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How Is Customer Service AI Improving Work for Employees?

customer service AI

How Is Customer Service AI Improving Work for Employees?

Customer service is an area that always needs attention and often needs improvement. No matter how strong your systems and your personnel, smart organizations are looking for a competitive edge in this field. Therefore, the work your employees perform in the customer service department is a critical focus for any successful business.

With that in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at how Customer Service AI is making some significant improvements in this area. By heeding the advice and explanations we give you here, your employees will be able to provide a more thorough and effective service to your customers. In turn, the number of satisfied customers will increase significantly, and you won’t have to emphasize the search for new customers anymore.

What’s more, the overall loyalty to your brand will increase, as well as the reputation your brand has among consumers and competitors.

Ways AI Is Improving Customer Service Work

First of all, it’s important to understand that AI is not about replacing your employees in any way. When you deploy Customer Service AI solutions to your customer service sector smartly and efficiently, your employees gain the support they need to perform their jobs much better than they ever could before. That’s precisely where the main benefit of AI lies – in human-AI collaboration.

The most obvious example of this is the use of chatbots in customer service. AI-powered chatbots are now capable of performing many tasks when it comes to the relationship between your company and your customers. They can handle specific repetitive tasks and even resolve simpler issues your customers have. By doing that, your employees are left to work on more complex issues, without having to waste time giving the same answers and dealing with the same problems that tend to repeat themselves within most companies.

What’s more, AI-powered chatbots are available 24/7, so you don’t have to worry about overstretching your employees through several shifts or hiring more people to handle more demands. AI chatbots become the frontline of your customer service, providing the answers to the questions your employees don’t have to worry about anymore. Beyond chatbots, AI can also ensure the organization within the customer service department is at its most efficient and that no unnecessary errors occur.

Chatbots will know when complex issues arise and will seamlessly transfer those requests to human employees who will handle the problem more effectively. This becomes a symbiosis when quality solutions are implemented, and the customer never notices the transition.

As you can already assume, all of this improves the overall satisfaction of your customers, as they no longer have to wait hours for a dedicated agent to give them a response.

The Bottom Line

In essence, AI is not just improving the customer service industry and the work employees do there, it’s revolutionizing it. If you want to be part of that revolution, your organization needs to seriously consider implementing a quality AI-driven service desk that will completely alter the work your employees perform and the service your customers receive.

Aisera offers that kind of solution, and you can test it out to see how it works right now by requesting a personalized demo from us.

manufacturing

Why Technology – Not Tariffs – Is the Key to Reviving US Manufacturing

Reshoring has captured the imaginations of politicians and economic developers for years, particularly in parts of the country hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs. The COVID-19 crisis gave reshoring advocates another rallying cry, as supply chain disruptions rippled through the economy and the general public awoke to the fact that we are dependent on Chinese manufacturing for most of our medical supplies.

Some will no doubt call for a response in the form of tougher trade policies – tariffs that aim to level the playing field and to deter Chinese “dumping” of cheap, below-profit goods with which US manufacturers can’t hope to compete.

But while tariffs can be an effective weapon in the short term, they won’t help revive American manufacturing. In fact, they might do serious damage, especially amid an economic downturn. Most economists now believe the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which leveled crippling tariffs on US imports from all over the world, played a significant role in sinking the country deeper into what would become the Great Depression.

Fortunately, tariffs aren’t the only way. We can reverse the decline of domestic manufacturing and return factory jobs and investment to US soil, but the key isn’t policy – it’s technology.

American manufacturers can regain their global competitive advantage by widely investing in and deploying automation and robotics that will enable them to produce everything from auto parts to cellphone screens cheaper, faster and better than factories in China and elsewhere.

The technology won’t replace workers. They’ll be needed to operate and maintain the sophisticated machinery involved. Much of the investment I’m calling for will be in people – training Americans to work with the kind of technology that can transform and revive our manufacturing sector. We call this Industry 4.0.

Doing What Americans Do Best

Before I explain further, I should lay some groundwork. Even as wages for Chinese workers have risen in recent years, they remain much lower than US workers’ pay. Other countries can undercut China, leaving Europe as the only part of the world where American manufacturers have any sort of cost advantage.

That means we must do what America does best: innovate. If we can get ahead of the curve by investing technologies such as robotics, Internet of Things and 3D printing, we can automate shop floors in a way that speeds production, sparks new-product development and creates new high-skilled factory jobs. We can also produce competitively priced goods that enable our local manufacturers to grow by taking market share from rivals overseas.

Jergens Inc. is a 78-year-old company in Cleveland, with a campus on an abandoned railyard site. The company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of standard tooling components, vises and other workholding equipment, has fully embraced automation – but not as a way to eliminate jobs.

“With every robot, more jobs at Jergens are created,” says Jack Schron, the company’s president. “We use one robot to get higher production on one of our popular items. Right next to that robot are skilled technicians assembling these same items for small-run, custom applications. Because of the one, the other follows.”

