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Automation Trends and Challenges in Transporting Dangerous Goods

dangerous goods

Automation Trends and Challenges in Transporting Dangerous Goods

In just about every moving part of shipping logistics in the modern trading landscape, automation in some form or capacity is present or in the works to better support operations. From robotics to drones to autonomous vehicles, technology innovation is changing the way logistics operates, one bleep at a time. But when it comes to the transport of dangerous goods, there are factors present that create more of a danger when paired with innovation, creating more of a need for risk mitigation measures. The safety and compliance efforts going into transporting goods (particularly if they are dangerous goods) should always be just as important as the level of efficiency of the transportation process.

Drones, for example, continue making news headlines in logistics-focused transportation. Not only do drones provide an emissions-free, congestion-free and cost-effective alternative, but they also provide a new method of competitive positioning, according to Navigant Research. Pharmaceuticals have successfully been delivered utilizing this method of transportation in the last year. UPS is among the big names reinventing the way healthcare logistics is approached after the company announced its new drone logistics partnership with AmerisourceBergen, a pharmaceutical distributor.

“Delivery bots, RDVs and drones are set to displace millions of truck and van deliveries over the next decade, as they are far smaller, more flexible, lower in cost, and naturally suitable for automation and electrification,” says Ryan Citron, senior research analyst at Navigant Research, in a release earlier this year. “These technologies are expected to make last-mile logistics (LML) more efficient and sustainable, while also transforming local commerce and user experience through new business models such as on-demand store-hailing.”

While this is great news for some of the goods transported on a daily basis, drones are not exactly a realistic solution for the case of dangerous goods, at least for the time being in transportation and innovation regulation. That is when the conversation of autonomous vehicles comes in.

When transporting dangerous goods on wheels, what role does the autonomous vehicle fulfill? Let us start with what could go wrong with transporting dangerous goods. In an interesting evaluation of this process, Occupational Health and Safety released an in-depth article outlining the potential risks associated with ground transportation of dangerous goods. These risks included collisions and accidents, emergency response measures, loading and unloading, and the measures taken to properly secure such materials after loading for the ride. In all of these examples given by OHS, a physical driver is needed in some form or capacity, and not just any driver, but a trained hazmat employee. Without the properly trained employees or advances in technology to ensure compliance is met, a physical employee will need to be present for the majority of the “autonomous” vehicle experience, even if that employee isn’t the one doing the driving.

Another important thing to remember when merging technology and the transport of dangerous goods is their compatibility with other important–and vital–parts of the process. In a recent blog from Labelmaster, the concept of a solid data foundation is explained as a key part of a three-pillar system. The company’s VP of Software & Customer Success, Mario Sagastume, reiterates that when one of these pillars is off, the others follow suit.

Technology innovation does not always equal fancy robotics or massive automation takeovers. In some cases, it boils down to a clear set of data that provides a clear view of the big picture while identifying bottlenecks, risks and a lack of resources. It is important to consider the basics of technology before diving into complex solutions. After all, dangerous goods shipping is already a challenge. You want to simplify and support the process, not overcomplicate it. Solutions such as Labelmaster’s hazmat shipping software solution, DGIS, is an example of how data and technology work together for success in hazardous shipping processes.

Whether you’re transporting dangerous goods by sea, road, rail or air, one common element is ever-present: the human factor. This factor is identified in several studies as one of the main culprits of risk when evaluating potential issues in transporting dangerous goods. One specific study conducted by Jelizaveta Janno and Ott Koppel from Tallinn University of Technology, School of Engineering, Estonia, states that, “…the risk of DGT is strongly related to a human factor as all decisions, processes and procedures within a transportation chain are made by different parties involved.”

The authors explain that every part of the transportation process of these dangerous goods involve the human factor in some capacity, as seen with the previous point of autonomous vehicles and the required human presence for parts of the process.

This brings the conversation to the topic of adequate training. With all the technology, innovation and automation in the world, the human factor will almost always be present. This is not a bad thing, it is a wakeup call that technology cannot fix what thorough training, education and accountability can.

