Amazon has announced the 16 finalists in its third-annual Amazon Robotics Challenge, including two teams hailing from Australia.
At the event on 27 July in Nagoya, Japan, the teams will demonstrate their latest robotics hardware and software that can pick and stow items in storage
The Challenge combines object recognition, pose recognition, grasp planning, compliant manipulation, motion planning, task planning, task execution, and error detection and recovery. The robots will be scored by how many items are successfully picked and stowed in a fixed amount of time.
Teams from Australia, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the Republic of Singapore, Spain, Taiwan and the United States will be competing for a chance of winning up to US$250,000 ($339,000) in prizes.
“This challenge is an opportunity to strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions to the technical challenges we face in unstructured automation,” said Joey Durham, Contest Chairperson and Manager of Research and Advanced Development, Amazon Robotics. “It’s also a celebration of robotic innovation – something we are deeply focused on at Amazon – and provides a platform for the academic and research community to share and promote their research in a fun and rewarding way.”
The Australian teams taking part are ‘ACRV’, from Queensland University of Technology, and Applied Robotics – Smart Robotics, from the University of Sydney.
The Robotics Challenge will be held during RoboCup, a competition for intelligent robots and one of the world’s most important technology events in research and training. The 2016 contest was held at RoboCup in Leipzig, Germany, and was won by team Delft, a collaboration between Delft Robotics and TU Delft’s Robotics Institute.
“As a result of this contest, we are attracting more interest than ever before from robot manufacturers approaching us to pursue additional research,” said Carlos Hernandez Corbato, Team Delft Captain and postdoctoral researcher. “This challenge was the most exciting project I have ever done in research and the most gratifying because of how much we learned.”
Packsize International together with its customer Samsung Electronics Australia received the ‘Excellence in Manufacturing Supply Chains’ award during the recent Smart Conference and Expo 2017 event.
Industry judges awarded the On Demand Packaging implementation at Samsung Australia’s Spare Parts and Logistics distribution centre in Sydney. In partnership with DB Schenker, Samsung Australia used Packsize’s custom packaging solution to streamline processes and optimise delivery services. Among the results achieved were production, inventory management, and stock control improvements, less corrugated fiberboard and void fill and reductions in product damage and freight costs.
Within three months of implementing the service, Samsung reported an approximately 50 per cent reduction in concealed damage and a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in the cubic volume of items shipped.
“Stock-takes that required three days can now be done in three hours,” said Samsung Australia’s Spare Parts and Logistics Manager David Ungar. “Packsize is a collaborative and enthusiastic partner, willing to share their experience and knowledge to deliver benefits, and is committed to a long-term relationship.”
“As packaging’s role in the value chain expands, so will our ability to support new operating models, improve logistics, create even greater customer satisfaction, and deliver smarter packaging design,” said Sean Ledbury, General Manager, Packsize International’s Asia-Pacific subsidiary, Packsize Propriety Limited.
According to Hays’ latest Quarterly Report, covering April to June 2017, a continued availability of operational logistics roles continues to show that the manufacturing sector has improved – though these jobs include warehouse and transport roles rather than supply chain roles.
With organisations continuing to outsource logistics, the Report found that vacancy activity in 3PL companies remains strong.
Large logistics businesses are keeping salaries steady; instead leveraging their brand and the opportunity to join their team attract candidates.
While employers in the industry were found to be looking for candidates with relevant systems knowledge, SAP was found to be one of the most in demand systems.
Tertiary education, found to be in high demand in the previous Quarterly Report, is still highly valued by employers.
“The trend to employ tertiary educated candidates continues,” Hays said in a statement. “These candidates are viewed favourably by employers for white-collar roles managing teams – they’re perceived to be more adaptable to changing market conditions and more aware of new and ever-changing technology. They are preferred to those with a blue-collar background who have worked their way up.”
The demand for supply chain/inventory managers remains high for candidates with tertiary qualifications and FMCG experience, the company noted, adding that import roles remain a focus, but export roles have increased in response to Australia’s weak dollar.
Inventory controllers with operational experience and relevant licences, such as a forklift licence, are required too, as organisations are attempting to streamline processes and some are therefore combining warehouse supervisor and inventory roles.
The FMCG industry is in need of supply chain coordinators, the Report also found. “The planning area in FMCG organisations is always buoyant, however demand planner salaries have increased to an extent that employers prefer to recruit a coordinator to support the planning function,” the statement said.
Production managers are another ongoing area of demand. “We’ve seen a slight increase in the number of businesses of various sizes looking to employ tertiary qualified professionals at management level,” the company said. “Applicants with exposure to FMCG are in shorter supply than they once were.”
Research and Markets has recently released a research report on the market for robots designed for use in warehouses and the logistics sector.