Automation has actually increased headcount in some Jergens departments; because the robots helped increase production and broaden its offerings, Jergens has hired more sales, marketing and shipping workers.

A Technological Cold War

Jergens is far from alone, even among the subset of Northeast Ohio manufacturers I work with. What we learn from them is that automation is more affordable, more accessible and more effective than ever.

Unfortunately, far too many small and mid-sized companies in our industrial heartland understand this. That’s partly why few have taken the first steps toward automation. In a February survey by our organization, 94 percent of manufacturers in Northeast Ohio said they were actively innovating – but more than 60 percent said they weren’t using or just starting using automation, and half said they didn’t plan to increase automation spending.

Too many American manufacturers don’t understand the technology, or how their shop floors or market strategies could benefit from automation. Others see the potential but don’t have the funds to invest, or see the investment as too risky, or fear the lag between investing and seeing a return would destroy their balance sheets.

None of those things is true, but various combinations of flawed perceptions, lack of knowledge, lack of funding and risk aversion prevent factory owners and leaders from investing in technology that would make them more profitable and competitive.

Meanwhile, China has been investing in automation technology for years. The country has now become the world’s largest and fastest-growing market for industrial robotics, according to the International Federation of Robotics. The mental image of Chinese sweatshops is no longer accurate (though other countries still use those methods). Google “manufacturing process” and you’ll see highly automated, high-tech manufacturing facilities in China.

Put simply, we’re in a cold war of technological advancement that very few people – including many manufacturing leaders – see and even fewer understand. And we’re losing. Could COVID-19 provide the motivation we need to fully embrace innovation, advance toward Industry 4.0 and win the innovation war? It absolutely could. Or perhaps American manufacturers will embrace Industry 4.0 for simple business reasons – it will undoubtedly make them more profitable.

Whatever it takes, investment in technology is a critical step toward a new, sustainable era of reshoring. And at the very least, widespread investments in technology will create better-paying, safer, more stable jobs in parts of our country hit hardest by the deindustrialization of the last 30 years.

That is the promise of Industry 4.0.

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Dr. Ethan Karp is an expert in transforming companies and communities. As President and CEO of the non-profit consulting group MAGNET, he has helped hundreds of manufacturing companies grow through technology, innovation, and talent. He is passionate about driving economic prosperity in his home region of Northeast Ohio. Dr. Karp is a recognized thought leader on manufacturing issues and a frequent media commentator on the future of manufacturing in America. Prior to joining MAGNET in 2013, Dr. Karp worked with Fortune 500 companies at McKinsey & Co. He received undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and physics from Miami University and a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from Harvard University.

MAGNET is part of the NIST and Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program to support small and medium manufacturers across the US.

How Technology can Improve your Logistics Operations

Like most other industries, the logistics industry faces a gradual transformation towards adapting to the internet age. The advent of new technologies invalidates age-old approaches and processes, creating the need for modernization. And with the logistics industry being as massive as it is, it’s understandable that it can be notably lucrative. Between risk mitigation and automation, there are many ways in which adaptive technology can benefit this $4 trillion industry. With that said, let us explore just how technology can improve your logistics operation.

The significance of efficiency

Before delving into specifics, it is vital to note the undisputed value of efficiency in the logistics industry.

As mentioned before, this 4$ trillion industry is massive, and its interconnectivity with other industries is apparent. Thus, efficient logistics operations can yield considerable productivity gains across the board. Not only can they provide a competitive advantage, but they can also guarantee better overall operation cohesion. Logistics software can greatly enhance one’s control and oversight of supply chains, increasing response times to potential disruptions. After all, customers of all industries value a swift delivery of goods and services, as well as quality customer support. Such software can augment all of those aspects, ensuring that potential challenges are easier to overcome.

Shipment Tracking Systems and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

A technology that has already caught on, albeit to varying degrees, is shipment tracking. As customers would previously be unaware of their order’s status, shipment tracking systems have rectified this somewhat. With 24/7 access to shipment status information, customers can rest assured that their order is indeed underway. Some tracking systems even offer additional information and shipment notifications for additional insights and convenience. This solution can indeed improve your logistics too, no less than customer experience. Constant monitoring can save your time and money, as well as unclog your customer service channels.

Likewise, on the front of cargo management, RFID technology has also seen use in recent years. In essence, RFID tags or sensors allow companies to keep track of their inventory. Both labor-saving and cost-effective, RFID tags are often used in distribution warehouses as a means of monitoring containers. Such industries as the apparel industry are also using RFID technology for tracking purposes, with very notable success. Should you be contemplating how technology can improve your logistics operation, RFID solutions could be a reasonable step to take.

Automation and robotics

On the subject of warehouse optimization, then, technology has provided another asset; automation. Naturally, automation can yield many benefits to many industries, but logistics is unquestionably one of them. From increased performance to reduced labor costs, automation is undoubtedly a valuable asset.

Automation offers to improve operational efficiency in machines, and has already seen effective use in such trade hubs as Holland’s Port of Rotterdam. Namely, its use of fully-automated terminals allows it to reap the aforementioned benefits in terms of unloading cargo. It’s estimated that this approach increases overall productivity by as much as 30 percent – a very notable net benefit.

