Future of Warehousing Is in IoT

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?

Industrial IoT is all about connecting sensors, controllers or equipment to the internet or to private cloud-based technology in order to aggregate data for analysis. IoT systems interface seamlessly with all other automation systems, including robotics.

And while that connectivity is vital, it’s the data (particularly Big Data) and its analysis that’s really key.

Scott Wahl, vice president of global software for Dematic, a warehouse automation and WES provider, put it this way:  “We see the power of IoT as being connected to Big Data and cloud capabilities, because now we can bring together multiple disparate data sources into one place.”

According to Carlos Lemus, lead IoT engineer for Bastian Solutions, “IoT is almost a misnomer, because it places the focus on connecting to the ‘things,’ but the true value of IoT comes from the data.”

The IoT possibilities in a warehouse include real-time location tracking of goods, workers and equipment. For example, location technology built into mobile devices–like the smart glasses described above–allows for continual visibility of a picker’s exact location (a location “beacon”), rather than just a rough idea based on their last scan or system-directed pick.

Dubbed “hyper-locationing,” this IoT technology combines with analytics to enable smarter decision-making about what each picker should do next. IoT helps eliminate unnecessary steps. The systems and the analytics are smart enough to determine which steps should be followed and when.

Connecting Multiple Systems

But an effective IoT platform is not just about materials handling. Rather, it should capture data from multiple system types.

For instance, Iot technology can be used to tap into data from computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software and other data-acquisition sources to arrive at a comprehensive view of “building health.”

It also aggregates data from building control and monitoring systems, in order to reduce energy consumption in everything from light fixtures to HVAC units. And this overall real-time view of systems and operations is provided on a single dashboard.

About Those Smart Glasses

Some of the most interesting IoT developments are in wearable devices. Smart glasses, smart watches and voice-controlled headsets are all being used in warehouse settings to improve operations.

Smart glasses are probably the most intriguing. Here’s how they work:

  • Powered by their own processor and battery, these high-tech glasses collect data from the building’s wireless network.
  • Then they project text and numbers onto a tiny screen that’s incorporated into the glasses.
  • From the user’s perspective, the display looks like full-sized text, overlaid on top of whatever “real world” scene the wearer is viewing at the time.

One cutting-edge developer of warehouse IoT is the German-based multinational software corporation SAP. The following video demonstrates SAP’s smart-glass application called SAP AR Warehouse Picker:


The idea is to give workers hands-free access to computer-generated info, eliminating the need to carry handheld scanners or written documents. The end result is a boost in productivity.

In fact, according to Jay Kim, chief strategy officer at software firm Upskill, the best results for smart-glass technology so far have indeed been in warehouse picking applications–where mistakes tend to be very expensive.

More Vendors on Board

As warehousing operations become more complicated and fast-paced, and IoT technology costs decrease, more DC-focused vendors are taking the plunge into IoT analytics.

For example, Cisco Systems, a multinational provider of networking and other high-tech equipment, is currently collaborating with key logistics partners to test the many ways in which IoT can improve overall logistics operations.

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.


Food Logistics

PR Newswire

Modern Materials Handling

DC Velocity

Today’s Trucking Is a Dangerous Business

Trucking is one of this country’s deadliest jobs.

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.


Common 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.

Will ELD’s Help?

Within the trucking industry, there’s disagreement over how effective electronic logging devices (ELD’s) will be in combating driver fatigue, long considered a prime factor in crash-related injuries and deaths.

The federal mandate requiring carriers and independent drivers to install ELDs in trucks to track driving time became effective last April. Regulators believe the devices will help enforce a federal hours-of-service rule, limiting truckers to 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour workday.

CVSA’s Mooney expects fatality rates to drop as a result of the new mandate. But Taylor of the OOIDA disagrees. Better driver training and crash-worthiness testing will do more to curb driver deaths and injuries than ELDs, she said.

Only time will tell.



Bureau of Labor Statistics

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


GTG Technology Group

Old Manufacturing Hubs Find New Life in Warehousing

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

Which makes the redevelopment of old manufacturing sites more appealing than gobbling up rural real estate. And the government has sweetened the deal by offering incentives, such as tax abatements and credits. These incentives allow companies that redevelop steel mill land to save hundreds of thousands on their tax bills over 10 years.