In another blog from Labelmaster, survey results from the annual Dangerous Goods Symposium revealed that the complex nature of hazmat and dangerous goods regulations, along with lack of robust education efforts, are causing headaches for a variety of shippers in the supply chain. One survey responder specifically cited the need for curriculum specific to the dangerous goods arena of supply-chain management.

Training and education (on regulations and operations) must be held to a higher standard for those filling positions in the supply chain, but especially for those handling dangerous goods at every level. Without this imperative part of the equation, technology and innovation efforts will be compromised. The investment must start with the employees and with leadership.

Before investing heavily in the next technology solution on the market, look carefully at the internal processes first. Take an honest inventory of how compliance is managed, how paperwork is processed, and the quality of employee communications. Recall the example from the experts at Labelmaster: Technology is a part of the bigger picture. When one pillar is impacted, they are all impacted.

manufacturing

How Automation is Shaping the Manufacturing Industry

Without a doubt, technology has been instrumental in revolutionizing most, if not all, industries around the world.

However, even in the face of this undeniable truth, some businesses remain hesitant about integrating certain innovations, such as automation, into their operations. Esteemed economist Christine McDaniel explained how this resistance may be due to the overblown anxiety over the false claim that automation will leave millions of blue- and white-collared professionals jobless for good.

Be that as it may, with the ongoing crisis requiring manufacturers to take certain safety measures, the dynamics between automation and this specific industry has to change in order to keep up with the times. Furthermore, a lot of experts believe that automation could be the very technology that will prepare and allow the manufacturing sector to thrive in a post-pandemic world. To give you a clearer picture, here are some of the ways automation is shaping the manufacturing industry these days:

Raise savings and cut costs

Over 478 billion of the 749 billion working hours spent on manufacturing-related activities worldwide were automatable. The aforementioned 478 billion hours, which is equivalent to $2.7 trillion worth of labor costs, provides a great opportunity for manufacturers to increase savings. In addition, a new generation of robots that are not only flexible and versatile but also relatively cheaper can help cut costs in the long run and increase the scalability of manufacturing businesses.

Enhance resiliency and simplify processes

In the face of an ongoing global health crisis, most manufacturing plants have been left with no choice but to operate below full capacity and strategically schedule workers to limit the number of employees in a specific location at any given time. And with how tedious this task can be, it’s easy to see how some manufacturing managers could easily run into challenges when coordinating the workers and the machines. Fortunately, Verizon Connect details how manufacturing managers can rely on automated software that can make the intricate process of job scheduling and machine coordinating easy and hassle-free.

Increase labor productivity

As with every other industry, automation has the ability to make businesses even more efficient. With machines and robots that can get more tasks done within a given time frame compared to traditional manual options, manufacturers can look forward to a significantly reduced production lead time and a greater total rate of production. Moreover, automation can also help accomplish seemingly impossible manual tasks that often require precision and accuracy to a greater extent. Economics Help also mentions how automation can enable factories to produce a greater range of goods that come in different sizes and designs, as well as being suited to different functions.

Improve workplace safety

Even without the pandemic, safety has always been a significant concern for manufacturers. After all, data from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workplace injuries and accidents, which are more frequent in this field, can cost businesses nearly $62 billion per year. For many years now, on-the-job injuries have been gradually falling, thanks to machines and robots that have been doing all the heavy lifting, taking over repetitive tasks and eliminating the need for employees to work in extremely hazardous environments. In the coming years, manufacturers can continue counting on automation when it comes to making hazardous workplaces safer.

As the world braces itself for a future that’s been completely changed by the current crisis, the manufacturing industry’s reliance on automation will only run deeper, and it’s easy to see why. After all, automation has the ability to raise savings and cut costs, enhance resiliency and simplify processes, increase labor productivity and improve workplace safety.

robots

THE EVOLVING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DRONES, MOBILE ROBOTS, AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES AND LOGISTICS

Last mile delivery is the most expensive part of the delivery chain, often representing more than 50 percent of the overall cost. This is mainly because it is the least productive and automated step. As such, many are seeking to bring automation into the last mile. In recent years, many companies around the world have been innovating to utilize autonomous mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicle technology.

Various autonomous robots and vehicles (sometimes called pods) are being developed around the world. These come in a variety of shapes and forms, reflecting the diversity and breadth of design and technology choices which must be made to create such products.