Similarly, robots have facilitated the rapid growth of online sales across many industries. While they are quite dissimilar from automation in many regards, they too can automate operations and thus decrease labor costs. Most notably, as far as e-commerce is concerned, Amazon has been innovative in this front. Its use of Kiva robots has reduced the company’s expenses by as much as 20 percent. A notable feat, enough so that other companies also seek to employ robots in their warehouses.

Drones and autonomous vehicles

In much the same way as automation and robotics, technology has provided logistics companies with drones and autonomous vehicles. Similar in function, both can be fine examples of how technology can improve your logistics operation.

Drones have seen surges in functionality in recent times, elevated from a niche solution to one with potentially global applications. This development was understandably followed by an array of eager high-profile adopters, such as UPS. A potential innovation in terms of product delivery indeed, drones can expand delivery options to both urban and rural areas. More fortunately still, their nature allows them to also improve logistics, by removing the factor of human error.

Likewise, autonomous vehicles can offer similar convenience. In part due to relatively lower regulations and easier testing, self-driving vehicles have been an accessible technological advancement for many logistics operations. Of course, it’s notable that this technology is currently mostly limited to warehouse management, such as autonomous forklifts and trucks. However, with rapid advancements, it may not be long before autonomous trucks can traverse the world’s highways. Both in their current and potential future forms, autonomous vehicles can quite possibly be a massive asset to any company.

Conclusion

As technology makes rapid strides, one can realistically expect vast logistics optimization potential. From warehouse management and monitoring to shipment tracking and delivery, the possibilities seem endless. When contemplating how technology can improve your logistics operation, both the present and the future hold much promise. And as supply chains expand and grow, it will be vital to adapt to such technologies to remain competitive.

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James Clarkson is a freelance web designer and author. He often writes analyses of the shipping and moving industries, and of the SEO needs of both. He’s a frequent writer for Verified Movers, as well as other companies.

coronavirus

How the Coronavirus Pandemic has Diversified UK Business

As the Coronavirus pandemic has altered our ways of living and working – potentially for good – it has sent shockwaves through areas of UK business previously thought untouchable.

The thriving food and hospitality sector has steadily grown over recent years but faces an uncertain future as social distancing becomes a new norm of everyday life.

Of course, some industries have enjoyed something of a boon during the lockdown as their products, services, and expertise have come to the fore, or been adapted to suit the needs of the population.

How have businesses altered their offering?

Many eateries have kept afloat by switching their sit-down service to take-out or delivery, while robotic delivery of food and drink in Milton Keynes could offer a glimpse into the future of the industry, long after Covid-19’s grip on our daily lives has subsided.

The airline industry has been similarly decimated as planes have been grounded but swapping passengers for cargo has allowed some to maintain business.

Land-based delivery services have thrived, especially those connected to online shopping, like our trips to the high street or retail centers have been curtailed by the lockdown.

This has not come without the need for a change to regular services, however, with health and safety now more paramount, businesses have needed to be agile in swiftly adapting sanitary and sterile methods of delivery especially when dealing with at-risk customers.

Can businesses help in the fight against Coronavirus?

Some of the biggest swings in business have seen entities completely change their line of work in a bid to help fight the virus.

Producing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns, and gloves, has become a priority for many textile companies.

In the bid to build more hospital equipment, Formula 1 teams used their engineering might take on the task. World champion outfit Mercedes produced a ventilator which was used in a trial by the NHS and made the plans freely available for other manufacturers to build their own versions.

As the need for clear public communication has risen, printing business instant print was marked as NHS supply chain critical, producing an adapted product range including posters, signage, floor stickers and more to be used in a host of healthcare settings.

Will UK businesses recover after Coronavirus?

This is a tricky question to answer, as to how our daily lives will look once the pandemic subsides remains a grey area.

As scientific exploration into the virus continues, the threat of a ‘second wave’ of illnesses sweeping the world is set to make the resumption of our previous ways of life something that is implemented slowly, if indeed some things we used to take for granted ever do return to our daily routines.

Work settings may change, infrastructure will likely have to be adapted to suit a more socially distant population. How crowds gathering in shops, restaurants, bars, concerts, sporting events and more will be managed is almost impossible to predict as simply containing the virus still remains the highest priority.

As some countries begin to tentatively emerge from lockdown and try to get to grips with a ‘new normal’, the world will look to the likes of Australia and New Zealand for cues, while China has also looked to restore many of the social liberties that were taken away when the virus began to spread in its Hubei province.

If your business has been impacted by the Coronavirus, perhaps some of the examples above can help guide you through the rocky times or inspire a change of direction that may bring greater success once the pandemic passes.

warehouse

Top 10 Solutions for Common Warehouse Problems

Warehouse Engineers attended the Modex Conference looking for low-cost solutions to improve warehouse operations. As a previous warehouse manager, I understand traveling isn’t always an option because you have to get orders out the door. No reason to fret, Warehouse Engineers has you covered with 10 solutions to common warehouse problems.

