All Posts By

Dean Maciuba

Putting the ROI in Robotics: Task-Specific Warehouse Automation

By | Supply Chain Management

Robotic fulfillment solutions are a hot topic right now. There are numerous YouTube videos out there demonstrating how merchandise racks are autonomously moving about in fulfillment centers, on the backs of tiny robotic transport vehicles. These robots are taking merchandise racks to their human counterparts for individual items to be picked, packed, and shipped.

Large merchants like Amazon would have you thinking that nearly all their fulfillment centers operate with robots that pick, pack, and ship their merchandise orders. However, that is not the case.  Human hands are still picking, packing, and shipping most e-commerce merchandise orders in both large and small fulfillment centers across America.

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How Does Intelligent Fulfillment Improve the 3PL Service Offering?

By | Shipping

Intelligent Fulfillment (IF) is the use of various integrated technologies and best-in-class processes to perform product fulfillment in the most cost-efficient manner possible in line with clients’ needs and expectations.  It is one of the earmarks of a modern, tech-empowered 3PL.  Ideally, an order fulfillment service provider implements intelligent fulfillment practices to differentiate their service offering from their competitors and better position their organization to retain and gain new business by offering a superior client experience.

Implementing and integrating advanced technology can cost a lot of money and smaller fulfillment service providers may believe that intelligent fulfillment solutions are not within their budgetary reach.  However, there are lower-cost component parts of an IF solution that can serve as a starting point for small organizations to slowly move forward towards embracing intelligent fulfillment with the goal of protecting their competitive standing.

10 Intelligent Fulfillment Goals and Opportunities for 3PL Companies

  1. Integrate existing technology platforms to drive a better synchronized fulfillment experience for the organization and client.
  2. Implement new technology that extends real-time inventory views to the client and results in an overall, improved inventory management experience for both the fulfillment service provider and the client.
  3. Embrace technology upgrades that support omni-channel marketing/fulfillment solutions to best support clients operating across various marketplace platforms.
  4. Focus on improving order management technology first, and ensure that new technology supports various customer delivery, store pickup or carrier access point delivery options.
  5. Work towards identifying all fulfillment related costs and embrace technology platforms that support management of those identified costs.
  6. Constantly work with your management team on long-term planning and identifying process optimization/best practices.  Implement those practices across the workforce and seek out technology solutions that support and measure the results of newly implemented best practices.
  7. Seek out the best professional talent possible, and understand that retaining legacy employees in key positions that lack the necessary skillset are detrimental to the long-term success of the organization.
  8. Understand that the up-front cost for implementing new technology should result in lower unit processing cost down the line.  It is all about leveraging those up-front costs against future operating cost reductions.
  9. Engage in demand forecasting and link projected increases/changes in business to proactive capacity improvements, ahead of actual volume increases. AI based technology can support this function but can also be costly.
  10. Do not resist up-front investments in technology designed to protect the long-term competitive positioning of the organization or  to survive in an increasingly competitive environment.

The continued growth of e-commerce presents a tremendous opportunity for 3rd party order fulfillment service providers to prosper.  However, the competitive environment is intense and failure to embrace Intelligent Fulfillment goals and objectives could lead to organizational failure, even in the midst of amazing e-commerce growth. Finally, if you can’t measure the results of change, don’t implement change, just for the sake of change.

Curbs have great appeal

Curbs: Critically Important and Costly Real Estate

By | Shipping

It has been a bit scary to watch the decline in business activity in our cities this past year, due to pandemic driven restrictions. The good news is, restrictions on business operations are being lifted, COVID 19 infection rates are declining and maybe, “normal” is just around the corner.

Unfortunately, part of that “normal” will be the return of traffic congestion and the challenge to find curb-space to legally park cars and service vehicles, as we rush to visit our favorite restaurants and shops in urban centers.

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Beyond LTL: Faster Solutions for Palletized Freight

By | Shipping

We live in an era where e-commerce parcel delivery service commitments have morphed from the standard 2-day ground delivery to the option for same-day, free delivery in the largest metro markets. Some carriers and e-commerce merchants are now offering 2-hour delivery windows in the largest markets, and we are also seeing incredibly fast, 2-hours transit time commitments for both grocery and restaurant food delivery.

