supply chain companies can’t force young people to change their attitudes about the industry, but they can provide new information to sway their opinions. Here’s how businesses can amend their relationships with the next generation of employees and rebuild their workforces for the foreseeable future.

Increase Brand Visibility

The most important thing businesses can do to attract young workers is increase brand visibility. That means getting active on social media and drumming up interest in supply-chain issues. 

It’s not an easy subject to discuss with college-aged people, but company representatives can make it more interesting by highlighting the career benefits and unique success stories.

For example, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals conducts a biannual survey of young workers in the industry. The latest poll from 2021 found 99 percent of young professionals believed they made a quality career choice, while 95 percent were excited about training and advancement opportunities.

Interacting with underrepresented groups — namely young women — is especially important for raising awareness and increasing the talent pool. The average driver age in the for-hire over-the-road truckload industry is 46, and although women make up almost half of the entire U.S. labor pool, only 6.6 percent are currently working in this specific sector. 

Show Off the Culture

Along with staying active on social media, showing off your culture is the next essential step to attracting young workers. The Forbes Business Council outlines five key steps to developing culture in the workplace:

  • Accept that culture matters: A strong culture can attract and retain talent, and is even more important than salary for most people.
  • Define and share the company’s mission, values, and goals: Every company should be able to explain its mission statement, value system and long-term goals to prospective employees.
  • Encourage healthy communication: A strong culture allows employees to share their ideas, questions and concerns freely. Consider setting communication guidelines to establish a firm hierarchy and avoid confusion.
  • Prioritize employee well-being: Companies must treat their workforce respectfully and compassionately. Mentorship programs, leadership development, learning opportunities and support groups are foundational pieces of an empathetic culture.
  • Monitor and nurture the culture: Those pieces are also crucial for monitoring and nurturing the culture in the long run. Establish connections between old and young employees through company traditions and activities.

Building a strong culture also addresses any conflicting values the company might have with young workers. Hiring teams can demonstrate their commitment to work/life balance during the interview process. Talk about the company’s work schedules, PTO policies, sick days, mental health resources and any other factors that might sway a young interviewee’s decision.

Offer Flexible Work Options

Supply chain companies should offer more than one scheduling option for each opening. Providing hybrid or remote opportunities for positions that do most of their work online is a good starting point. The idea is to provide a schedule so employees can complete tasks when they’re most productive rather than fitting everyone into the same box.

For positions that have to work on-site, companies should offer a reasonable break policy to avoid overwhelming employees and maintain their quality of work. HR departments must emphasize these policies during onboarding and encourage employees to take full advantage of them.

Invest in New Technologies

Lastly, investing in new technologies demonstrates a full commitment to the next generation. Artificial intelligence software, project management tools, automated mobile robots, autonomous guided vehicles and wearable devices are just some of the latest technologies making waves in the supply chain.

Millennials and Gen Z have been surrounded by technology for their whole lives. They expect their employers to be up to date on recent developments. If companies want to attract talent from these generations, they must show off their tech resources every chance they get.

Appeal to the Next Generation

Most young workers might not see supply chain operations as a desirable career path, but business leaders can do several things to change that attitude. It starts with increasing brand visibility on social media, showing off the workplace culture, providing flexible work schedules and investing in new technologies. 

These four pillars will appeal directly to the next generation and set the company up for future success.

logistics robot supply

How AMRs Are Fulfilling the Potential of Automation in Modern Supply Chains

Supply chains have been slow and disruption-prone in the COVID-19 era, largely because of operational deficiencies and a lack of skilled labor. 

Automated mobile robots (AMRs) can address both challenges by replacing outdated technologies and giving the workforce a boost of artificial manpower.

Here are some ways that AMRs are fulfilling the potential of automation and getting modern supply chains back on track.

How Do AMRs Function?

An AMR is a type of robot that can perform tasks without human guidance. It’s the next step in the evolution of autonomous robots, coming after the autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) that could only do certain predetermined tasks under close supervision. While AGVs are still useful for transporting materials and working alongside human employees, AMRs bring more value.

AMRs use a variety of sensory technologies including cameras, magnetic tapes and lasers to process their environments, which isn’t a new concept. AMRs are so special because of their artificial intelligence and machine learning software. When a sensor identifies an unexpected obstacle, the built-in software can immediately reroute the robot and continue its assigned task.

What Are the Different Types of AMRs?