Problem 1: Cycle counts

We’ve all been there… the quarterly cycle count or worse, the full annual. Ware eliminates the cycle counting dilemma. Yes, that’s right, Ware deploys fleets of drones, powered by machine learning, to perform cycle counts. Ware creates the software and analytics that lets the drones do the work, saving time and money.

Problem 2: Tracing orders

Ever had an order delayed by the rail or carrier?

Me!!! I’ve been on the phone with the carrier asking where is my order?

Pallet Alliance developed a platform to track individual pallets from end to end of the supply chain with IoT connectivity. Intellipallets integrate with existing wooden pallets providing efficient tracking of shipments. Once the pallets become “intelligent” they provide information like transit location or stationary time. Now you will know when your order is stuck in a rail yard.

Problem 3: BOL Paperwork

Why does the customer call for the BOL that you can’t seem to find?

BOLs are a necessary evil. You must get the driver to sign for the order, then store the order for years. The process creates so much paperwork, and it’s even harder to track individual BOLs. I hate when the customer calls for a BOL from 3 months ago. The smart people at SMART BOL developed an automated solution for bill of lading signing and document retention. Yes, there’s an app for drivers to sign the BOL and the signature magically goes into the cloud.

Problem 4: Communication Boards

I’ve struggled with outlining a whiteboard for daily huddles. The magnets are not straight, the markers start to fade. Sometimes I spent more time preparing for the meeting than the actual meeting itself. Visual Workplace is a source for Lean & 5S Supplies. They have great templates for KPI Tracking and daily huddles. Visual Workplace can also print dry erase board overlays for kaizen events and root cause analysis.

Problem 5: Workstations

We all know the value of 5S, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” But what if you don’t have a place for everything? Literally, while you are setting tools in order, you are missing a place for a tool. With PioneerIWS, you can easily build a custom workflow to meet your needs. Their Flexturs can be transformed into mobile workstations, shelves, and packaging stations. Setting and Sustaining workstations are a lot easier with PioneerIWS.

Problem 6: Shifted Rail Cars

Ever been nervous about opening a box car?

I’ve been there, crossing my fingers hoping that the pallets are still upright.

Of course, the pallets have shifted and spilled over. Have you ever seen a rail car full of spilled tomato paste, yuck! Shifted cars are a no-win for everyone involved. Filing a claim with the rail line is so difficult, most people don’t bother. The rail always points the finger at the packaging and swears they never hump cars. Next time I have this problem, I’m calling Southern Bracing Systems (SBS) for a solution. SBS manufactures a patented Ty-Gard 2000® approved by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to keep orders in tack. They also provide expert training for AAR-approved cargo securement equipment and cargo restraint systems uniquely designed to prevent damage in transit.

Problem 7: Missing Labels

In wet or grimy conditions, labels just won’t la

I’ve had to label entire warehouses: entry doors, ramps, racks, etc… Sometimes a label just doesn’t work. The Patmark 1533 provides a solution for quick, custom permanent applications. MarkinBOX is the world’s most compact portable marking machine system. Combined with a carbide pin, you can mark on a vast range of surfaces like racks and bins. I wish I had the Patmark 1533 when I 5S’d a battery storage room.

Problem 8: Data Overload

We’ve all heard the phrase “big data” but what do we do with it?

Big data creates value when leaders can make data-driven decisions. With all the data coming from the WMS, ERP, and time clocks, who has time to consolidate the data for reporting? Easy Metrics solves the big data problem by providing custom reports and KPIs for your team. I know tracking labor can be burdensome, at times requiring a full administrator. Easy metrics make it easy for everyone.

Problem 9: Packaging Dimensions

Length, Width, Height…. And where is my tape measuring?

We’ve all had to answer those questions when preparing parcel for delivery. It’s so frustrating when you have a large or heavy box that you need assistance with to get all the dimensions. Sizensor designed an app to instantly capture parcel dimensions. Sizensor has a lot of benefits around the warehouse-like planning a load diagram for new products. Consider how easy the app is to install and use, it’s a win.

Problem 10: Warehouse Space

We need more space.

No warehouse manager wants to tell their president or sales team those words. I’ve lead tens of projects to increase density and utilization. We go vertical, we consolidate, move things around, but sometimes just need more space. When you literally need to pop up a warehouse, ClearSpan is your solution. ClearSpan warehouses can be custom designs or turnkey solutions for the appropriate storage solution.

There you have it, ten solutions for common problems within a warehouse. I hope this information is useful and please share with your colleagues. Collaboration and networking is another benefit of attending conferences. All the companies listed above have great salespeople Warehouse Engineers interacted with. If these are great ideas, and you don’t have the capacity to manage the project contact Warehouse Engineers.
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Brandon Ashby, the managing partner, is a certified Project Management Professional who can manage the project for you.
warehouse

MAN AND MACHINE ARE KEY TO CREATING COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE IN TODAY’S SUPPLY-CHAIN WAREHOUSE

When it comes to warehousing and the use of robotics to manage and maintain a competitive supply chain, the conversations usually begin with the potential for these powerhouse machines to replace workers and eliminate the need for humans in the facility. As this might be the case in some situations, the bigger concern surrounds how to successfully create an environment where both humans and robots are able to safely collaborate, creating more efficiencies within the warehouse sector while at the same time optimizing the processes many still operate manually.

