The forklift operator adjusts his smart glasses to properly fit his head and presses the power button. The glasses immediately send him visual and auditory instructions. He’s directed to pick a product in a specific aisle and row.
As he nears the pick location, a green rectangle appears on his glasses to highlight his destination.
Once he picks the item, the glasses’ built-in scanner verifies that he has the right package, then directs him to the appropriate loading dock.
All the while, sensors strategically placed throughout the warehouse are collecting and enabling the free flow of real-time data.
This scenario is just one part of today’s “connected warehouse.” Enabled by Internet of Things (IoT) technology, these modern distribution centers are becoming increasingly common, as companies try to cope with pressures from e-commerce.
In fact, according to one recent survey, the global IoT market in warehouse management is expected to reach $19.06 billion by 2025.
Vision or Reality?
But is this concept more vision than reality?
The fact of the matter is, right now, it’s mostly vision. In reality, the majority of distribution centers are not currently using IoT-connected sensors or equipment. And while many warehouse automation systems generate data in real time, they’re usually wired into a warehouse control system (WCS) or warehouse execution system (WES).
However, the IoT-connected warehouse is gradually materializing. That’s because DC automation and materials handling vendors, who already provide WCS and WES software, are increasingly developing warehouse IoT solutions.
What’s It All About?
According to Jack Allen, Cisco’s senior director for global logistics, IoT may not change warehousing overnight, but it’ll certainly speed up processes. “Information is going to be so much more available and increasingly real time, enabling warehouses to be much faster and more agile,” he says.
“Much of the value in logistics isn’t just in moving the goods, but in understanding the information. That means quick answers to questions like, ‘Where is my shipment?’ or ‘When will I get my goods?’ or ‘Can this production line keep up with the demand requirement?’”
It does indeed appear that the future of warehousing is in IoT.
According to the most recent census from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 786 truck drivers were killed on the job in 2016. Not surprisingly, 80% of those deaths involved transportation incidents.
The BLS data underscores the recent findings of other federal agencies which also indicate an increase in truck-related crashes and deaths. For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 722 truckers were killed in traffic crashes in 2016. That’s up 8.6% from the prior year.
Altogether, the number of truckers who died in 2016 was 47% higher than in 2009 (the year with the lowest number of fatalities since federal agencies began collecting fatal crash data in 1975).
And that’s not all. According to the BLS, truck drivers are also more likely than the average U.S. worker to get injured or sick on the job. As a result, work-related injuries and illnesses led long-haul truckers to be absent from work a cumulative 47,560 days in 2016.
Why Is Trucking So Deadly?
Opinions differ on what makes trucking so dangerous.
Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), believes that fatigue and distracted driving are the primary culprits.
But Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), points the finger at lack of training and crash-worthiness testing. The problem is that regulators are focusing on rules that aren’t safety related, Taylor said.
Another factor is the current booming economy, which has resulted in increased highway miles for vehicles of all types. In addition, surging demand for e-commerce translates into a steady rise in freight volumes.
Feeling Less Safe
Whatever the cause, truck drivers are feeling slightly less safe on the job than they did six years ago. That’s according to StayMetrics, a driver-retention technology company that polls truckers on issues such as job safety.
In 2017, the Indiana-based firm surveyed almost 10,000 truck drivers, and asked them to respond to the statement “I feel safe on the job.” On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”), the average rating was 3.88 in 2017, compared with 4.12 five years earlier in 2012.
“There is erosion on how safe drivers feel about the profession,” said StayMetrics Chief Executive Tim Hindes. He surmised that increased traffic congestion and lack of access to safe, predictable parking were the leading causes.
So what are the most common causes of truck-related accidents? Here are the top five:
#1 Driver Error
There are many reasons for driver error: fatigue, the influence of alcohol or drugs, distractions or recklessness. However, studies show the majority of trucking accidents caused by driver error are due to the passenger vehicle driver (81%), not the truck driver (22%). Trucker can improve their defensive driving by keeping a safe distance from other vehicles, being patient with slower or reckless drivers, and using turn signals.
#2 Poor Vehicle Maintenance
Equipment failure, such as worn brake pads or a cracked windshield, can cause a major traffic accident. It’s a driver’s responsibility to check his/her rig at the beginning of every shift and submit a vehicle maintenance report. Failure to do so can be fatal.
#3 Equipment Failure
Poor fleet maintenance isn’t the only thing that can cause a truck’s equipment to fail at a dangerous moment. Equipment manufacturers may be guilty of negligence during a part’s production, leading to defective or dangerous components.