And the location is often ideal. “All these old-line industrial sites are on great real estate,” said Michael Moore, a former shipping and port executive. “The same things that make them great for manufacturing—the land, the water, the rail—make them great for logistics.”

Giant Warehouses = Lots of Workers

As Americans have grown more comfortable with online purchasing, the size of their orders has increased. Even bulky items like canoes and refrigerators are being bought over the internet. Which means warehouses have become gargantuan, doubling in size since 2010.

And while robots are controlling more and more of the distribution processes, it still takes a lot of bodies to move hundreds of thousands of boxes in and out of these buildings every day. As a result, warehouses serving the largest e-tailers typically employ more than 2,000 people. (See related article, “Warehouse Automation: How Far Should You Go?”)

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.”


New York Times

Wall Street Journal

Supply Chain Dive

Three Creepy Haunted Warehouse Stories

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.

Waitress Patti Chapa told a reporter in 2009 that her shoelaces frequently and mysteriously came untied while she was working. Even when she would double- and triple-knot them.

Once, while waitressing a private party, a co-worker pointed to Patti’s shoelace, “which was stretched out straight and floating parallel to the ground.” Patti said to the co-worker, “I hope I don’t step on anyone,” referring to a presumed spirit. Immediately, the shoelace dropped.

According to the restaurant manager, voices of children were often heard running around the building, especially upstairs near an antique “urn cabinet.” The urn cabinet was a piece of furniture traditionally used in orphanages to hold the ashes of deceased children. They were particularly common in facilities that lacked adequate space to bury their dead charges.

Although nothing bad ever happened to her while working, Chapa says she never entered the building by herself.

“I’ve seen the [ghost] in the front window,” she said. “It’s just like you’d see in a comic. It never hurts us, but it lets us know it’s here.”

New Life

The Houston Spaghetti Warehouse was all but destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and was forced to close after 44 years. Steve Tomlin, the new owner of the building, is fully restoring the historical structure, and plans to open it as a bar and restaurant that will be virtually flood proof.

He did note, however, that the first day he was on the property, he had the distinct feeling of being watched. “You know when you can tell someone is watching you? It’s something like that,” Tomlin said.


Darkness Prevails

Houston Chronicle

Houston Business Journal

Houston Press

How to Create a “5S” Workplace

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.

This step helps minimize waste and loss of time by eliminating the need to search around for tools required to complete the job. Every loss of efficiency can gradually bleed a company’s profits.

How to Do It:

Map out the area where the tools and equipment will be placed, drawing on employees’ input to determine the most convenient and comfortable areas for placement. Obviously, the most frequently used tools should reside in easily accessible areas, closest to the station operator.

The key here is to minimize the need for workers to repeatedly reach over and between items. Items that are less frequently used should be placed in other areas.

Organizational Tools

There are a number of organizational tools that are extremely helpful when implementing this phase of 5S methodology. For instance:

Shadow boards and foam tool organizers feature outlines of tools behind or beneath the locations where they are placed when stored. They make it very easy for a worker to quickly see where to return a tool based on its silhouette or outline. They also allow employees to quickly identify which tools are missing.

Floor markings are a staple within warehouses and manufacturing facilities, as they can be used for a variety of different organizational purposes. They can designate a specific workspace, mark off pallet storage, or help navigate pedestrian traffic on the shop floor. Floor markings are available in a variety of different colors, sizes, strengths, thicknesses, and shapes.

Signage is essential to an efficient work environment for safety’s sake and for purposes of improving visual communication within the workplace. Signage is easily customizable and is available as floor signs, wall signs, or standing signs.

Labeling is key to an effective 5S system. Virtually anything can be labeled to help keep work areas organized, efficient, and visual to workers. When properly used, labels help employees understand where things belong and easily identify when something is missing. To this end, industrial printers make printing labels simple, convenient and cost-effective.

The Third “S” — Shine

The Shine phase is basically a thorough cleaning of the entire workstation or space. It involves cleaning, dusting, polishing, sweeping, vacuuming and everything necessary to attain perfect order. Workplace accidents can potentially destroy efficiency, and a good deep cleaning can help workers avoid them.

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.