Drone Delivery: a Game Changer in Instant Fulfilment?

My new IDTechEx report, “Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040,” covers the use of mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles in delivery, warehousing and logistics—and suggests these could create a $1 billion market by 2030. That shows how far we have come since a previous IDTechEx report, “Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037,” which analyzed the technologies that were then emerging in the last mile delivery space, including drones and autonomous mobile ground robots (or droids).

Several players, big and small, have entered the drone delivery game since then, but at the time of the 2017 report, the idea of drone delivery was sharply dividing commentator opinion, with some dismissing it as a mere publicity stunt.

Indeed, drone delivery must be viewed within the context of the emerging drone industry, which has grown to a more than $1.5 billion industry. In the ensuing years, consumer drones’ hardware platform became rapidly commoditized with prices falling.

The idea of drone delivery entered the mainstream media in late 2013. Around that time, drone delivery of e-commerce parcels was first demonstrated in parallel with drones successfully delivering medicine to remote areas. Since then numerous deliveries have been made, partnerships announced, and substantial sums invested.

Fleet Operation to Compensate for Poor Individual Drone Productivity?

Drone delivery faced critical challenges in 2017. Individual drones offer limited productivity compared to traditional means of delivery (e.g., consider a van delivering 150 parcels in an eight-hour shift). They can only carry small payloads and battery technology limits their flight duration, constraining them to around 30 minutes radius of their base while further lowering their productivity due to the downtime needed for re-charging/re-loading.

The limited productivity, in our view, is not a showstopper. This is because fleet operation can compensate for poor individual drone productivity. The unit cost of drones will be substantially lower than, say, a van, enabling the conversation of a few, highly-productive vehicles into many small drones with high productivity at the fleet level. This will require a further major reduction in hardware costs for commercial drones, but if the past is to be our guide, this will be inevitable.

Limited payload is also not a showstopper because, according to Amazon statistics, some 85 percent of packages weigh 5 pounds or fewer. Furthermore, the fall in delivery costs and time for customers is changing purchasing habits: frequent orders of small items is replacing that big infrequent order. This matches well to the strong points of drones.

The limited range is also not a showstopper even in suburban areas where customers do not live close to a distribution point. It will, however, mandate a gradual yet wholesale change in the location of warehouses with more placed closer to end customers or the use of large mobile drone carrier vans. The former is already happening in the background, while the latter has also been demonstrated at the proof-of-concept level.

Sidewalk Last-Mile Delivery Robots: a Billion-Dollar-Market by 2030?

Sidewalk robots are often designed to travel slowly at 4-6 km/hr (or 2.5-3.7 mph). This is to increase safety, to give robots more thinking time, to give remote teleoperators the chance to intervene, and to enable categorizing the robot as a personal device (vs. a vehicle), thus easing the legislative challenges.

However,  sidewalk robots are still far from being totally autonomous. First, they are often deployed in environments such as U.S. university campuses where there is little sidewalk traffic and where the sidewalks are well-structured. Many robots are also restricted to daylight and perception-free conditions. Critically, the suppliers also have remote teleoperator centers. The ratio of operators to robots will need to be kept to an absolute minimum if such businesses are to succeed.

There is still much work to do to improve the navigation technology. The robots will need to learn to operate in more complex and varied environments with minimal intervention. Furthermore, capital is also essential. The end markets are also highly competitive, imposing tough price constraints.

In general, we forecast a 200,000-unit fleet size until 2035 (accounting for replacement). The inflection point will not occur until around the 2025 period given the readiness level of the technology. This suggests both a large robot sales market and an even larger annual delivery services market provided asset utilization can be high (the services income could reach $1.6 billion by 2035 in a reasonable scenario).

Sidewalk Delivery Robots vs. Autonomous Delivery Vans

These robots, pods and vehicles are mainly designed from scratch to be unmanned. They are also almost always battery-powered and electrically-driven. This is for various reasons, including: (1) electronic drive gives better control of motion, especially when each wheel can be independently controlled; (2) the interface between the electronic control system and the electrical drive train is simpler, eliminating the need for complex by-wire systems found in autonomous ICE vehicles; and (3) their production process needs to handle vastly fewer parts, and as such could be taken on by smaller manufacturers.