AMRs fall into three broad categories based on their functions — transportation, order picking and sortation. The main AMRs for transportation are self-driving versions of traditional vehicles — namely self-driving trucks that can reduce congestion and fuel consumption on busy supply routes. Self-driving forklifts and pallet jacks are other common examples.

The main AMR devices for picking orders are industrial robotic arms, which fill the positions of assembly line workers in warehouses or manufacturing plants. There are numerous types of robotic arms that play key roles in supply chain automation, including multipurpose six-axis robots and collaborative robots that are designed to work alongside humans.

High-speed tilt tray robots are the primary AMRs that warehouses use for sortation. They include a simple reclining tray and barcode reader to classify products into their appropriate incoming or outgoing lines, but the AI software works at a much faster and more efficient rate than human sorters.

Benefits of Using AMRs

AMRs are admittedly challenging to adopt because of their deployment and reconfiguration costs compared to AGVs. Feeding an autonomous robot new information and keeping it in good condition is hard work. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs. Here are the biggest reasons why supply chain professionals should invest in AMRs.

Compensates for Lost Labor

The most immediate benefit of using AMRs is the compensation for lost labor. Wholesale trade and manufacturing were among the hardest hit industries by the Great Resignation that took place from 2020 to 2022. These sectors have more than one million combined job openings in the U.S. as of March 2023. 

Rather than attempting to hire more employees, companies can fill those empty roles with AMRs instead. AMRs are the ideal devices for the mundane and repetitive tasks that make up a majority of supply chain processes. Robots can move, pick and sort the entire inventory while humans continue to occupy more people-oriented departments.

Greater Supply Chain Efficiency

Outsourcing monotonous tasks to AMRs leads to greater efficiency at every step in the supply chain. They remove human limitations from the equation, leading to fewer errors and allowing operations to run 24/7. Managers no longer need to account for independent variables such as an employee’s health or mood on any given day.

Fleets of self-driving trucks can transport goods with better driving techniques and thus fewer delays. Self-driving forklifts, pallet jacks and other warehouse devices can move items to their assigned destinations with pinpoint accuracy and cause no damage. Industrial robotic arms also operate with surgical precision when assembling and packaging products, minimizing waste.

Safer Work Environment

Implementing autonomous robots also creates a safer work environment. AMRs use safety-rated LiDAR systems, one example being the OTTO Lifter. It has a 360-degree view of its surroundings, allowing it to avoid accidents that may lead to injuries.

Instead of having a bunch of employees driving forklifts around a warehouse with innumerable obstacles, managers can switch to AMRs that navigate around obstacles without error or hesitation. Similarly, performing dangerous tasks like incisions, welds or handling hazardous materials is much safer in the hands of a robot rather than a human.

Higher Product Quality and Quantity

When a company maximizes its safety and efficiency, the inevitable result is higher product quality and quantity. Every item that an AMR handles will look and function the same. On the rare chance that a defect occurs, managers can add that information to the AMR’s software to ensure it never happens again. 

Manufacturing products with this level of accuracy also leads to a higher overall output. AMRs can’t directly solve the shortages of raw materials in various industries, but they can get the most out of the limited resources a company has. Moreover, AMRs can absorb new data, make objective decisions and adapt to external variables in ways that humans can’t.

Significant Savings

The final benefit of using AMRs in supply chain operations is significant savings — both from operational costs and scaling. Safe and efficient operations yield great savings because companies don’t have to pay for equipment damage, defective products, employee accidents and other disruptions. Labor costs are also much lower with AMRs included in the workforce.

AMRs are also highly flexible, so businesses can add them to their growing operations as needed. This unmatched scalability allows managers to free up capital for other expenditures and add more AMR units over time. Investing in a new technology in the long run is more affordable than modifying or replacing a fixed system in the short term.

Keeps Up With Supply Chain Trends

Lastly, businesses that invest in AMRs have made a critical step in following the latest supply chain trends. With the rise of lightning-fast e-commerce and changing customer expectations, the demand for speed and efficiency has never been higher. Human employees in a depleted workforce can’t keep up with this demand, but AMRs can.

Armed with scalable robotic solutions, companies can adapt to the changing attitudes of their customers without missing a beat. They can easily change an AMR’s functionality by adding new data to the software instead of causing downtime to upgrade the facility. AMRs operate independently and can shift to a new task or location without hiccups.