#4 Inclement Weather
Rain, snow and ice can be especially tricky for truckers to drive on, due to the vehicle’s heavy weight and slower stopping speeds. It’s important to slow down whenever road conditions are not ideal. Seasoned drivers know when to pull over safely and wait it out, or park for the night.
#5 Improper Cargo Loading
Mistakes or negligence during loading procedures can make a load fall off onto the road, causing catastrophic accidents. Truckers and cargo loading teams must always abide by industry-specific rules when it comes to loading the bed of a commercial truck.
Over the past decade, millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared from U.S. cities, while employment in warehousing and transportation has surged.
Internet retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Zulily are competing to deliver goods to the buyer’s doorstep as quickly as possible. The result has been a constellation of vast warehouses employing workers without college degrees. And it’s breathed new life into pockets of the country that had fallen economically behind.
In recent years, steel mills in Texas and Pennsylvania, shipyards in Louisiana and former military sites in Joliet, Ill., and Oakland, Calif., have all been reinvented as logistics hubs. In fact, redevelopment firms are finding that such endeavors are often more appealing to the local populations than breaking ground on new developments.
Resistance to Development
Take, for instance, the situation in Lehigh Valley, Penn., where developers are encountering significant residential backlash as warehouses gobble up real estate. Residents of several once-rural communities are not all thrilled about the area’s urbanization.
According to Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Lehigh residents have suffered “severe culture shock.” Big companies have rapidly moved in and started building over the past 10 years.
“Where there was once a wheat or corn field is now a warehouse, and people aren’t happy about that, so politically it’s a very sensitive issue,” Bradley said. “It was residential for 50-60 years, and now it’s different.”
About 62 municipalities span the two counties that make up Lehigh Valley (Lehigh and Northampton counties), and not all of them are in agreement about how much warehouse building should continue in the area.
Reinventing Old Factory Sites
In fact, since 2010, warehouses have been adding workers at four times the rate of overall job growth. According to Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, this growth illustrates “a rather large transformation, and the humble warehouse is the leading edge of this.”
Goetz Wolff, a UCLA professor of urban planning, agrees. “The distribution system and warehouses offer employment, and so logistics is viewed as a kind of savior,” he said.
According to Mandel, “These fulfillment center jobs are not being created in the tech hubs that were growing before. We’ve broadened the winner’s circle.”
The New Winners
So who are “the winners”? They’re people like Ellen Gaugler of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She remembers driving her father to the now-closed Bethlehem Steel mill. These days she drives herself to the same location, only now it’s a Zulily warehouse.
The 54-year-old earns $13.50 an hour putting together shipments at the warehouse. (According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average warehouse worker earns $15.47 an hour, compared with $22.36 in the metals manufacturing industry.)
Gaugler says some folks in town are nostalgic for the time when the steel mill filled the sky with black smoke and the furnaces churned all day. But not her. “These are secure jobs,” she said. “With the steel, you didn’t know if you would have a job the next day.”
Think spirits and ghosts only haunt houses? Think again.
Just in time for Halloween, we offer three haunted warehouse stories for your reading pleasure…
Beware of the Dark Room
A 22-year-old Philadelphia resident, who goes by the name of “King K,” relayed the following harrowing tale:
As a Walmart employee, King sometimes must travel to the company’s warehouse, about an hour’s drive from the store. It’s a massive structure, full of pallets and merchandise. In the back of the warehouse is the Dark Room, so named because no one could ever get the lights to work in the room. And several of King’s co-workers (including his manager) said they felt an overwhelming sense of fear and dread whenever they worked around the room.
King had also heard stories about flickering lights throughout the warehouse and a dark creature with glowing red eyes that inhabited the Dark Room. He had always laughed off these tales.
One day while working at the warehouse, King took a break to visit the men’s room, a place he later described as “beyond creepy.” Although most of the room was lighted, the back two stalls were intensely dark. “Impossibly dark,” he said. Then King suddenly felt a cold chill flow through his body. His hair stood on end.
Later that day, King’s curiosity led him to investigate the Dark Room. His co-worker, Ray, reluctantly agreed to go along. At first, all they could barely make out in the darkness were some old tables and debris scattered around the room. “No demons or ghosts in here,” King said.
As he started to leave and was just yards away from the door, something huge squawked loudly and flew past him. “What was that?!” King screamed. As he and Ray looked up towards the ceiling, they could discern the outline of something birdlike, “like a raven, only impossibly huge.” He went on to describe it:
“It was like a shadow that had arisen from the ground and had become a shape itself. It’s eyes though—that’s what gave it away. They were red. But not so much glowing, just a glossy red. I could feel a pressure or a presence coming from the thing.”