Another key technology and business choice is where to navigate. Many robots are designed to travel on sidewalks and pedestrian pavements, while the van-looking pods and vehicles are often designed to be road-going. This choice of where to travel has determining consequences for the design, technology choice, target markets and business model.

Sidewalk robots are an interesting proposition. They come with various hardware choices. For example, some are few-wheeled while many are six-wheeled. Some include a single small-payload compartment, while others carry larger multi-item storage compartments. The key choice, however, is in what perception sensors to use.

Navigation Technology Choices

Mobile robots come with various hardware choices, e.g., number of motor-controlled wheels, payload size and compartment design, battery size, etc. Almost all have HD cameras around the robot to give teleoperators the ability to intervene All also have IMUs and GPS and most have ultrasound sensors for near-field sensing.

A critical choice is whether to use lidar-only, stereo-vision-only, or hybrid. Lidar can give excellent 360deg ranging information with spatial resolution and a dense point cloud which enables good signal processing. Lidars, however, are expensive and can have near-field (a few cm) blindspot. Therefore, the choice to use lidars will represent a bet for the cost of lidar technology to dramatically fall.

Most robots deploying lidars use 16-channel RoboSense or Velodyne lidars. These are mechanical rotating lidars, giving surround viewing. The technology of lidars is evolving with the likes of MEMS or OPA emerging. These could enable cost reduction but will reduce FoV (field of view), thus mandating the use of more lidar units per robot.

We project that the cost of lidars is to significantly fall over the coming years. This has the potential to put such robots on the path towards business viability. The other challenge is near-field blindspots. This is not an issue with cars, but can be in a sidewalk, where many low-lying objects can reside closely to the robot. To resolve these, complementary sensors will be needed.

The other approach is to go lidar-free, using stereo camera as the main perception-for-navigation sensor. This will require the development of camera-based algorithms for localization, object detection, classification, semantic segmentation, and path planning.

No off-the-shelf software solution exists. Indeed, no labeled training dataset exists that would allow training lidar-based, camera-based or hybrid deep neutral networks (DNNs) for sidewalk navigation. The sidewalk environment is vastly different to that of the on-road vehicles. As such, companies will need to collect, calibrate, and meticulously label their own datasets. Furthermore, the datasets will require great diversity to accommodate different light, perception, and local conditions. Deployments in many sites even as pilot programs are essential in further improving the robots and can indeed represent a competitive advantage.

The robots are energy-constrained. As such, the number of on-board processors and GPUs should be kept to a minimum, and heavy-duty computational tasks such as 3D map-making and edge-extraction should be carried off-line in powerful services. This almost always happens when robots are deployed to a new environment: They are walked around to capture data, the data is sent to servers for processing so it can be converted into a suitable map, earmarking edges, many classes of fixed objects, drivable paths, and so on.

Long Road to Profitability Lies Ahead

In general, there is still much work to do to improve navigation technology. The robots will need to learn to operate in more complex and varied environments with minimal intervention. This requires extensive investment in software development. This ranges from gathering data, defining object classes, labeling the data, and training the DNNs in many environments and conditions. It also requires writing algorithms for the many challenges the robots encounter in their autonomous operation.

Furthermore, capital is also essential. The businesses are heavy on development costs, especially software costs. The end markets are also highly competitive, imposing tough price constraints. The hardware itself is likely to be commoditized and many will outsource manufacturing once they have settled on a suitable final design. The payback for many will be having a large fleet to offer robots as a delivery service.

Future Outlook: Significant Robot Sale and Delivery Services Opportunity

Sales and delivery firms are likely to have a long road ahead of them before they reach profitability. They should improve the robots to work in more scenarios beyond well-structured neighborhoods and campuses, to extend their operation to all-day and all-weather conditions, and to extend autonomous operation with little error to nearly all scenarios to drive down the remote operator-to-fleet size ratio.

The deployed fleet size will need to dramatically increase to expand income from delivery services and allow the amortization of the software development costs over many units sold.