AMRs Are the Present, Not the Future

New technologies like AMRs often get discussed in terms of future benefits, which is a mistake. AMRs are the present, not the future. They are playing critical roles in supply chain optimization right now, and they will only become more indispensable as time goes on. Business leaders need to invest in AMRs now if they want to overcome today’s economic challenges.

Blueprint for a Green Chain: 8 Steps for Fostering Sustainability

The supply chain and sustainability have become interconnected in the past few years, with companies worldwide emphasizing environmental consciousness for themselves and their supplies. 

It’s crucial for reputation, and going green benefits businesses by lowering costs, driving innovation and improving employee satisfaction. 

How can company leaders improve sustainability? Here’s how supply chain professionals can transform their organizations.

How Can Supply Chains Become More Sustainable?

Talking about sustainability is easy, but incorporating new policies is challenging. These five reasonable changes demonstrate what supply chain professionals can do today to improve their organizations. 

  • Mapping the Supply Chain

Before implementing new policies, company leaders must visualize the supply chain to find liabilities. The flow of goods and materials provides the necessary insights into what aspects of the business require changes. 

For example, a manufacturer may review its suppliers and find other options closer to its facility. Oil and gas account for 15% of energy emissions worldwide, so shortening the supply chain reduces fuel costs and improves a company’s carbon footprint. 

Managers can also use their supply chain map to identify waste. E-commerce companies may use more packaging materials than needed, leading to misuse. A business can improve operations by using more sustainable materials and increasing focus on recycling.  

  • Setting Sustainability KPIs

After mapping the supply chain, logistics professionals can develop policies to strengthen their weak spots. However, these actions are only worthwhile if leadership monitors progress and continues to find improvement. Supply chain managers should set sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure the company follows its promise to be more environmentally conscious. 

KPIs are integral for sustainability goals because they provide a clear benchmark for employees to strive for. Company leaders can measure progress over time and adjust their strategies when necessary. If something isn’t working, it’s better to know early rather than later. KPIs are also beneficial because they’re effective communication with stakeholders. Leadership can use them to demonstrate progress and build credibility with the board.

  • Communicating With Suppliers

The supply chain starts with an individual company but involves all suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers. Professionals should communicate with suppliers and other entities to ensure they employ sustainable practices. Some companies offer discounts, favorable contracts and other financial incentives to go green and reduce their carbon footprint.

Logistics professionals can share sustainability knowledge to improve the supply chain for all organizations involved. Companies can also collaborate on benchmarks to benefit both entities. For example, two businesses could pledge to use greener packaging or reduce energy consumption. Communicating with suppliers builds trust through transparency. 

  • Reviewing Supplier Performance

After communicating with suppliers, reviewing their performance over time is essential. Companies must be willing to identify and improve their sustainability weaknesses. If they don’t, they become liable and harm the supply chain’s environmental consciousness. A business’s suppliers reflect on it, so checks are crucial. 

Suppliers improving their practices can remain partners in the supply chain, but companies that don’t risk replacement. For example, a manufacturer may request its distributors to increase the use of electric vehicles (EVs). EVs improve sustainability with zero tailpipe emissions and less energy consumption than gas-powered cars. Partners that don’t comply risk losing an integral part of their supply chain. 

  • Implementing Sustainable Sourcing

Supply chain managers reviewing their flow of goods should scrutinize material sourcing. Some sustainable practices sound environmentally friendly, but a closer look shows a different story. For example, a manufacturer may produce EV batteries. These devices don’t rely on fossil fuels for power, but they require mining lithium, cobalt, nickel and other items harmful to the environment.

Environmental impact is something companies should consider because of its long-term ramifications. One practice may seem profitable now, but how will it affect the bottom line 30 years later? Supply chain professionals should ensure their suppliers enforce sustainable methods.

For example, fishing companies use trawling, unreported fishing and other unsustainable strategies to capture seafood. These practices may bring short-term profits, but they harm the environment. The United Nations says 3 billion people worldwide rely on seafood for their daily diets, so unsustainable methods impact a significant percentage of the planet’s population. Harming this many people affects long-term profits and expansion opportunities negatively.

How Can Professionals Aim High With Sustainability?

Some goals take longer than others, often requiring decades to implement. While they need more time, these three ambitious targets significantly improve the supply chain’s sustainability.  