Then Ray placed his hand on King’s shoulder and yanked on his shirt. King finally “snapped out of it,” and they both ran out of the room.
The Woman in White
Our next haunted warehouse story is told by a California girl named Stephanie, whose father works at a car dealership in Vallejo, California. The dealership keeps a warehouse for overflow inventory on nearby Mare Island—a naval shipyard which is considered one of the most haunted places in the San Francisco Bay area.
Stephanie’s dad is quite friendly with the night-shift security guards at the warehouse, who would often relay stories to him of strange phenomena, such as flickering lights and mysterious loud, banging noises.
One day, after the warehouse had upgraded its security cameras, one of the security guards was testing the new cameras. He moved camera angles around and played back recorded footage to see how it looked.
Then, while viewing the different monitors, the guard suddenly froze.
There on the footage, staring back at him, was the figure of a woman dressed in white standing by one of the warehouse posts. The guard captured the image on his phone:
Is it a ghost? You be the judge.
An Old Houston Haunt
Our last haunted warehouse story involves a place that is not actually a warehouse anymore. But it did start out as one.
Spaghetti Warehouse in Houston was part of an Italian restaurant chain, headquartered in Dallas. (There’s also one in Syracuse.)
Built around 1912, the structure was originally the site of a fruit and vegetable warehouse. It later housed a pharmaceutical company. According to Preservation Houston, the building’s location was among a very busy row of warehouses that would line the street leading to the port.
After the building became the Spaghetti Warehouse in 1973, many signs of haunting were told over the years. Customers and staff alike relay stories of floating wine glasses, strange flickers of light, cold spots (even during heat waves), mysterious sounds, mysterious sightings, and voices in the night (sometimes calling people’s names).
Although some long-time staff refused to speak about their ghostly encounters, the restaurant managers willingly recounted the haunting tales and their history.
Apparently, it all began when the building served as a pharmacy in the early 1900’s. One day, one of the pharmacists was tragically killed by a freak accident after falling down the elevator shaft. Devastated by his death, the pharmacist’s wife died of a broken heart exactly one year later.
The pair of ghosts then began to roam the building—the wife primarily on the second floor, while the husband shuffled around in the men’s restroom. The ghost of the wife was said to rearrange furniture, leave the dishes and silverware in disarray, tap guests on their shoulders and pull their hair.
In the past few decades, various forms of “lean” strategy have taken the business world by storm. (Think lean manufacturing, lean management or lean construction.) See related article, “6 Key Lean Manufacturing Principles.”
One of the most popular workplace organization methods to develop from the “lean” movement is called “5S” methodology. 5S has been found to be particularly useful in manufacturing and warehouse environments.
What Is 5S?
In its simplest terms, 5S helps accomplish one of the basic objectives of lean strategy: making problems visible.
5S uses visual signals to communicate important information. These visuals can include diagrams, pictograms, color-coding, floor markings and photographs. They allow everyone to quickly understand the information being conveyed.
The 5S methodology originated in Japan. Hence, the five S’s stand for five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These words are typically translated as “sort,” “set in order” (or “straighten”), “shine,” “standardize” and “sustain.”
But 5S is much more than just organizing your factory or warehouse to make everything look great. It’s about having more efficient operations, excelling at training and communications and, in the end, saving time and money. A facility that has implemented 5S is able to identify issues quickly, address the root causes, and solve the problems in the short term to prevent recurrence.
Let’s explore each step within the 5S process and its application within a manufacturing or warehouse environment:
The First “S” — Sort
The goal of the sorting phase is to remove unnecessary items from the space being organized, and provide a clean slate on which to implement the other four steps.
How to Do It:
Begin by removing virtually everything from the designated workspace. While it may seem as though placing everything into one large pile is just making a mess, it’s an important step in the sorting process, as it allows you to truly decide which items are no longer necessary to your operation.
Arrange four industrial bins and label them as “Keep,” “Remove,” “Decide,” and “Relocate.”
Keep: These are the essential, frequently used items. They are the tools that should be returned to the work area after sorting is complete.
Remove: These are unneeded items that are simply taking up valuable space, such as broken or outdated tools, or components that have passed their expiration date. Many companies use 5S Tags (or “red tags”) when sorting out unneeded items. The tag is easy to see and workers can quickly determine which items are to be removed.
Decide: These are items that need to be evaluated for use. Set a specific amount of time for determining if the items should be kept; after that time has passed, the items are either discarded or organized back into the workspace.