We have analyzed all the key companies and technologies in this emerging field. We have also constructed a forecast model, considering how the productivity of last-mile mobile robots is likely to evolve over the years. We have developed various scenarios, assessing the current and future addressable market size in terms of total accumulated fleet size. Our fleet deployment forecasts and penetration rate forecasts are based upon on reasonable market and technology assessments and roadmaps.

Consequently, our forecasts suggest, that despite the upfront technology and market challenges, the market will grow and those who plant their seeds today will reap the benefits tomorrow.

_______________________________________________________________________

Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh is the research director at IDTechEx, where he has helped deliver more than 50 consulting projects across the world. The projects have covered custom market research, technology scouting, partnership/customer development, technology road mapping, product positioning, competitive analysis and investment due diligence.

His report “Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040” covers the use of mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles in delivery, warehousing and logistics. It provides a comprehensive analysis of all the key players, technologies and markets, covering automated as well as autonomous carts and robots, automated goods-to-person robots, autonomous and collaborative robots, delivery robots, mobile picking robots, autonomous material handling vehicles such as tuggers and forklifts, autonomous trucks, vans, and last mile delivery robots and drones. You can find the report here: https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-report/mobile-robots-autonomous-vehicles-and-drones-in-logistics-warehousing-and-delivery-2020-2040/706.

You can find his report “Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037” here: https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-article/drone-delivery-publicity-stunt-or-game-changer-in-instant-fulfilment/11658.

IDTechEx guides strategic business decisions through its Research, Consultancy and Event products, helping clients profit from emerging technologies. For more information on IDTechEx Research and Consultancy, contact research@IDTechEx.com or visit www.IDTechEx.com.

logistics

Six Key Technologies for High-Performing Logistics

The fields of logistics, manufacturing, transportation, and supply chains are experiencing a rapid and unprecedented transformation today. The future development of these industries lies in innovation and technology improvement. Recently, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, drone delivery, and other modernizations that have become almost a reality, previously, have been the subject of science fiction. So, let us consider the most prominent implementations to high-performing logistics.

3D printing

“The concept of 3D printing itself has existed since the 1980s. However, only now this technology has become available on a relatively large-scale market. This revolutionary advancement allows almost any company to create devices or their parts from metals, plastics, mixed materials, and even from human fabrics without special expenses” – according to Noah Miller, CEO of PhotoRetouchingServices.NET who plan to provide a new 3D printing service in 2021.

How can this affect logistics and supply chain management?

1. 3D printing significantly expands the production process

2. Increases independence from specialized industries and enterprises

3. Reduces delivery times, eliminating the need to store a large number of finished products in warehouses

The use of 3D printing will lead to drastic changes in the logistics field. Companies will supply raw materials instead of many finished products. Therefore, they will be able to provide 3D printing services at delivery points, which will be an additional source of income.

Smart systems and the Internet of Things

By the end of 2020, the number of connected devices is expected to surpass 50 billion. A world of coupled things is a treasure trove of opportunities for all sectors of the economy, including the trucking industry. Smart devices, connected in one information space, can store important data. For example, technical requirements, customer names, and shipping addresses.

Smart pallets and long-distance containers will make it much easier to track or locate goods in transit. Such systems will not only make it easier for warehouse employees to find, distribute, and dispatch orders, but also help manufacturers to perform maintenance and processing of goods at the end of the expiry date with higher efficiency. Over time, most logistics processes can become semi-automatic.

Tracking shipments in transit with network-connected devices will remove shipping worries. Moreover, in this way, it will be possible to check if the vehicles are in need of repair and receive information about the mishandling of some goods.

At the moment, tracking goods and services on the road is one of the major problems of logistic services. The use of the Internet of Things, along with the use of cloud GPS-systems, will allow you to track individual consignments easily. 50% of logistics service providers are already using cloud services, while 20% are planning to do so.

As data moves to the cloud, logistics services become available through pay-on-demand. This means that small businesses no longer have to spend money on complex IT solutions. They only pay for what they need.