However, there have been limited transit time service improvements in the Less-Than-Load (LTL) transportation segment for large and bulky/palletized goods. Why might that be the case?

  • Everything About LTL is BIG and Big Takes Longer to Move: The cargo is either secured onto large pallets or is so big, it does not fit on a pallet and must be manually handled, which takes a lot of time. The tractor-trailers are long and large, so navigating city streets and customer loading areas is a challenge that also eats up time.
  • Manual Sortation/Handling Process: Unlike the fully automated parcel sortation process, the cross-dock and pallet handling process in an LTL terminal and hub is mostly manual with a single fork-lift driver handling a single pallet. The manual sortation process also takes a lot of time and negatively impacts overall transit times.
  • Hub Bypass Strategy Not Embraced: The integrated parcel carriers are using teamed tractor-trailer drivers to travel long distances and bypass regional hubs. Going through fewer regional hubs improves transit times. The LTL carriers have not embraced this line-haul, time-saving strategy as aggressively as the parcel carriers.
  • Linehaul Via Rail: While moving trailers via rail is less costly than moving the same line-haul trailer using the interstate highway network, it also takes longer. Given the current driver shortage, the LTL carriers are less likely to move line-haul operations away from rail to the highway to improve transit times.

What are faster options for shippers?

It is not likely that the LTL carriers can dramatically improve transit times. However, there are options for shippers that need faster transit time solutions for large and bulky palletized freight.

  • Truckload Service: While faster than LTL, this dedicated truck and trailer service requires numerous pallet loads to be cost-effective.
  • Straight Truck Direct to Recipient Delivery: Shippers are becoming less satisfied with LTL carrier rate increases, and limited improvement in transit times. Recognizing the demand for faster LTL transit times, independent truckers are now offering direct-to-recipient straight truck pallet delivery. This service is faster than standard carrier-based LTL service and not significantly higher in cost. Digital freight matching technology also allows for more than a single shipper per truck.
  • Hot Shot Delivery: These on-demand delivery services for palletized shipments were used heavily during the on-set of the recent pandemic, to move urgent medical supplies. While more costly than that the direct to recipient model, it is faster and usually limited to a single customer’s product.
  • Critical Freight Logistics: This service is usually a combination of highway and air freight services to provide same-day and overnight delivery of large and bulky/palletized shipments. The service is costly and usually reserved for high-value goods or “plant down” scenarios where the cost of transportation is not a factor.

LTL service limitations and the digital management of freight loads is opening the door to alternate, pallet-based shipment solutions, and these services may be more easily accessed via a 3rd party logistics provider.

Pandemic Driven Change in the Workplace: More to Come

By | Shipping

COVID is driving disruption in the workplace, and parcel carriers and 3PL providers are not immune to that change. Whether driven by management, the employee, or government, the response to the pandemic has forever changed the way we live, work and play.  We are entering a period of hypersensitivity in the workplace, especially as it applies to preventing the spread of infectious disease while at work.   That hypersensitivity will continue to drive change.

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The Drone Delivery Challenge

By | Shipping

It was in February of 2014 that Jeff Bezos announced on 60 minutes that Amazon was developing the technology to support a residential drone delivery solution. Fast forward to 2021, and Amazon is still testing residential delivery via drones, while UPS’s focus is on the business delivery. FedEx is also in the game, but to a lesser extent via a partnership with Wing Aviation.

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The Evolving E-Commerce Value Proposition

By | Supply Chain Management

Online merchants, e-marketplaces,  parcel carriers, and technology advancements each impact the e-commerce value proposition. In simple terms, that value proposition is still based on an innovative service offering: one with multiple features and benefits that make e-commerce attractive to the consumer and drive purchasing behavior. Some of the primary components of that value proposition include:

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Micro Fulfillment: The Move to Same-Day and Next-Day Delivery

By | Supply Chain Management

Amazon continues to drive change in the e-commerce arena, aggressively growing their next-day, Prime delivery initiative. Today, it is nearly impossible for most e-commerce merchants to offer the combination of free-shipping and next-day delivery to most of the continental US, without compromising profit using costly Express delivery services. However, by 2022, Amazon is on track to support affordable next-day delivery to most US addresses and, today, offers the largest on-demand, same-day delivery network, Amazon Flex, in North America.

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