This is the concept of interconnecting the mind and abilities of these machines to support human workers, not replace them. The truth of the matter is, there are some things humans can do that robots simply cannot do, and the fear of robots replacing humans is backwards compared to what is really going on in meetings between warehouse managers and creators of autonomous solutions.

Dan Khasis, founder of Route4Me, a unique route optimization software platform, takes a deeper look at the emerging relationship between robotics and warehouses and dissects the reality of what is really going on when managing the supply chain inside the modern warehouse. “There’s this perception and risk associated with the subjects of robotics and job security,” he concedes. “It is very common to see a lot of warehouses that are based on the location, the retailer, the company, where their worker population is unionized. Many times, the situation starts with C-level executives who discover the technology that can drive efficiencies in the warehouse, save money and that work very well.”

“However, word gets back to the union workers that the expectation is for them to work twice as much in the same amount of time and they quickly realize it isn’t realistic or possible,” Khasis continues. “At that point, technology adoption is eliminated because people cannot be replaced. At that point, they accept the inefficiencies and turn to loopholes to deal with the issues that are clearly present. It is not the worker’s fault, but there is a struggle with getting warehouse workers onboard with these new technologies in addition to the long hours that are required to keep up.”

Khasis goes on to explain that the ability to do the picking and packing in the warehouse is still one of the biggest pain points in the warehousing sector. An example he cites is weight restrictions and what makes sense in terms of safety and simplicity. Can one send a robot to pick up a fridge that weighs 800 pounds versus utilizing someone in a forklift to lift the fridge? Sure, but some would question how a robot could prove to be more beneficial than a forklift in situations like these.

“There are basic and common risks associated with robotics, such as employees getting injured, and the technology exists to avoid such accidents,” Khasis says. “In terms of a hybrid model, you’re able to have things such as augmented reality where if one is driving through the warehouse, there’s clearly the safety component in question. There are heavy items throughout the warehouse that are elevated and there needs to be a population of properly trained employees to minimize these risks along with the technology to support it.”

Heavy lifting comes into play with this pain point and Khasis emphasizes that well-trained individuals are more favorable over advanced technology in these cases. With every advancement comes risk and it’s about measuring the risk against current and potential resources that determines the best way to optimize operations while mitigating these risks. The warehouse sector is aiming to operate optimally and safely as that is where competitive advantage is ultimately found.

“The hybrid warehouses that are half robots and half autonomous are still an open question regarding the interaction between human workers and robots because there will undoubtedly be issues with how they collaborate together,” Khasis points out. “For example, will there be a specific area for robots and one area for the workers, how we will address collision avoidance, and how they will actually collaborate are the bigger questions still in the process of being solved?”

Leadership in the warehouse sector is experiencing a technological disconnect as well. While many news headlines boast the latest big-name companies adopting a new form of advanced technology, there are still many large companies operating the good old-fashioned way: via Microsoft Excel or another manual process and dismissing the option of advanced technology completely. This isn’t a bad thing, but Khasis emphasizes that these companies could maximize their bottom lines by adopting technologies that aren’t incompatible with emerging technology.

“There’s a generational shift in the warehouse,” he says. “For example, the VP or director in today’s warehouse might not have faith in the modern technology approaches available. We sometimes have friendly arguments with our own customers explaining how something might not ‘look’ better but mathematically and in terms of optimization, it is paramount in comparison and when broken down. There are both trends and realities that differ from what people are talking about versus what’s actually happening.”

Khasis continues: “Many warehouses out there are still using legacy software and there’s a significant amount of big industry players who still have not modernized their systems. Part of that modernization is moving stuff to the cloud and as they move things up to the cloud, opportunities will open up for them to take advantage of newer technologies. These newer technologies on the market are not backward compatible with the relatively obsolete systems that are closed off and still very much in use. They simply do not interact well with other systems.”

For warehouses, proactive measures through advanced technologies are phasing out antiquated systems that require a retrospective approach to the process. Processes Microsoft Excel are still very much part of the manual process Khasis says breaks the dynamic between the adoption of technology and the desired bottom-dollar impact.

“Few companies actually understand what they need to have in each warehouse and when they need it,” he says, “and the way to successfully identify what consumers are demanding is best found through reliable and integrated e-commerce data. In some cases, the warehouse directors will project certain time frames for specific items based on the previous year rather than analyzing data revealing search activity increases within the e-commerce sector.”