In its turn, the Internet of Things is based on the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which communicate with each other. Chips attached to the individual elements of the consignment transmit data such as:

-product identification

-location

-temperature

-pressure and humidity

Once there is a notification of any negative action, it will be a trigger to promptly prevent any possible damage or theft. The chip can signal the onset of adverse weather conditions, such as high temperature or humidity. It can also transmit road condition data and info related to  specific parameters, such as average speed and traffic patterns, or return information.

Supply and transportation chain management is a relevant issue for logistics managers and directors. Therefore, logistics companies will benefit greatly from using this technology. Also, they will be able to get an increased number of satisfied customers.

Drone delivery

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle. It can be either controlled remotely or fly autonomously, using programmed flight routes arranged in its system. Drones are small, light, and quite cheap to operate. They manage to fly where other means of transport fail to perform.

In the near future, operators will use drones to promptly deliver small packages in both cities and remote areas. Due to their high speed and accuracy, it is possible to reduce the supply chain and significantly decrease transportation expenses. As a result, courier companies may incur financial losses. There are certain obstacles that hinder the widespread use of this technology: the issue of government regulation, air traffic safety, the permitted size and weight of the drone.

e-AWB

The Electronic Air Waybill, e-AWB, is the first step towards digitalizing the industry. It is a standardized electronic version of the existing paper air waybill that accompanies cargo from shipper to delivery. E-AWB improves the efficiency of tracking and processing cargo data, as well as the transparency and safety of the route.

In addition, it reduces expenses and delays. The International Air Transport Association, IATA, announced the transition to e-AWB in early 2019. Major airlines such as Lufthansa and Emirates, have already implemented the electronic air waybill. Delta Airlines and United Airlines are likely to follow suit soon. Thus, by the end of 2020, 80% of air waybills will be electronic.

Blockchain

Since its advent in 2008, blockchain has never fallen off the radar in any industry. Unfortunately, the complex concept is difficult for many logisticians to understand. Despite its great potential, it has hardly evolved.

In addition, many logisticians are tired of the very frequent use of this term. As you know, blockchain is an open ledger of transactions distributed among computers on the network. Since everyone in the common blockchain has access to the same ledger of transactions, there is complete transparency that makes it impossible for users to hack the system. Thus, it eliminates the need for third parties.

In the logistics industry, blockchain can make it easier to exchange sensitive data for different carriers or shippers. Also, companies are able to create trade finance and supply chain finance solutions.

Digital twins

Digital twins, electronic copies of a physical object or process, are one of the most exciting trends in logistics technology to follow in 2020. Many logisticians know that products will never be the same as their computer models. However, the technology of digital twins changes it. Now, the physical and digital worlds can be combined into one, which allows us to interact with an e-model of an object or its part in the same way as with their physical counterparts.

The potential for using digital twins in logistics is enormous. In the transportation sector, this novelty can be used to collect products and packaging data. In this way, it uses the information to identify potential blind spots and recurring trends to improve future operations.

Web technologies, programs and transport management systems do not stop evolving. Currently, the logistics industry is experiencing yet another revolution. The latest technologies are mostly related to speed, accuracy, security, and continuous delivery.

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Marie Barnes is Marketing Communication Manager at Adsy guest post service and a writer for gearyoda. She is an enthusiastic blogger interested in writing about technology, social media, work, travel, lifestyle, and current affairs.

manufacturing

Predictions, Prophets, and Restarting Your Manufacturing Business Amid COVID-19

COVID-19 has created a drastic effect on global health and the economy. Every nation is struggling to deal with the challenge of keeping its residents protected against coronavirus. Businesses are witnessing huge financial losses owing to a reduced/lack of workforce and other resources. If we talk about the manufacturing industry, it also has been hit hard by the corona crisis, and the fact that it has a huge role to play amidst coronavirus lockdown, this impact is felt the most by everyone.

The global supply chain got disrupted because of coronavirus, and since it originated in China, which is considered as the biggest manufacturing market globally, the ability of the manufacturing industry to meet the needs of the customers came down significantly.

So, let us throw some light on the impact of coronavirus on the manufacturing industry, and figure out some effective ways that can help manufacturers restart their business proficiently.

The Prophets and Prediction

The Prophet: The problem with prophecies is that they are based on data that is just a few weeks old, which is not sufficient for business leaders to make hard, cold business decisions when it comes to coming back in the market.