Standardizing the approach to 5S ensures that organizational efforts are sustained in the long run. Failing to standardize procedures can lead to sloppy work and a loss of efficiency.

How to Do It:

You’ll want to implement a clear system that everyone understands. To this end, audit sheets and checklists are usually most effective, as they can be used by whoever is checking an area on a given day. Here are some sample questions you may wish to include on the checklist:

  • “Are all tools in their correct place on the shadow boards or other tool organizers?”
  • “Have power tools been unplugged and their cords properly stored?”
  • “Are the necessary supplies in place for the next worker who will begin a shift at that station?”


The Fifth “S” — Sustain

The Sustain step focuses on taking all of the previous steps of 5S and transforming them into ongoing habits to ensure continuous improvement. Bear in mind that habits do not develop right away. When workers are required to do something new in the workspace, it will take them some time for them to actually incorporate the new procedure into their routine.

How to Do It:

First, every new 5S process should be demonstrated correctly by a trained and knowledgeable professional. Supervisors should provide their staff with the individual attention needed for workers to understand what is expected.

Then, workers should be monitored to ensure that the daily 5S habits are being developed, and mistakes should be corrected.

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.

Another “S”?

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.

Video Recap

We’ve presented a lot of information. As a brief recap, the following video clip summarizes the 5S process:



Creative Safety Supply LLC

EHS Today

Kaisen Institute

The Seven Biggest Factories on the Planet

It seems factories just keep getting bigger.

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.

Let’s take a look at the seven largest factories on the planet. (For some of the world’s largest warehouses, see related article, “Over-The-Top Mega Warehouses and Factories.”)

#7: Jean-Luc Lagardére Plant

It should come as no surprise that aircraft assembly plants are among some of the world’s largest factories. And this one is massive.

Located in Toulouse-Blagnac, France, the Jean-Luc Lagardére Plant assembles the pieces for the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger airliner. The plane’s various components are crafted at diverse locations across Europe. The French facility then assembles and tests the final build in its 1.3-million-square-foot factory.

The entire complex also includes 49 acres of runway outside the plant, as well as company restaurants, and fluid and energy production plants.

#6: Rivia Automotive

The former Mitsubishi North America production plant in Normal, Illinois, was finally purchased by Rivia Automotive in January 2017.

The plant’s floor area of 2.4 million square feet will be used in the production of autonomous electric vehicles, scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2019. Built in 1981, the mammoth facility includes manufacturing and office space, a paint shop, robotics, stamping machines and other production equipment. The 600-acre property also encompasses farmland, a test track, and several buildings located on individual plots.

The Michigan-based electric vehicle startup has been in business since 2009. Like its rival Tesla, Rivian’s CEO is a high-caliber engineer (he holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering) and visionary.

#5: Belvidere Assembly Plant

Also located in Illinois, this factory is owned by Fiat Chrysler (formerly known as Chrysler Corporation, then DaimlerChrysler, and then Chrysler Group LLC). The facility was constructed in 1965 and occupies a whopping 3.5 million square feet of space.

It sits on more than 280 acres of property, and employs more than 5,100 workers and 780 robots in the assembly of the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and Dodge Dart. In fact, it was the first Chrysler plant to implement a completely robotic body shop. These robots are capable of making necessary tool changes automatically, within a 47-second cycle time.

#4: Boeing Everett Factory

When you build airplanes, you need clearance — as in lots of space. So it’s not surprising that the world’s largest building by volume (472 million cubic feet!) is the Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington. This is where the 747, 767, 777, and 787 Dreamliners are built.

The 4.2 million-square-foot plant covers nearly 100 acres and includes a museum, theater, 19 restaurants and a store. Built in 1966, this ginormous facility also boasts 2.33 miles of pedestrian tunnels underneath the factory floor, its own railway sidetrack, more than 1,000 bicycles for getting around the plant, and one of the world’s largest murals.

The factory employs more than 30,000 people, and staffs its own fire department, security team, daycare center and fitness center. Tours are available through Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Center.

#3: Tesla Factory

Coming in at #3 in our list of the world’s largest factories is Elon Musk’s bad boy, the Tesla Factory in Fremont, California. (Not to be confused with the battery-producing Tesla Gigafactory, currently under construction in the Nevada desert. When complete, Tesla expects the Gigafactory to be the biggest building in the world.)