The report, ‘Warehousing and Logistics Robots: Global Market Analysis and Forecasts’, found that worldwide sales for the robots reached US$1.9 billion in 2016 ($2.5 billion), forecast to rise to US$22.4 billion (29 billion) by the end of 2021.
Research and Markets also reports that AI advisory service Tractica expects worldwide warehousing and logistics robot unit shipments will increase from 40,000 in 2016 to 620,000 units annually by 2021.
“The market is experiencing strong growth, with many prominent companies showing greater confidence in new robotics technologies that can yield a return on investment (ROI) in less time than it took a few years ago,” the company stated. “In the modern world’s fast-paced, customer-driven economy, the warehousing and logistics industries are looking for robotics solutions, more than ever before, to remain globally competitive.
“While robotics technology has already made an economic impact on the manufacturing sector, it is currently starting to transform supply chain operations to be faster, safer, and more productive. The demand for robots and the supply of matured robotic solutions for the optimisation of logistics processes have created a tipping point that could lead to widespread acceptance and presence of robots in warehouses and logistics operations.”
United Forklift and Access Solutions has been awarded a major contract with nationwide logistics provider Bluestar Global Logistics.
United supplied over 60 units to Bluestar’s national depots, including a combination of heavy-duty and high-performance CAT 2.5t LPG forklifts, CAT 3.0t LPG forklifts and CAT 1.6t electric reach trucks, each of which is well suited to heavy-use industries such as logistics, warehousing and transport.
“In a competitive tender, United were the standout company, because their service truly went above and beyond,” said Mr Peter James, Asset & Compliance Manager, Bluestar Global Logistics.
Before submitting their tender, United visited each of Bluestar’s national offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to assess areas where they could provide cost-saving solutions that optimised efficiency and productivity.
United’s National Major Accounts Manager, Mark Pemberton, and his team identified two major problem areas where United could provide innovative solutions. “We discovered that the hosing and hydraulic cylinders in their old fleet were left too exposed, and they were having to replace them frequently due to damage. Our CAT forklifts have been fitted with a low profile hose which is positioned further back, along with a custom designed and manufactured cylinder protector. Both of these features reduce damage to these otherwise vulnerable parts and enhance the overall safety of the machines, ultimately reducing the cost of life to our customer,” said Mr Pemberton.
“The other wear issue we identified was that the heel of the forklift tynes was wearing out over time, and once it’s worn past a certain point, the forklift is no longer standards or safety compliant. We added a lift cylinder spacer, which means that when the front of the tynes are touching the floor, the back is still slightly elevated. In addition to stopping wear from hitting the ground, it stops the heel scraping along the ground if the forklift moves with its tynes down,” he said.
United’s CAT forklifts are all speed-limited to Bluestar’s site requirements and feature CAT’s electric on-board pin-code access system, which prevents unauthorised use of the machines.
Each forklift features a swing-down LPG bracket for the gas bottle, so that operators never have to lift the bottle during replacement, which would cause excess operator fatigue.
“Forklifts are the lifeblood of our business,” said James. “Our customers expect quick delivery times, and their customers expect quick delivery times, so there’s a significant flow-on effect if we have any issues with our forklifts.”
With its domination of the retail and logistics worlds well in motion, it seems that Amazon’s ambitions may be getting a little more out of this world.
A seven-page white paper prepared by space company Blue Origin – owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – for the Nationals Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) outlines its interest in establishing a cargo storage facility on the moon by the mid-2020s.
The Washington Post– owned by Jeff Bezos, interestingly – first revealed details of the document, reporting that it was handed to NASA leadership, urging them to support an Amazon-style shipping service for the moon to deliver goods such as gear for experiments and cargo, eventually enabling human settlement.
Blue Origin’s paper asked NASA to develop a program to provide “incentives to the private sector to demonstrate a commercial lunar cargo delivery service.”
The company has confirmed that the white paper obtained by The Post, dated 4 January, is indeed authentic.
When questioned by The Post, Bezos said, “It is time for America to return to the Moon – this time to stay.
“A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”
At the recent Aviation Week awards ceremony, Bezos noted that the moon could be key in helping humans reach further into space. “I think that if you go to the moon first, and make the moon your home, then you can get to Mars more easily,” he said.
Blue Origin plans to land its lunar vehicle –Blue Moon – on the moon’s south pole, Shackleton Crater due to its constant sunlight to power the vessel, and a water source. Blue Moon will be capable of carrying up to 10,000lbs of material, key to the company’s plan to transition to cargo delivery and storage. “Blue Moon is all about cost-effective delivery of mass to the surface of the Moon,” said Bezos. “Any credible first lunar settlement will require that capability.”
Montague Cold Storage has re-deployed Paperless Warehousing Group’s (PW) warehouse management system (WMS) at its Truganina distribution centre. Montague has been using the system at its four other sites for years.
