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

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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.

global logistics

Smart Logistics: Catalysts Changing the Logistics Sector

The logistics industry is watching closely as United States and China negotiate to resolve their trade war amidst the threat of higher tariffs starting March 1. At stake is $635 billion in annual trade – China exports $505 billion and imports $130 billion with the US[i]. These negotiations have repercussions for the global economy well beyond the US and China. Many industries engage vast trade networks that span myriad countries leaving few markets or nations exempt from these talks. For the US alone, which imports $2.3 trillion and exports $1.5 trillion annually[ii], its entire trade regime is now in play.

Countries are not alone in broiling trade disputes. This month XPO issued a profit warning citing the expected loss of $600M[iii], or 3.5%, of revenue from an unnamed customer. Amazon, widely believed to be XPO’s unidentified customer, is expanding its own logistics capacity. The expansion of e-commerce has been a boon for the logistics industry and bane for traditional retailers. Now as Amazon develops its own distribution capability, logistics providers and retailers alike are threatened. 

Global Logistics – an Industry in Transition

Ecommerce has been a key growth driver for the global logistics industry, which is expected to grow 7.5% annually from $8.1 trillion in 2015 to $15.5 trillion in 2023[iv]. The logistics of delivering directly to consumers is far more intensive than distributing in bulk to big box retailers. Long haul full truckload remains the largest market segment in logistics with a 70% share, yet less than truckload, parcel and intermodal – which together comprise 15% share of the logistics market – are fastest growing. 

The politics of logistics extends beyond trade disputes. US freight employs over three million truck drivers. As the graph below indicates, trucking is the largest employer in 29 of 50 states across the US. The American Trucking Association estimates a need for an additional 900,000 truckers[v] over the next ten years to keep up with demand. The industry already faces a shortage of over 50,000 drivers[vi]amidst the need to replace an aging workforce: 57% of US truckers are over 45 years old and 37% are over 55[vii]. Given the backlash over Amazon’s recent pullback of a second headquarters in New York City for 25,000 jobs[viii], one might imagine the political stakes involved with four million truck drivers across the US in the coming decade. 

Logistics – a Magnet for Venture Capital Investment

Venture capital has poured into the logistics sector in recent years. In 2018, global venture investment in logistics reached nearly $14 billion, more than the three previous years combined. Funding for supply chain, logistics and shipping businesses continues to grow in 2019. In February alone, investors have committed over $5 billion to the logistics sector. Major financings include a $1 billion investment in Flexport for intermodal logistics, $940 million in Nuro for its self-driving delivery vans, $700 million in Rivian for electric delivery vehicles, $400 million in DoorDash for local food delivery, and $300 million in Hong Kong-based Lalamove for last mile delivery. 

Five catalysts are driving innovation and investment in the logistics sector:

Ecommerce: Online retail continues to cannibalize physical retail. Ecommerce in the US reached 9.8% of total US retail in 2018, nearly triple the share of retail ten years earlier[ix]. Ecommerce is growing even faster in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Traditional retailers are embracing omnichannel marketing as ecommerce extends to more retailing categories. The physical landscape will change dramatically in the decade as ecommerce players build more warehousing capacity replacing stores due to overcapacity in the traditional retail sector.

Crowdsourcing: Much as Uber, Lyft and Didi among others have disrupted the taxi industry through crowdsourced drivers, the gig economy is infiltrating the logistics sector enabling new services. Consumers are the biggest beneficiary through the rise of the concierge economy. Crowdsourcing has lowered delivery costs making home deliveries available for a broader range of items. Food delivery has received most funding with the rise of Uber Eats globally, Doordash and Postmates in the US, Just Eat and Deliveroo in Europe, Swiggy in India, and Meituan in China.  