Relocate: These items are not frequently needed but must still be accessible when they are required. They will eventually be relocated to areas that make the most sense.
The Second “S” — Set in Order
This is the phase where all the items in the “Keep” bin are returned to the workspace in a specific, well-organized manner. This phase is truly about finding the most efficient and sensible places for tools and other items within a specific area.
How to Do It:
Clear expectations are essential in this phase of 5S methodology. Workers are more likely to comply when they know what is expected with regard to cleanliness of their workspace. Posting imagery nearby that shows the fully cleaned state of a workspace can be a guide, as can an information board indicating step-by-step cleaning instructions.
Cleaning should always be carried out routinely, on a schedule, not in response to a workspace that has grown too cluttered to navigate efficiently.
The Fourth “S” — Standardize
The Standardize step of 5S methodology is all about auditing and regularly checking in on 5S efforts. It’s the bridge between the Shine step and the final step of Sustain.
Finally, the audits and checklists should be used to ensure the processes are running smoothly and as expected. Tracking measures should be put into place so that any undesired results can be addressed immediately.
Some in the manufacturing community have contended that there should be a sixth “S” for Safety. They believe that safety is important enough to warrant its own category in this organizational methodology.
But many others believe that safety is a key component in all of the other 5 S’s and, therefore, to create a separate category would be redundant.
Safety is an integral part of the Sort, Set in Order and Shine phases of any 5S project. The other two steps, Standardize and Sustain, focus on the methods used to ensure that safety is maintained.
We’ve presented a lot of information. As a brief recap, the following video clip summarizes the 5S process:
With thousands of worker bees deftly manipulating expensive machinery in round-the-clock shifts. Creating planes, cars, batteries. Efficient little cities of industry within four walls. All vast, sprawling production complexes.
Last year’s hurricane season dealt a devastating blow to Texas, Florida and, most notably, Puerto Rico. Recovery efforts are still continuing, and will be for a long time.
But in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, ensuring that critical supplies reach affected populations is paramount. Food, water, medicine and other life-sustaining materials must be quickly transported, stored and distributed so as to do the most good. But how?
The Logistics Hurdle
In disaster relief operations, logistics is often the biggest hurdle. In fact, as much as 80 percent of disaster relief costs go toward transporting, warehousing, and distributing goods and services to affected communities.
ALAN’s disaster relief work is built on strong relationships among supply-chain businesses, relief organizations, and governments.
That Challenging Last Mile
When managing a supply chain under desperate conditions, the greatest logistics challenge is the notorious “last mile.”
Flooded roadways… devastated distribution centers… disabled communications.. Often all of these converge in the last mile of a relief effort. Critical medicine can be shipped thousands of miles only to spoil in the sun as relief workers tend to victims.
Frank Clary is a project director at global logistics provider Agility. He knows just how challenging that last mile can be. In his view, 3PLs are just one resource in the disaster relief tool kit – and not even the most important one. Clary has seen NGOs and voluntary organizations active in disaster (known as “VOADs”) perform feats that hardly seem possible. Under the worst possible conditions these organizations not only establish logistics, but also create medical and food relief infrastructure — within days.
“We couldn’t do it, but humanitarian aid groups do it all the time,” Clary said. “We learn a lot from them.”
Remember when “Amazon” was a rain forest or a river, and a “tweet” was the sound a bird made? Just as the digital world has changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years, so too has third-party logistics (3PL).
Over the past several years, the 3PL industry has greatly expanded its global footprint. That trend is expected to grow. Why? More than 80% of all Fortune 500 companies currently use warehousing, distribution, software services, and domestic and international transportation management. And these services form the crux of the 3PL landscape.
A research report from Global Markets Insight indicates that third-party logistics will be well over a $1 billion industry by 2022. That’s an annual increase of 4.4%.
These kinds of increases require continual evolution and adaptation. Let’s take a look at some of the major trends in 3PL’s:
In the Clouds
3PL providers are increasingly utilizing extensive cloud-based technologies. These systems enable businesses to store a massive influx of data. But they also allow clients to easily access their systems, and they improve the overall effectiveness of a company’s logistics.
In addition, the emergence of “big data” analytics, smart technology, and data sharing continues to help 3PL’s evolve. For example, increased data sharing is expected to help improve tracking services across the supply chain. And experts predict that the amount of big data will grow from 3.2 to 40 zettabytes by the year 2020. (See sidebar, “How Much Is a Zettabyte?”)
Also, with the increased use of mobile apps, customers will be able to track the details of their shipments and process freight shipments from anywhere. This will further fuel the industry trends.