  • Becoming Carbon-Neutral

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are difficult for companies to avoid entirely. However, organizations can offset their emissions by becoming carbon neutral. This transition is challenging for multinational corporations, but it’s a worthwhile long-term venture. 

Numerous prominent companies worldwide have committed to carbon neutrality this century to demonstrate sustainability. This goal is central among automakers. General Motors has pledged carbon neutrality by 2040 by eliminating tailpipe emissions and using renewable energy in all manufacturing facilities worldwide. 

Increasing renewable energy and reducing waste are terrific ways to reach carbon neutrality, but supply chain professionals can also use carbon offsets. Companies can participate in tree-planting projects, environmental cleanups and other projects to limit carbon liability. 

  • Investing in Advanced Technology

Some companies face financial roadblocks when improving their supply chain’s eco-friendliness. Advanced technologies are often expensive due to high demand and the required materials. Many devices are also new and have limited competition on the market to drive down the price. While it may be costly, it significantly improves sustainability. 

For example, some companies are turning to blockchain to track their goods. This technology improves supply chain visibility and traceability by allowing businesses to monitor their products throughout the process. However, blockchain costs more than traditional databases and requires employees with expertise to implement it properly. Otherwise, it could be wasted money. 

The last few years have seen construction companies use 3D printers to build houses and offices. These machines lower costs but have a high upfront price. These printers start at around $180,000 but can eclipse $1 million for top-of-the-line devices. 

  • Creating a Circular Economy

Many companies create products for their suppliers and customers without considering what happens afterward. However, these leaders are doing themselves and their employees a disservice by not considering the entire life of their items. Professionals can enhance their sustainability by creating a circular economy for what they manufacture. Allowing consumers to upcycle and recycle improves the supply chain. 

Companies can create a circular economy by intentionally designing their products for reuse and recycling. For example, sustainable EV battery producers allow consumers to recycle them at the end of their life. Recycling facilities extract lithium and cobalt from the battery and repurpose the metals for other uses — thus reducing demand for consuming virgin materials.

Creating a circular economy comes with added costs, making it a lofty goal for some businesses. For example, some areas may lack recycling facilities to incentivize companies. Additionally, producing recyclable materials costs more because of complicated manufacturing processes or high expenses.

Fostering Sustainability in the Supply Chain

The global supply chain has come under the microscope in recent years. Various disruptions have challenged companies worldwide to become more sustainable and resilient in an ever-changing world. Professionals can improve sustainability and go green by implementing reasonable and ambitious solutions.

supply chain managers

6 Proactive Ways Supply Chain Managers Can Start Preparing for Winter Weather

Winter typically brings brutal weather conditions across the United States — especially in the North. However, snowstorms can still reach the Sun Belt states. Regardless of location, supply chain managers must prepare for snow, sleet, ice and other conditions.

Preparation is crucial for fortifying businesses and staying resilient throughout the season. Supply chain managers should employ these six proactive measures to brace for winter. 

1. Checking Regional Weather 

Weather can change at a moment’s notice, making it hard to predict. Though, meteorologists can gauge the upcoming winter by looking at data from previous seasons. These scientists also use sea surface temperatures and climate patterns as indicators for December, January and February. 

For instance, North America has seen three La Niña years in a row — producing colder and wetter winters on the West Coast. However, experts are 95% certain this upcoming winter will see El Niño, bringing a drier and warmer winter to the American West. 

Supply chain managers should look at their regional weather outlook to predict what’s coming. These professionals should consult local meteorologists and climate experts for their opinion and use it to determine the necessary preparations.

2. Establishing Emergency Plans

Logistics professionals should prepare for winter regardless of conditions by establishing emergency plans. The weather can change rapidly and defy expectations from meteorologists, giving businesses in the community little time to prepare for treacherous conditions. Developing emergency plans ensures supply chain managers are ready for the winter weather. 

First, managers should assess risk and find the facility’s vulnerabilities. Power outages and worker and product safety are two of the most significant concerns because either situation can turn fatal if an organization isn’t ready. Then, supply chain managers should review their communication protocols to ensure everybody is on the same page when torrential winter weather arrives. 

Sometimes, winter conditions will be devastating enough to force evacuation. Supply chain managers should develop contingency plans to protect workers and goods and reduce downtime. These strategies may include moving products to a temporary storage facility or finding alternative means of transportation. Managers should draw these plans now to prepare for the cold days of the future.