Intelligent Automation: The securities brokerage industry has gone digital in the past two decades. The logistics brokerage industry still runs on phone calls and fax machines with limited price transparency and inefficiencies borne by limited supply chain visibility. Digital brokerage is now coming to the logistics sector through the confluence of sensors, cloud and intelligent automation. ELD and camera technology now monitor drivers reducing wait times, reducing accident risk, and helping to adjudicate cases when accidents occur. Venture backed companies that have raised $100 million or more in the US alone include Convoy, Flexport, Nauto, Next Trucking and Transfix, amongst others.

Electric Vehicles: The prospect of replacing diesel trucks is as welcome as replacing gas vehicles in the consumer sector. Tesla is now tackling the challenges of transporting large trucking payloads. Others are as well including the recently funded Rivian Automotive and Thor Trucks.

Autonomous Technology: End-to-end autonomous trucking may still be decades away yet the use of autonomous technology in logistics is already live in the warehouse with pilots underway for first and last mile as well as interstate long-haul deliveries. Autonomous delivery startups announced over $1.5 billion in February alone, including Endeavor Robotics, Ike and Nuro in the US and AutoAI, Mogu Zhixing and TuSimple in China. 

Logistics is a vast sector ripe for innovation across the supply chain.  Entrepreneurs and investors have flocked to logistics seeking to disrupt an industry representing over 5% of the US economy. While investment in logistics has increased substantially, funding has focused on major sectors. We believe many opportunities remain for further innovation across the supply chain as new technologies such as robotics, autonomous vehicles and machine learning develop for the logistics sector.    


[i] Stifel analyst report

[ii] Stifel analyst report

[iii] https://www.thestreet.com/investing/xpo-plummets-on-earnings-miss-and-warning-about-2019-14868169

[iv] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-logistics-market-to-reach-us155-trillion-by-2023-research-report-published-by-transparency-market-research-597595561.html

[v] May 2018 Techcrunch article

[vi] May 2018 Techcrunch article

[vii] Stifel analyst report

[viii] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/opinion/amazon-new-york.html

[ix] https://ycharts.com/indicators/ecommerce_sales_as_percent_retail_sales


2019 Manhattan Momentum: 25 Years and Counting

It’s the 25th anniversary of the annual supply chain-centered conference, Manhattan Momentum which boasts an agenda packed with insightful sessions led by some of the most important supply chain movers and shakers across a variety of sectors.

From May 20-23, Manhattan Momentum will draw in more than a thousand global senior supply chain, retail, omnichannel, logistics, press, industry analysts, and innovative partners to network and learn about the latest and greatest trends, innovations, and technologies changing the pace for the supply chain environment. This year’s event will take place at the JW Marriott, Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona.

With a full agenda scheduled, a special Modern Robotics Enabling Flexible Automation session with IDC’s John Santagate will be held on May 22. Other keynote speakers include former NFL player Jon Dorenbos, ULTA Beauty Senior IT Manager Nancy Mclain, IBM’s Senior Offering Manager Jason Tavoularis, and many more leaders speaking on topics such as enterprise management, supply chain intelligence, and 2019 retail opportunities, to name a few.

To review the full agenda and registration information, please visit: manh-momentum.com

ProMat Day Three Combines Education, Awards, and Comedy

Thought leaders, exhibitors, and attendees kept the momentum going on day three of this year’s massive ProMat Trade Show in Chicago, despite chilly temperatures. Wednesday’s education seminars continued addressing some of the biggest industry challenges while identifying key differentiators that foster optimal results and competitive advantage.

One of the most talked about themes at this year’s conference is the major issue of labor shortages. Employee recruitment and retention are among the biggest concerns for industry players. As automation continues reducing unnecessary manpower, human involvement has become a complex role to balance. Topic leaders across multiple sectors have already made it very clear that humans in the workplace continue to be a critical component. Even so, some companies continue expressing uncertainty in how to approach tapping into the labor market.