These data predictions and trends monitoring can give matchless insight on upcoming and unpredictable events that other manual processes simply cannot accomplish. Weather changes, for example, and alerting warehouses of what to keep in stock versus assuming patterns in spending can make big differences in gaining that advantage over competitors. E-commerce monitoring through this data can give ample information in real-time without the need of someone else providing trend forecasting. This brings extra work costs down for the warehouse worker and increases time savings overall, all while driving the bottom dollar up.

Khasis emphasizes the importance and role advanced technologies will have in providing more opportunities in optimization and human-robot collaborations. With advanced technologies, warehouse managers can better predict what types of deliveries are on the horizon and prepare their warehouse more efficiently, streamlining the process and interactions between automation and warehouse workers.

“The warehouse does not live in a vacuum and it must be able to adapt to upstream and downstream systems. For example, if a shipment is coming in and you have the capability of knowing what is on that vehicle and where it needs to g—assuming you have the technology available to share that information—you can then have the human workers and robots collaborate to make room for that to go smoothly. This can include advanced space allocation, unloader coordination and advanced warehouse space preparations.”

Autonomous vehicles will soon have to adapt to the warehouse as well. The issue of inter-compatibility will undoubtedly be of question.

“One cannot send a delivery vehicle or any other type of truck with a different height from the warehouse because the robots can’t access it,” Khasis notes. “The concept of inter-compatibility between internal robotics and external autonomous systems will be particularly important in the near future. We believe that in order for there to be efficiencies, there must be integration, and everything needs to collaborate.

“Our patent–called Autonomous Supply Chain, and the point of this is to reiterate that a warehouse can have the best software on the market but if it isn’t compatible or the timing isn’t right, then it doesn’t matter. That brings up the question of timing and what determines the right time and how it impacts planning which is very important.”

Without the key element of integration, the most advanced technology simply will not present the results sought for competitive advantage in the warehouse, negating the desired effects from the dollars spent on adopting them. For companies seeking to redefine the warehouse, they must consider in what ways integration is possible and affordable.

“We look at all the assets including the people, the vehicles, the potential shipments on the way in and out of the country, the warehouse and its capabilities and location, and figure the best way to optimize routes,” Khasis says. “For some of the biggest global companies, this is still being done with manual interpretations, which includes reporting analysis after the fact. There is little preventable action with this type of process, and it takes more of a retrospective approach.”

The option of accepting inefficiencies is simply not going to cut it anymore. Processes are changing, technology is becoming the new standard, and people are needed that are open to learning and adopting methods of work that increase productivity while supporting long-term and short-term goals in the supply chain.

“The goal of Autonomous Supply Chain is to get in front of the problems and decisions rather than behind them while utilizing an advanced technology that can collaborate across the board,” Khasis says. “By incorporating all techniques across different business units and different business entities, the process is streamlined. When this is all put together, we are estimating anywhere from 25 to 50 percent value creation, savings and profit increase mainly because a lot of this process is currently human dependent.”

More than ever before, the concept of synchronization in the supply chain is needed. Customer demands will continue to rise and become more complex as time goes by. In the age of Amazon and next-day delivery, the warehouse simply cannot afford to operate with one or the other–being robots or humans. Both are a crucial part of the bigger picture that have a significant impact on business.

“The warehouse location is equally important, and the industry is extremely behind in understanding warehouse site selection,” Khasis says. “If you have a warehouse in the wrong area–even with 100 percent support from the union with the best robots on the market—it is going to be difficult because now you need different people fulfilling roles that weren’t accounted for, such as drivers. Sure, you might have a cheaper warehouse but if the location isn’t carefully considered, your savings are quickly dissolved in other valuables that weren’t modeled into the original budget. This process is also still manually done throughout the industry and can be optimized using our software.”

Each element in the process will undoubtedly impact the success and outcome of your warehouse, beginning with site selection to worker population to technology integration. In an age where business goes to people instead of people going to businesses, ensuring all parts are synchronized is a critical part of the bigger picture of gaining and maintaining competitive advantage and keeping up with an evergreen marketplace.

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Dan Khasis is a technology entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Route4Me, a unique route optimization software. 

modex

MODEX Day Three: Robotics & Automation Continue Maturing

In typical Modex fashion, robotics and automation were among the hot topics discussed by keynote speakers, exhibitors, and attendees. A vast array of capabilities, sizes, and industry-specific robotics could be found throughout the show floor, each showing off a new capability. It’s clear that robotics continue to evolve and show no signs of slowing down progress in meeting demand within warehouses and distribution centers.

Mike Futch, President of Tompkins Robotics made this point very clear during his session on Wednesday afternoon titled, “The Lights Out DC/FC: How Close Can We Get?”

Futch addressed the use of various technologies to address workforce constraints while improving the effectiveness and performance of the supply chain.  He identified what advancements will assist in solving bottlenecks such as facility constraints, space issues, and the current situation in unemployment. As these challenges persist, robotics continues to mature.

“There’s a limited workforce, a limited number of people that can drive the distance to enter the immediate geographic region, and these larger buildings are competing for that workforce that’s already at a low unemployment rate along with offering increased wages and siphoning workers off of others. This is a real challenge for some markets.”

