Review: New Logistics Technology

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

The shipping and logistics industry is constantly evolving. With the changing landscape of domestic and international trade, consumers’ varied and shifting priorities, and the breakneck pace of new technological developments, it can be difficult to keep up.

Here are some of the current trends in the logistics industry and a few that are on the rise:

  • Supply Chain Responsibility and Transparency

In recent years, consumers have become more mindful of where their goods are sourced and the ethics of the businesses they patronize. Consequently, producers of consumer goods are increasingly scrutinizing every step in the process of creating and selling their goods, from sourcing of raw materials (e.g. mining and farming) to manufacturing, shipping, and final sale to consumers.

US consumers generally have two main concerns regarding the production and sale of purchased goods: environmental effects (i.e. carbon footprint) and fair treatment of workers (mostly non-domestic) who harvest materials and manufacture goods. One solution that addresses both issues is the blockchain, a digital ledger that allows businesses to verify each vendor and manufacturer in their supply chain, regardless of the size and complexity of their networks.

Beyond comprehensive awareness of one’s supply chain, recent advancements in low-emission vehicles are helping the shipping community create more viable long-term solutions to the extremely pollutive nature of traditional ocean, air, and road transportation. When combined with technologies like blockchain, shipping service-consumers will have the option to choose shippers based on criteria beyond the standard twin considerations of speed and cost.

  • Full-Service Warehousing

Warehousing goods is nothing new, but companies like Amazon have changed the nature of warehousing, both in terms of how many warehouses they operate and the way they use the space.

In recent years, Amazon has begun warehousing its goods using increasingly creative methods, both in the US and abroad, allowing them to expedite more shipments and give “Prime” members their money’s worth. They’ve even ramped up expectations and delivery speed in 27 US cities with “Prime Now,” a service that boasts a massive selection of household items, all of which are deliverable within an hour.

Warehousing on this scale reflects the changing face of retail. Vast quantities of commercial space that might have been used for retail ten years ago are now put to more practical use storing goods to be sold online.

  • Digital Monitoring

The world has gone digital and logistics is no exception. Across the board, shippers are taking advantage of cloud computing well beyond the blockchain. The cloud allows shippers to store as much information as necessary in a secure online database that easily adjusts to fluctuating volumes, intuitively organizes transactions and effectively contains costs. The cloud also safeguards data if on-site monitoring devices are damaged.

Earlier this year, some logistics companies began arming their pickers with wearable technology, like Google Glass, to reduce human error and ensure accuracy. While the trend seems to have lost momentum, accuracy-checking technology remains a hot topic in the industry.

  • Robotics

Although it’ll be a long time before robots take over the shipping process, robotic technology to increase logistical efficiency is advancing at an impressive rate. Various degrees of automation have been implemented in the last few years to increase efficiency and accuracy.

As it currently stands, logistical robotic technology is limited to systems that transport goods to the picker. However, industry leaders are eagerly awaiting technological advancements that will allow robots to take over the picking process altogether, wherein they will be able to pick from conventional racks and conveyance equipment and move goods within the warehouse.

  • Autonomous transportation vehicles

On the cutting edge of the logistics industry, vehicles that transport goods without a human operator are a growing trend. Although the technology is still in its infancy, several varieties of unmanned carrier vehicles are in development.

Australia has established a government initiative, known as the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative or ADVI, devoted to developing autonomous road vehicles. The technology is still relatively new, but long-haul trucks may be the first to go driver-less, as they are subject to fewer regulations than passenger vehicles.

Perhaps more well-known is the carrier drone, famously developed by both Amazon and several medical supply companies overseas. Drones are particularly exciting because they enable direct deliveries regardless of traffic or road conditions. They are meant to simplify fast delivery to urban areas with heavy road traffic, impoverished areas where roads are inadequate, and war zones to which traditional delivery vehicles might be unable to travel.

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