OPEX Corporation’s John Sauer addressed these concerns head-on in a presentation on Wednesday. Sauer is the Senior Business Development Manager for OPEX and boasts 8 years of front line material handling management experience. In his presentation, Sauer confirmed some of the biggest issues among employees in warehouses are factors some might consider to be small – such as climate control, physical demands, consistent hours, and work independence. At the end of the day, employees nowadays are looking for more than just a salary – they want to feel some importance and pride in what they do.

In today’s technology-centric environment, these factors can be addressed through strategic implementation of the technology at-hand. By utilizing technology for optimizations in operations and creating an environment that supports a positive work environment for employees, retention and recruitment challenges can be alleviated.

MHI Industry Night

Wednesday concluded with a special networking event featuring comedian and actor Craig Ferguson following the announcement and recognition of leading companies for “Best Innovations” and Young Professional Awards. There were 108 submissions for the awards and only four finalists were selected for each category. Among the winners included:

Best New Innovations:

Fetch Robotics for CartConnect

Locus Robotics for Gamification

Attachments for Forklift Safety Device (FLSD)

CMC srl for Pick2Pack

Best Innovation of an Existing Product:

ProGlove for Mark 2 Smartglove

RightHand Robotics Inc. for RightPick: The Piece Picking Solution

Artitalia Group Inc. for Versatile Nesting Cart

Swisslog Logistics Automation for ItemPiQ

Best IT Innovation:

Yard Management Solutions for Eagle Eye Yard Management Software

LogistiVIEW for Vision Pick and Put Wall

Schaefer Systems for WAMAS Lighthouse

KNAPP Inc. for redPILOT

ProMat Day Two: Disruptive Technology and Game-Changing Strategies

Day two of this year’s ProMat Trade Show kicked-off with exhibitors showcasing the industry’s top innovative solutions and another full day of keynote speakers and education seminars – many of which were at full capacity.

Among today’s featured speakers included Raymond Corporation‘s Stacey Patch, Dale Dunn, and Derrick Miller speaking on the importance of optimization efforts before implementing automation into operations. In order for a company to fully grasp the benefits of automation, a deep understanding of potential efficiency must come first. The process of automation should start with a focal point on optimization before investment. Additionally, the company made it clear that before fully replacing, tech and automation will maximize human activity and support operations.

Swisslog Logistics Automation’s made an appearance on stage as well, informing attendees of ways to creating a competitive weapon out of supply chain. John Dillon Vice President, E-Commerce/Retail and David Schwebel Vice President, Business Development and Market Intelligence identified the industry’s biggest challenge of risk and how to navigate through it with strategic, forward-thinking approaches, as seen with their container-based warehousing system providing increased efficiencies and flexibility.

Day three will continue exploring the world of leading logistics initiatives, product innovations, and industry education on topics including removing barriers for improvement, addressing the labor shortage, and smarter packaging technology options.

Enhanced Security Solutions Provided with Paramount Advanced Technology & Hexagon Partnership

Smart transportation, displacement monitoring, mining security and infrastructure monitoring are just a few of the improvements for enhanced African rural safety following the newest partnership between Paramount Advanced Technologies and Hexagon’s Geospatial and Safety & Infrastructure divisions. Paramount Advanced Technologies serves as a subsidiary of the African-based global defence and aerospace company Paramount Group. 

“Paramount Advanced Technologies’ cutting edge research and development (R&D) and systems integration expertise which has delivered solutions effectively across the African continent, coupled with the technological innovation and overarching support that Hexagon brings from decades of system deployments globally makes for an impactful partnership to the betterment of the continent’s infrastructure and security capabilities, an alliance which we are privileged to announce,” stated Paramount Advanced Technologies CEO Ralph Mills.

Additional benefits from the partnership include facilities and inventory management, public records management, command and control and tactical emergency services. Paramount’s Integrated and Smart Systems (ISS) provides an innovative approach to providing proactive solutions for rural safety initiatives with a foundation built on the strongest industry partnerships.