“Labor is scarce and we have record-low unemployment, typically to expand capacity from a volume perspective and companies are turning to more shifts. If you already have a tight labor market and you’re adding shifts, where are the workers coming from? And this creates a bigger problem.”

The workforce is a key constraint and while workforce rates are lower than others in some places, Futch states that companies are competing to stay ahead of demand through increased wages while solving the best approach to a limited workforce.

Machines continue to do the same things a human can do but without interruptions with repetitive, difficult, or taxing work that inevitably fatigues the human body. That being said, the industry still requires a skilled workforce and robotics should not be purchased for their appeal. It’s becoming clear that a blend of workers and robotics is a more common theme for integrating such advancements over the idea that robotics will “overtake” worker’s jobs. In fact, robotics is providing a way to re-establish worker tasks rather than eliminating the worker.

“Robotics has matured tremendously from where they were a few years ago. About 5-10 years ago, the pick-and-place robots at the show could not do the things they are capable of doing now. Two years from now, they’ll have the capability to do twice as much as now. Robotics is maturing and meeting the three R’s: improve rate, improve reliability, and improve the range of products and items,” he explained. ”

In terms of a fully automated DC, Futch added that about 60-85 percent of manual tasks can be automated realistically rather than a “lights out” center.

“Beyond the pick-and-place robots, other robots are doing the same thing: creating a blur of separation between what a human can do and what a machine can do.”

disruption

He Disrupted The Travel Industry; Now He Advises Others On Surviving Disruption

When Terry Jones began his business career as a travel agent 50 years ago, he booked his first reservation by telegram, making him feel as if he had time traveled to the Old West.

“My boss was a Luddite who refused to consider upgrading even to a teletype machine, which were in widespread use at the time,” Jones says.

It was a humble beginning for a man who would someday use technology to disrupt the entire travel industry and, as founder of Travelocity.com and co-founder of Kayak.com, dramatically change how we make travel plans.

These days, Jones talks a lot about disruption, not only as it applied to what he did with online travel booking, but also how all companies are at risk of being disrupted right out of business if they don’t adapt to changing times and changing technology.

Jones shares his thoughts on the subject in his new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It (www.tbjones.com).

That subtitle might make “disruption” sound foreboding – and rightly so – but Jones says within every disruption exists a silver lining of opportunity.

“You call it disruption, I call it innovation,” he says.

In other words, those competitors who upend the business landscape do so by being innovators and risk-takers, something that becomes anathema for too many large corporations that choose caution overexposing themselves to potential loss.

But caution, Jones says, can be the riskiest business move of all.

“You may be afraid to disrupt your organization because you’re afraid it will fail,” he says. “The irony is, your organization will fail if you do not disrupt it.”

Indeed, there exists a mounting casualty rate of once profitable companies that saw their market share dwindle as daring, savvy and previously unheard of competitors emerged to claim their thrones.

Blockbuster, Kodak, Radio Shack and Borders are among those that fell prey to changing times and advancing technology over the last decade. Blockbuster famously turned down an opportunity to buy a small, niche business that rented DVDs to customers by mail. Blockbuster executives failed to recognize the seemingly insignificant Netflix as a disrupter in-waiting.

“It’s unlikely your largest competitors will be your undoing,” Jones says. “The problem is those 5,000 to 6,000 new startups per year that are attacking the traditional world. You need to put their ideas to work and become a disrupter yourself.”

Not every corporate juggernaut ends up tossed on the business ash heap, though.

“There are a surprising number of 100-year-old companies out there,” Jones says. “And most of the ones I’ve talked to seem to have mastered the ability to shed their old skin and renew themselves when required, often quite painfully.”

One that gets a mention in Jones’ book is American Express, founded in 1850 not as a financial services company but as an express shipping business. For more than a century and a half, the company has proven itself open to change and innovation, and it boasts on its website that it has developed many new digital tools and continues to enhance its digital offerings.

“Your company may currently be strong and it may be run by intelligent executives,” Jones says. “But the question is: Are you adaptable enough to change? Even more importantly, are you proactively preparing for change? If so, you and your company are more likely to survive and maybe even thrive.”

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Terry Jones (www.tbjones.com), founder of Travelocity.com and founding chairman of Kayak.com, is author of the new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It. For the last 15 years he’s been speaking and consulting with companies on innovation and disruption. Jones began his career as a travel agent, jumped to two startups and then spent 20 years at American Airlines, serving in a variety of management positions including Chief Information Officer. While at American he led the team that created Travelocity.com, served as CEO for six years, and took the company public. After Travelocity he served as Chairman of Kayak for seven years until it was sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion.

automation

Automation Won’t Destroy Trade – It Might Even Boost It

Alarm bells are ringing

Many industry observers are sounding alarms about the looming impact of automation, robots and 3D printing, which they fear will destroy jobsdisrupt value chains and maybe even reduce the need for international trade. Developing countries are particularly concerned because trade has been an avenue to economic development and growth for them. But a recent report released by the World Bank shows that the data and evidence don’t support the hype. Instead, automation, robots and 3D printing might actually increase trade as trade costs continue to fall.