The Fremont factory is one of the most advanced automotive plants in the world, focusing solely on the production of electric cars and electric power train components. At just under 5.5 million square feet, the plant uses more than 160 specialist robots, including ten of the largest robots in the world.

Tesla didn’t build this factory from the ground up; they purchased it from General Motors in 2010, and the first Tesla Model S rolled off the production line in June of 2012.  The plant currently produces more than 100,000 vehicles a year, including the Tesla Model S, Model 3, Model X and Roadster.

#2: Hyundai Motor Company Ulsan Factory

Getting down to the wire here in our countdown…

#2 is also one of the biggest automotive factories in the world. The Hyundai Motor Company factor in Ulsan, South Korea, occupies more than 54 million square feet. Needless to say, it’s the company’s primary production facility, rolling out one of its 14 different models every 12 seconds!

This five-building plant is spread over 1,225 acres of land. It’s so huge it has its own road network and infrastructure, including a hospital, fire services, shipping pier, and even a sewage treatment plant, for crying out loud! Some of the company’s 34,000 workers sleep in onsite dormitories.

Drum roll, please….
…And now… the Granddaddy of them all…the largest factory on the planet…

#1: Volkswagen Wolfsburg Plant

This manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, employs a staff of more than 70,000 and occupies an astounding 70 million square feet of space. Which is why each floor worker is issued a bicycle for getting around the plant.

Churning out about 4,000 vehicles per day (four different Golf lines, the Touran, and the Tiguan), this factory handles everything from toolmaking to plastic production.

The plant’s state-of-the-art paint shop (the world’s largest) was the first to use eco-friendly water-based paint. And the press shop alone produces 1,500 metric tons of sheet metal every day.

Adjoining the factory are two impressive silo-like glass towers designed specifically for vehicle storage. The bigger one is about 160 feet tall, and stores about 400 cars.

Even more amazing is the technology which enables the factory employees to work on more than five different cars simultaneously, without compromising efficiency or quality. See for yourself:


Popular Mechanics

Visual Capitalist

Inside EVs

The Richest

The Clever

Helping Hand: The Logistics of Disaster Relief

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.

It takes a coordinated effort between government agencies (such as FEMA), charitable organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), disaster recovery companies and 3PLs. All these entities must mobilize behind the scenes to provide the necessary materials and help jump-start rescue and recovery operations.

And a clear organizational structure is critical for making decisions under extreme conditions. Without it, chaos quickly ensues.

For instance, right after Hurricane Katrina, there was simply no system in place to handle a relief effort of that magnitude, according to relief providers.  Shopping center parking lots were crowded with unneeded donated clothing, while essential shipping and handling services were scarce. As a result, many donated items never reached those most in need.

In an effort to prevent future logistical disasters such as those following Katrina, the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) was created. ALAN uses a web portal to match supply-chain businesses with relief agencies per their specifically stated needs. The businesses can simply browse the agency needs list and determine where they can help.

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.”

Increasingly, Agility, ALAN, UPS and other logistics providers are utilizing new technologies to transform a once-grueling, labor-intensive process into something resembling a modern-day global supply chain.

Technological Advances

Here are just a few of the technological advances that are being utilized for disaster relief:

Demand Analysis.  Big Data is being used to model the demand for food, water, medicine and other necessities following a natural disaster. Using historical data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Warehouse Management System (WMS) and other supply chain management systems relief providers can incorporate the most likely scenarios.

Inventory control and management.  During the uncertainty of natural disasters, providers are relying on warehouse management software to maintain adequate inventory levels.  In many cases, inventory can be pre-positioned in locations close to potentially affected areas.  A comprehensive WMS provides enterprise-wide visibility for full inventory management across all facilities where goods are stored.

Continual communication.  Industrial-grade rugged mobile computers are used to empower relief agencies to share vital information in real time.  As a result, goods and assets arrive at the required location much faster.  Mobile computers also are used to document damage and human safety issues through photographs and video.  Most of these also include GPS tracking, another great safety feature for pinpointing and communicating information about affected areas in times of crises.