“We live in exciting times, where the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us is driven by disruptive technologies such as IoT, augmented reality, blockchain, drones and robotics, amongst others. Technological changes are rapid while the availability of unstructured data is prolific,” Mills added. “The challenge before us is to make sense of that data, leveraging real-time information and intelligence to solve real-world problems, ensuring that organizations are best aligned to harness the advantages of this era by being digitally enabled, so as to avoid the risk of being left behind.”

RSL AND THE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE OF ORDER FULFILLMENT

Order fulfillment can be labeled as the least appealing part of the e-commerce lifecycle. However, as unappealing as it is, order fulfillment is integral to the shopper and retailer. On its simplest level, an order that is placed must be shipped out. So, how can an order fulfillment 3PL be a competitive advantage for retailers?

Rakuten Super Logistics (RSL) is a leading 3PL that operates a nationwide network of 12 order fulfillment facilities. With such an expansive network, RSL is uniquely positioned to provide the competitive advantage that many retailers need.  “The RSL network opens the marketplace to choice and flexibility,” says Michael Manzione, CEO of Rakuten Super Logistics. “Scaling up and down is invaluable and, depending on your size and need, you can utilize our two-day delivery network or drill down to further locate your product closer to the end consumer.”

While RSL is among the 3PLs with the most expansive U.S. networks, they are not stopping there. They recently announced plans to open an additional six U.S. facilities by the end of the year. Their expansion will include the major metropolitan cities of Houston and Los Angeles.

“Our continued expansion into major metropolitan markets is a commitment to our customers,” Manzione says. “Our larger footprint will facilitate our ability to deliver our clients product to their customers via next day ground and even same day in some cases.”

Meeting a client’s demand is always a priority. This is evident in RSL clients that practice Just In Time (JIT) inventory from overseas. When executed properly, JIT is a competitive advantage as the inventory system increases efficiency and decreases waste by receiving product as it is ordered, thereby reducing inventory costs.

Rakuten Super Logistics’ 12 facilities are all located near major shipping ports, which reduces the time from when a product enters the country to when it is received in the warehouse. That close proximity to major container ports allows RSL clients to keep lower inventory levels, thereby reducing their costs while leaving room for scalability.

Scalability is a huge advantage for retailers that have seasonal lifecycles. Take Black Friday as an example. In 2018, Black Friday e-commerce sales in the U.S. topped $6.2 billion, dwarfing the $5 billion in 2017 Black Friday sales.* The strain on 3PLs was enormous but managed through valuable resources. However, many retailers who managed order fulfillment in-house could not meet the increased customer demand.

Operating a vast network of facilities, RSL provides more than just the ability to scale. It provides significant cost savings to its clients. “Our approach to serving the small to middle-size e-commerce companies allows them to compete equally with their larger competitors at a competitive rate,” says Manzione.

Rakuten Super Logistics negotiates shipping rates with the major carriers based on their large-scale shipping volumes. This means that when an e-commerce retailer partners with RSL, they receive the reduced, negotiated shipping rates.

“With the USPS First Class Packages service structure change to zone-based pricing, all e-commerce retailers must consider how to locate their product closer to their customers,” Manzione notes. The zone-based pricing structure will leave many retailers sticker shocked–the cost to ship a one-pound package from LA to New York will be significantly higher.  Leveraging Rakuten Super Logistics’ shipping rates will help keep these costs more manageable.

The savings isn’t always bottom line either. “We have built a great two-day ground network and now want to offer additional choices for those seeking same day and next day delivery, while maintaining lower shipping costs,” Manzione says. “Technology is the key to our success. In 2018, we implemented ‘picker-robots’ developed by California-based inVia. The picker robots help increase production and order accuracy. Technology and innovation have been the backbone of Rakuten Super Logistics. We continue to implement the latest technology.”

Manzione continues: “The exponential growth in e-commerce couldn’t have been accomplished without significant changes to logistics. Rakuten Super Logistics has been on the forefront of 3PL innovation; from using robotics to zone skipping, Rakuten Super Logistics provides clients with a competitive advantage to succeed in the tough online space.”

Source: Statista