The business landscape of 3PL industry will grow increasingly complex as supply chain operations expand massively worldwide. So 3PL market players will need to stay on top of the game. They’ll have to understand international legal implications and regulatory compliance if they want to maintain their position.
The emergence of new markets, currency exchange, and international trade will serve as growth indicators for the 3PL’s of the future.
Experts expect that heavy deployment of automation will push 3PL industry size over the next few years. For one thing, automated warehouses use up about 40% less floor space than traditional warehouses. Increasingly, warehouse 3PL’s are relying on automated lifts and robotics to reduce the amount of space needed for storage. (See related article, “Warehouse Automation: How Far Should You Go?“)
On-road automation is another area where expansion is expected. Self-driving trucks are already undergoing extensive testing on U.S. roads. For instance, one San Francisco-based company (Otto) has been developing these trucks and testing them on California roadways since January 2016. Uber acquired the company in August 2016 for $680 million, and testing continues today:
Keeping It Green
Green logistics is increasing being adopted by prominent 3PL providers to address growing environmental concerns. High-impact partners like 3PL’s have found that they can make their clients feel good by doing good.
For instance, new innovations are making it more possible to limit the carbon impact of the carrier route. Amazon’s Prime Air is a case in point. The service’s drones could provide an energy-efficient alternative for those nooks and crannies that electric vehicles can’t reach. (See related article, “Delivery Drones: Coming Soon to a Warehouse Near You.”)
Route and load optimization and efficient packaging are some other measures undertaken as a part of the green logistics initiative.
The global growth of online retail is expected to generate lucrative avenue for 3PL’s. Did you know that Amazon has increased its distribution space by an astounding 1000% in the last 10 years?
In fact, retail giants such as Amazon are likely to transform into full-fledged 3PL providers. By the same token, companies operating in the core transportation sector are also expected to penetrate the global 3PL market. Which means current 3PL key players will need to brace themselves for additional challenges and continue to develop technologically advanced and upgraded services in order to sustain their business position.
You click the “Submit Order” button on your favorite e-tailer’s website and wait. Thirty minutes later, a delivery drone deposits the parcel on your front porch.
If major players like Amazon, Google and Walmart have their way, this scenario will soon play out all across the country. In fact, what began as little more than a pipe dream a few years ago continues to inch closer to certainty as regulatory hurdles are overcome.
It’s easy to see the appeal of such a Jetsonion delivery system. But is it cost-effective? And how long will it really be before delivery drones become mainstream?
Driven by Two Factors
Flying at altitudes up to 1,000 feet, the airships would communicate with a remote scheduling system, telling the drones when to fetch packages from inside the blimp and head to their destinations.
But perhaps the drones’ best feature is also its most obvious one: They can go where there are no roads. And considering that about one billion people on the planet do not have access to all-season roads, that’s significant.
Take Rwanda, for instance, where drone deliveries have already taken flight. That country relies increasingly on drone technology in order to receive critical supplies.
Far removed from the American PR circus surrounding retail and e-tail deliveries, U.S.-based tech company Zipline uses its drones as “sky ambulances.” Their drones deliver lifesaving blood supplies by parachute to remote hospitals and clinics located hours outside the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
By focusing on critical medical supplies, Zipline has successfully convinced regulators to tolerate the potential safety risks of delivery drones. As it turns out, that’s a lot easier to do when the deliveries are saving lives and not just bringing the latest cosmetic or a new pair of shoes.
Smaller Players, Too
But don’t discount minor players in the drone delivery game, either. For instance, a small startup company called Flirtey recently partnered with convenience store chain 7-Eleven.
Together, they’re experimenting with using drones to deliver over-the-counter medications (and perhaps, Slurpees and chili dogs). Take a look:
Did you know that any “green” changes you make in your workplace not only help the planet, but can improve your company’s efficiency?
The New Year is always a time for evaluating the past and looking towards the future. So this year, why not consider these five ways to make your workplace more eco-friendly in 2018:
Improve Waste Diversion
Pretty much every business could do more to reduce and divert its waste output. But you won’t know until you take a good look at what you’re currently discarding.
One way is to engage your staff in an interactive waste audit. This gets everyone involved in identifying what’s in the trash and what can be diverted away from landfills. (New York City and other communities actually impose fines on companies that fail to properly recycle.)
A waste audit helps you to measure the different types of waste generated at your business. The results will help you to figure out how much waste your creating and how effective your current recycling (or composting) programs are. It will also help identify opportunities for reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill, and potentially save the company some money.
For a free downloadable guide on how to conduct a waste audit, Click Here.