3. Preparing Facilities

Winter can cause headaches for business owners if their facilities aren’t ready for the frigid conditions. Supply chain disruptions have tightened budgets, so the last thing managers need are shipping delays or damaged equipment. Minor issues like icy walkways can become significant if employees or clients slip and fall. These incidents can bring unwanted costs from workers’ compensation and legal fees.

Prepping the building should be high on the priority list for supply chain managers. They should start with inspecting exposed pipes or cracks in the windows and doors. Using caulk and weatherstripping prevents outside air from penetrating the facility and protects employees and inventory from cold conditions.  

Building owners should inspect their HVAC units to ensure they’re ready for the winter. These systems protect the building from cold weather, so examining the entire unit from top to bottom is essential. Supply chain managers can hire a professional to inspect the HVAC or audit the machine. HVAC reviews typically include checking the following parts:

  • Air filter: The HVAC’s air filter should be free of dirt and debris to ensure airflow and efficiency throughout the winter. 
  • Coils: Contaminants can also harm the coils, so inspectors should ensure the condenser and evaporator coils are in working order. 
  • Freon: Many HVAC units produced before 2020 contain freon, so building owners should ensure their systems have adequate refrigerant levels.

4. Inspecting Fleets

Logistics professionals rely on their fleets to transport millions of dollars worth of cargo, so protecting them all year is crucial. Cold weather significantly affects all kinds of vehicles, emphasizing the need for routine maintenance. Supply chain managers should be proactive by inspecting their cars, vans and trucks before the season’s first snow. Routine inspections include:

  • Tires: The first place winter hits fleets is the tires. Some regions face dramatic temperature drops, causing tires to lose significant air pressure. Supply chain managers should swap for winter tires before cold weather and regularly inspect each tire’s psi. Every drop in psi leads to 0.2% worse fuel economy, costing money unnecessarily for businesses.  
  • Fluids: Another critical winter preparation for fleets is caring for the fluids. The engine will run better with low-viscosity oil to help the fluids flow. Supply chain managers can start with 5W-30 oil because of its flexibility year-round. If the cold weather worsens, fleet managers should consider 0W-20 or 0W-30 to ensure their vehicles are in good shape. 
  • Battery: Cold weather also strains batteries because they have to work harder in frigid temperatures. Battery maintenance is even more critical if logistics professionals own electric vehicles (EVs). Fleet managers should emphasize keeping vehicles charged and using block heaters to ensure the battery doesn’t drain quickly. EVs shouldn’t charge to 100% or rest at 0%, so finding a happy medium is vital. 

5. Salting the Ground

Prepping vehicles for the season is an excellent start, and supply chain managers can go the extra mile by strengthening the roads and parking lots. Logistics professionals can’t stop the snow but can prevent the road from icing by using salt. Sodium chloride lowers water’s freezing point and makes vehicles safer. Below-freezing temperatures are less of an issue, depending on how much salt is in the solution.

Supply chain managers can speed up the salting process by using salt spreaders on their property. Acquiring a salt spreader now helps businesses prepare to de-ice the roads and keep their fleet moving. These machines are more efficient and accurate than humans spreading salt, so it’s worth considering for the season.

Logistics professionals should know salt has its limitations. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says salt won’t melt snow fast enough when temperatures dip below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, making the salt spreader less cost-effective. Alternatively, businesses can use sand to make surfaces less slippery. 

6. Ensuring a Full Staff

The end of the year brings increased demand for logistics companies due to the winter holidays. FedEx, UPS and Amazon often see their peak between November and January before cooling down closer to the spring. The increased demand emphasizes how businesses must be ready, and supply chain managers can prepare by ensuring they have a full staff. 

Many logistics companies require seasonal employees to fill the demand amidst labor shortages. This trend stretches across several industries, impacting logistics, manufacturing, retail and more.

Experts predict the shortage will continue for the remainder of the decade, so hiring managers should start early when looking for temporary workers. Supply chain managers should give themselves and their seasonal employees at least three months to acclimate and adequately prepare for the demand. 

Preparing for Winter

Winter is challenging for logistics professionals due to increased demand and the weather. Frigid conditions can compromise vehicles and facilities and cause critical downtime. Supply chain managers should use these six proactive ways to prepare for winter. 

Author Bio

Oscar Collins is the editor-in-chief at Modded, where he writes about a broad spectrum of topics. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates on his work.