In addition, relief providers often use barcodes and scanners to streamline the data collection process, saving time and improving the accuracy of information needed by all parties. When communication systems fail, coordination and collaboration also often fail, as explained in the following video clip:



Journal of Commerce

American Logistics Aid Network

Datex Corp

McKinsey & Company

3PL’s Continue to Adapt, Evolve

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.

Online Retail

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.


Global Markets Insight

3PL News

Third Party Logistics Study

Huffington Post

Transport Topics

Delivery Drones: Coming Soon to a Warehouse Near You

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

The economics of delivery is generally driven by two factors:  Route density and drop size. Route density is the number of drops that can be made on any given delivery route. Drop size is the number of parcels per stop on any given route.

If you make lots of deliveries over a short distance or period of time, or if you deliver lots of parcels to the same location, your cost per parcel will be low.

Right now, drones perform poorly in both of these areas. Current  prototypes usually carry only one package, with a maximum weight of five pounds. After the drone makes its delivery, it must fly all the way back to its home base to recharge its batteries and pick up the next package.

Compare that to the average UPS truck, which makes about of 120 stops a day to deliver hundreds (or even thousands) of packages. Drones launching from faraway warehouses currently can’t compete with this kind of efficiency.

Mobile Warehouses

Which is why Amazon and, presumably, other retailers are investigating plans to use delivery trucks as “mobile warehouses” from which a swarm of drones can be launched.

Releasing these drones in rapid succession would allow a single truck to deliver dozens of parcels simultaneously. Such a system could easily outpace the production of a single truck driver who delivers to one house at a time.

Amazon is even taking this concept a step further:  Imagine, self-driving trucks, roaming around neighborhoods. The trucks would be  stocked with items which Amazon’s systems had predetermined to be wanted or needed in specific areas.

Even More Fantastic

But wait…there’s more.

Both Walmart and Amazon have applied for patents on “gas-filled carrier aircrafts” that would serve as airborne bases for their delivery drones. That’s right….blimps. These blimps would allow the drones access to homes they couldn’t reach if they flew from a fixed location.

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.

Best Feature

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:




The New York Times



Resolve to Make Your Workplace Greener in 2018

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.

Reduce Operational Costs

This is a highly underrated goal. Reducing your operating costs is like free money. Even if some changes cost a few dollars to implement, the payback can be substantial.

For instance, utility costs are typically thousands of dollars a month for large businesses. You can cut these costs significantly by changing out light fixtures to energy-efficient rated fixtures with LED light bulbs. LED bulbs can last around 20 years, use less energy to work, and provide a purer source of light.

Also, try making demand-driven decisions at your facility. Many companies are now choosing to run more slowly, in order to save energy without sacrificing customer service or output. Using real-time data provides the accurate visibility you need to accomplish this.

Time for a (Tax) Break

There are plenty of tax credits that businesses can take whenever they make efforts to improve their local environment. For instance, credits can be taken for:

  • Using solar energy,  fuel cells, wind turbines or geothermal systems
  • Reducing emissions
  • Utilizing high-efficiency interior lighting, HVAC or hot water systems
  • Investing in green building standards (if you’re building new or leasing a new space)

Here’s how a California frozen food warehouse is using 100,000 square feet of solar panels:

A quick search of “tax breaks for businesses going green” will provide a myriad of ideas on how to get a break on your business tax bill by going green.

It’s All in the Packaging

There are a variety of ways you can reduce order packaging waste. Work with your vendors to eliminate inbound freight packaging by sending their items as shelf-ready as possible. Also, set guidelines at the packing stations to limit the amount of waste sent with each order. For breakable items that require some extra packaging, use biodegradable (or edible) packing peanuts in lieu of plastic or Styrofoam products.


Switch to Electric

If you haven’t done it already, now’s the time to switch to electric forklifts. Not only do they eliminate the harmful tailpipe emissions produced by gas forklifts, but they’ll save you money in the long run.

In fact, by electrically powering a 5,000-pound-capacity forklift, used six hours a day, five days a week, you’d save about $26,000 in propane over a five-year period.

In addition, electric forklifts typically have tighter turning radius, which can increase storage capacity and reduce product damage. And electric trucks produce less noise during operation. Which amounts to a better, safer work environment for your workers.


Green Tourism

Manufacturing Transformation

NYC Department of Sanitation

Factory Direct Promos