Tag Archives: supply chain

Amazon has filed a patent for its drone delivery systems

Amazon teased consumers with drone delivery during a 2017 Super Bowl commercial, though the ad bore a disclaimer: “Prime Air is not available in some states (or any really). Yet.”

Back in December 2016, Amazon made its first successful customer delivery in a trial area in the United Kingdom; in March 2017, the online retail giant completed a test delivery at its invite-only MARS 2017 robotics conference in Palm Springs. Now that it has filed a series of patents for drone delivery systems, Amazon seems to be following through on promises that Prime Air will eventually become a reality.

An old joke says, “You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You only need one if you want to skydive twice.” This logic applies to dropping packages—which could contain any number of fragile products—from the air. Amazon’s latest approved patent reveals a design that incorporates a parachute directly into a package label, according to documents obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.

Using these labels, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)—or drones—could deploy packages from the air and let them drift safely to the ground. This would reduce delivery times by eliminating the need to land and take off. Packages could even potentially be dropped without the drone stopping, which makes it possible to use multiple types of UAVs instead of just those that can hover and land.

The patent also states that “different sized parachute canopies can be used for different sized shipping container’s descent appropriately to prevent damage to the contents of the shipping container,” suggesting that Amazon would scale the technology for a wide range of package sizes and weights. The patent also describes multiple ways UAVs might carry a parachute-labeled package, including mechanical arms, a suction system, magnets, and retractable shelves.

The retailer also received recent patents for a magnet-based delivery system and a coiled spring model, so it seems likely that the company will use a combination of many technologies to get drone packages on doorsteps.

Amazon continues to wait on Federal Aviation Administration approval before it can complete more widespread Prime Air distribution testing. This process will most likely take several more years, but there is little doubt that the company plans to drop its packages from the skies as soon as it is able.

Story by Jason McDowell @ inbound logistics

Amazon Robots Poised to Revamp How Whole Foods Runs Warehouses

Fetch-Warehouse-Robot

When Amazon.com’s $13.7 billion bid to buy Whole Foods was announced, John Mackey, the grocer’s CEO, addressed employees, gushing about Amazon’s technological innovation.

“We will be joining a company that’s visionary,” Mackey said, according to a transcript of the meeting. “I think we’re gonna get a lot of those innovations in our stores. I think we’re gonna see a lot of technology. I think you’re gonna see Whole Foods Market evolve in leaps and bounds.”

In negotiations, Amazon spent a lot of time analyzing Whole Foods’ distribution technology, pointing to a possible way in which the company sees the most immediate opportunities to reduce costs, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the issue was private. Amazon, through a spokesman, declined to comment, as did Whole Foods.

Experts say the most immediate changes would likely be in warehouses that customers never see. That suggests the jobs that could be affected the earliest would be in the warehouses, where products from suppliers await transport to store shelves, said Gary Hawkins, CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, a Los Angeles nonprofit that helps retailers and brands innovate. As Amazon looks to automate distribution, cashiers will be safe — for now.

“The easiest place for Amazon to bring its expertise to bear is in the warehouses, because that’s where Amazon really excels,” Hawkins said. “If they can reduce costs, they can show that on the store shelves and move Whole Foods away from the Whole Paycheck image.”

Amazon sees automation as a key strategic advantage in its overall grocery strategy, according to company documents reviewed by Bloomberg before the Whole Foods acquisition was announced. Whole Foods has 11 distribution centers specializing in perishable foods that serve its stores. It also has seafood processing plants, kitchens and bakeries that supply prepared food to each location. Those are the places where Amazon could initially focus, according to experts.

Amazon has not had the fresh food sales volume to justify big investment in refrigerated warehouses. Whole Foods gives them an incentive to reinvent how groceries get to your store and doorstep.

Brittain Ladd, a supply chain consultant who spent two years working on Amazon’s grocery push, said Amazon may be considering building a network of automated warehouses designed for the grocery business. These would likely be 1 million square feet — large enough to serve Whole Foods and Amazon’s various other grocery initiatives like Amazon Fresh and Prime Pantry — and would utilize robots and automation to reduce labor costs, he said.

“The goal will be to create as advanced a distribution capability as possible to provide customers with exceptional service and the freshest of fresh produce, vegetables, and meat,” Ladd said.

“Amazon will win the battle against Wal-Mart by winning with fresh food. A big challenge for Amazon will be applying its logistics know-how regarding durable, long-lasting products like books, toys and tablets to delicate perishables like strawberries and steaks that have to be handled gingerly, stored at different temperatures and inspected frequently for signs of spoiling.

After automating warehouses, Amazon may bring the robots to the stores. But don’t expect them to replace cashiers immediately. The first ones will likely navigate aisles to check inventory and alert employees when items run low, said Austin Bohlig, an adviser at Loup Ventures, which invests in robotics startups. “These robots can operate alongside people inside a store, but Amazon will want to make absolutely sure they are safe,” he said.

“These robots can operate alongside people inside a store, but Amazon will want to make absolutely sure they are safe,” he said.

Amazon is experimenting with a smaller urban convenience store concept in Seattle called AmazonGo that lets shoppers check in with smartphones, grab what they want and leave without going to a cash register. They are billed automatically based on what they pluck from shelves.

Amazon said it has no plans to introduce that technology to Whole Foods, though a person familiar with the matter said the company is considering eliminating cashiers as part of its long-term grocery strategy. The person asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on private matters.

Amazon has good reason to move slowly with automating tasks now done by people. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, whose 1.3 million members mostly work in supermarkets, has had its eye on Whole Foods for years, said David Pryzbylski, an employment lawyer with Barnes & Thornburg, who has represented supermarkets in union-related cases. Whole Foods has kept unions at bay by paying good wages and avoiding mass layoffs, he said.

“If there’s an environment of uncertainty, like layoffs due to automation, unions can play on that fear,” Pryzbylski said, and make inroads in unionizing the workforce.

Story by Spender Soper and Alex Sherman at Bloomberg News

Truck driver shortage may mean higher prices for consumers

Truck on open roadEverything you buy has one thing in common – it was delivered to the store by a truck driver. Although not something you think about when you pull a container of Wish Farm strawberries from the shelf, or grab a few of Del Monte’s Mango cups, but everything was delivered there on a truck.

Sometimes the products are local and other times they cross the world to make it to your shelf. In this perspective, it’s easy to see the ones who are responsible for delivering these goods have a lot of power. There’s an old saying that goes, “If trucking stops, America stops too.” Meaning we need these drivers on the road doing what they do – picking up and delivering various goods and products.

But there is a rising problem of finding enough drivers to cover the loads currently available. Which in turn, drives prices even higher (no pun intended). And the cycle continues to trend upward. This puts pressure on the whole supply chain. Transportation managers realize how much money their drivers can make on the next load. So they want them to get to the destination, unload, and pick the next one up. This is making trucking more stressful for drivers, which in turn is actually hurting the problem. Drivers get fed up and quit, then cannot be replaced.

Although new people are entering trucking school every day, the sign of a growing economy is a higher demand for truck drivers. Therefore unfortunately, the industry will likely face a driver shortage for a long time.

Are you a truck driver interested in getting back on the road? Check out our openings here!