The Prediction: With social distancing becoming a norm, most of the people look forward to buying online. This clearly means that the scope of eCommerce is on the rise, and manufacturers will be looking to make a shift gradually.

Restarting Your Manufacturing Business

Every business is looking to return to the market, but due to the measures that are being adopted to reduce or prevent coronavirus are affecting the supply chains directly, which, in turn, is leading to disruptions in the manufacturing operations worldwide.

If we talk about the manufacturing industries like automobiles where production is done on a massive scale, the schedules for production are rigid and efficiency-optimized. In a similar way, the working of supply chains is dependent on schedules that are fixed like months ago based on the demand projections. Still, automobile owners are looking forward to remodeling such systems to be able to meet the irregular demand atmosphere.

Every crisis consists of several challenges, but one should look for opportunities within them. So, keeping the new norms of personal protection and social distancing, businesses need to redesign their business models.

To help businesses get started again, we are providing some guidelines that will help them to:

-Evaluate the organization’s COVID-19 safety compliance and requirements.

-Restructure the workplace for personal safety and protection.

-Implement procedures for personal protection.

-Put into practice the action plan for restarting to ensure a secure future of the company.

As per a Deutsche Bank analysis, the growth of GDP on the global level will be lower in 2020 due to the coronavirus effects. This effect will leave its impact on most of the U.S. and Europe, with growth forecasts on the global front also likely to drop by 0.2 percent.

Taking Care of the Workforce

The manufacturing industry is dependent on its workforce, and most of them proceeded towards their hometown owing to the fear of contracting coronavirus. In order to get its workforce back, a manufacturing company must keep track of the health status of every worker, along with gaining knowledge on the happenings in their areas through digital mediums. This will help them in knowing from which parts of the country they can call back their workforce to restart the manufacturing processes.

However, at this point in time, most of the manufacturers have to wait, and even if they are able to start the operations with a minimal workforce, they will be unable to manage their other important processes like accounting. In such cases, opting for Outsourcing manufacturing accounting services becomes imperative.

Securing Supply and Inventory

Instant delivery and globalization have turned out to be huge risk areas. Suppliers, including sub-suppliers, are all going through a similar situation. During such crisis situations, a huge concern comes to the top since procurement teams are unable to have close contact with their manufacturing suppliers. This, in turn, restricts them from monitoring the capacity of the production on a weekly/daily basis or evaluating the latest logistics prices and routes.

Now, with COVID-19, supply and inventory are in a position where there is a high risk of contractual defaults and severe legal action concerning the inability to fulfill orders on time or otherwise.

Why do Manufacturers Need to Rethink their Restart Strategies?

Most of the manufacturers are ready with their restart strategies and looking forward to implementing them ASAP. These new strategies are primarily focused on:

-The use of digitalization to receive data and have a superior visualization of the supply chain with control-centric solutions.

-Automation and robots to enhance the flexibility of the plant, including the capacity to run significant processes remotely or alone.

There is no denying that manufacturers are moving in the right direction, but they need to figure out for how long and at what pace they can carry out their production with a minimal workforce, technology support, and funds. The reason being local and international supply chains are disrupted, and one cannot say till how long this situation remains the same.

If a manufacturer is heavily dependent on the demand of a specific region or country, he may have to slow down his operations due to a lack of demand because of COVID-19. Low demand means a low supply and returns, leaving little funds for the manufacturer to operate. So, manufacturers need to assess their new strategies from every angle so that they are ready to face the forthcoming unexpected challenges.

This is a challenging situation for manufacturers for sure, and they cannot halt their operations for long. The above-mentioned suggestions will surely help manufacturers to not just get started but ensure smooth business operations in the future. Yes, they need to devise strategies, keeping in mind not just the present scenario but the possibility of forthcoming events, to stand strong against any unfavorable circumstances that might arise in the future.

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Gia Glad works as a Business Development Manager at Cogneesol, a well-renowned company offering data management, technology, accounting, and legal services. While handling the projects, she has witnessed a lot of changes over the years. She has been thoroughly researching and sharing her viewpoints about these industry trends and changes on many platforms across the Internet.

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.