Some business analysts have warned that automation and robots could disrupt and shorten global supply chains. The thinking behind the concern is that, if a computer can design it and a 3D printer can make it, then we won’t need to source it from countries abroad that have more abundant low-cost labor than we do. Instead, companies will drastically shorten their value chains, which could reduce international trade.

The anxieties have gotten the attention of development economists and developing countries. Trade and economic growth go hand-in-hand, both in economic theory and in practice. Multiple studies have shown that firms in developing countries that participate in global value chains outperform their local peers that solely focus on domestic markets. If robots eliminate the need for global value chains, this important avenue for economic development could be threatened.

Anxiety over automation may be overblown

Scare tactics about economic change are attractive because they get our attention. About 15 years ago, we saw headlines about “white collar outsourcing” (once attorneys were added to the list of jobs that could be moved offshore, the panic even spread into boardrooms). Some lawmakers called for restrictions on offshoring, and some of those calls are still alive today. But the mass exodus of white collar jobs did not occur.

The World Bank is a multilateral development agency that makes grants and loans to support capital projects and economic growth in the poorest countries. Anything that reduces the need for trade and global value chains would hit those developing countries hard, putting the automation concerns squarely on the World Bank’s radar.

In its annual World Development Report, the latest released on October 8, the World Bank does not take a definitive stance on the overall effects of automation, and it does not make any bold predictions. But it does make one thing clear: The anxiety over automation hindering trade is not supported by the data and evidence. In fact, the authors show that sectors with the largest increases in automation have also been those with the largest increases in trade. Yep, that’s right: We’re experiencing the opposite phenomenon to what so many are worried about.

Automation actually helping to expand trade

Specifically, the report shows that the percentage change in imports of parts from developing countries from 1995 to 2015 is higher in industries that are more automated. Agriculture and textiles are among the least-automated industries and have the smallest change. Metal, rubber and plastics, and automotive sectors have the highest rates of automation and the largest increases in trade.

Automation in industrial countries has boosted imports from developing countries

Why? Because automation, like robotic assembly and 3D printing, leads to an expansion in output and demand for material inputs. Automation can also lead to the creation of new tasks. So while it brings labor market adjustment pains — like technology and progress always do — automation will not necessarily reduce trade or shorten global value chains.

Meanwhile, investments in digital technologies continue to lower the costs of coordinating across long distances. These lower trade costs are expected to promote trade and lead to a continued expansion of global value chains, particularly for developing countries.

The big picture

Here’s the big picture: Change is the one thing in the economy you can count on. Improvements in how we make things and advanced production technologies are likely to continue, and workers and firms that adapt and embrace these changes are likely to outperform those that do not. But a wide-sweeping elimination of trade and global value chains due to automation and robots? Don’t believe the hype.

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The original version of this article was published in The Hill.

ChristineMcDaniel

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article also appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

Takeoff Technologies Puts Robotics in Grocery Orders

Retail grocers including Albertsons, Stop and Shop, and Sedano’s are a few of the brands that have partnered with Takeoff Technologies, tapping into its innovative technology and robotics-focused strategies to more efficiently fulfill online customer orders.

Through the partnership, Takeoff’s Automated Micro Fulfillment Centers put AI-enabled robots to work to quickly gather and assemble large customer grocery orders, ultimately reducing time and cost compared to manual assembly. It’s reported that these robots can prepare as much as 60 items in a matter of minutes.

“The time is ripe for eGroceries,” said Jose Vicente Aguerrevere, co-founder and CEO of Takeoff. “Grocers have been dipping their toes in eGroceries for years. Now it’s time to jump in with both feet. Our automated, hyperlocal fulfillment centers enable grocers to do so with minimal operational costs.”

The company is encouraging grocers in urban and suburban regions to consider their Micro Fulfillment Centers once launched. These Micro Fulfillment Centers can be made out of existing space and extend market reach through a hub-and-spoke model.

“Takeoff is a win-win for grocers and consumers across the board,” said Max Pedro, co-founder and president of Takeoff. “Our eGrocery automation is a turn-key solution that uses robotics to unlock ultimate convenience for shoppers without need of charging fees or a price premium.”

About Takeoff:

Takeoff is an eGrocery solution that empowers retailers to attain profitable online growth by leveraging automation at a hyper-local scale. Orders are placed online through established retailers (whether using their existing eCommerce platform or Takeoff’s customized UI solution) and Takeoff’s automated technology fulfills the order using robots in Micro Fulfilment Centers.

The company’s robotics technology is proven and ready to deploy thanks to Takeoff’s exclusivity agreement with Knapp, a leading global provider of automated warehouse solutions. By leveraging automated Micro Fulfillment Centers, Takeoff’s innovative model operates at a much lower cost-to-serve than other eCommerce platforms, solving for both the cost of assembling the order and cost of the last mile. This results in savings for both shoppers and retail partners. For more information visit www.takeoff.com.