The changeover reportedly came after Montague saw an immediate need for a more efficient, flexible, stable and scalable warehousing system, in response to the ongoing success with organisations such as Allied Mills, Patties Foods, Murray Goulburn, and Bega Cheese and Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.
Implemented and integrated with their customers’ interfaces, PW’s WMS enables Montague to move new customers onto its system quickly and efficiently, eliminating manual entry, and better managing their overall warehouse and distribution functions. The flexibility and scalability of the platform will also allow Montague to handle unpredictable changes in their future operations.
“Having access to a scalable Warehouse Management Solution with guaranteed efficiency gains has become a necessity, rather than a luxury for food distributors, grocery retailers and the logistics companies that support them,” said Scott Symons, General Manager, Paperless Warehousing.
“PW’s expertise as a WMS innovator is proven among many food and beverage distributors, FMCG’s, retail operators, third party logistics companies and many others. I am pleased to see Montague migrate their entire cold storage operations to PW. Together, we have a heritage of over 15 years of successful business together and are looking forward to continuing our relationship for many more years to come.”
Truganina is Montague’s 5th distribution centre to deploy PW’s WMS platform. The other four are located at (Tullamarine, West Melbourne, Keysborough and Allansford).
Volatile yet potentially very profitable, the logistics industry is full of opportunities to seize, and threats to overcome. Here are some of the current trends to consider and the challenges that port operators face in their quest to become more efficient. The lay of the land Consolidation via mergers and acquisitions appears to be the new normal, at least within the shipping line sector as the industry reacts and adjusts to overcapacity and a drop in trade. However, it will not be too long before we witness similar trends in the port sector who are struggling to remain efficient. New modalities such as rail and road and trade routes are emerging and currently being explored for long-haul cross-continental trading.
Rapidly developing economies in the Asian region, together with the prospect of free trade agreements in key markets, are driving strong growth in the global container shipping industry. As a result, port operators of all sizes are on the hunt for ways to improve efficiencies and lower costs.
The much-publicised increase of larger vessels has changed the economies of scale for shipping operators and offers new alternatives for manufacturers keen to boost their distribution capacity.
Such increases in capacity also bring challenges for port operators. For the largest ports, loading and unloading must be completed as quickly and effectively as possible. Even relatively minor delays in turning such large ships around can have significant knock-on effects further along the supply chain.
There are flow-on effects for smaller ports too. Vessels that have been displaced from the largest facilities by the new mega ships are then redirected onto routes that they traditionally have not served. This means smaller ports now have to deal with much larger ships than was previously the case. In turn, this puts pressure on everything from loading equipment to control systems. The challenge for operators To meet these challenges, smaller port operators must also find ways to make their facilities more efficient. Traditional methods must be examined and new approaches introduced. Any failure to take these steps will inevitably result in rising operational costs and an inability to compete with more nimble competitors.
There are a range of areas in which port operators can find efficiencies, including: Ship movement planning: Effective scheduling of vessels can ensure the port maintains a constant level of operation, rather than oscillating from quiet periods to times of frenetic activity.
Such planning will also aid the shipping companies themselves as they will be able to forward plan arrivals and departures much more accurately. The last thing a firm wants is for its freight vessels to have to anchor nearby and wait for a berth to become available. Labour management: Some industry estimates put the cost of labour at between 40 and 60 per cent of total port operational expenses. This means careful attention must be given at all times to how it is deployed.
Operators cannot afford to have staff rostered on when there are no ships in dock, but at the same time must ensure they are available as soon as loads need to be handled.
They also need the ability to change rosters quickly if ship movements are altered. Adverse weather conditions and delays at other ports can mean ships arrive much earlier or later than planned. Port operators need to have the mechanisms in place to alert staff and ensure they are available when required. Warehouse management: Many port operators have traditionally relied on paper-based systems or spreadsheets to track the movement of goods into and out of their facilities. While this may have worked in the past, as volumes increase they cannot be scaled to match demands.
Instead operators need to deploy electronic cargo management tools designed specifically for the shipping and logistics sector. These tools can readily handle everything from whole container movements to break-bulk shipments.
Accessed either via traditional PCs or the growing range of wireless mobile devices, the tools can significantly streamline the flow of goods through the facility. Ship turnaround times can be reduced and bottom-line profits increased. Reporting: Having a real-time view of what is happening within every port is critical. Vessel arrivals and departures, staffing rosters and freight movements all need to be constantly monitored to ensure that any issues can be solved before they have a significant impact on operations.
Real-time reporting tools need to be linked to systems throughout the facility, ensuring they can access data and provide port operators with a clear view of exactly what is going on at all times. Invoicing: At the end of the day, port operators of all sizes need to generate profits. Having an efficient invoicing and client management system in place is therefore critical to ensure revenue is received as swiftly as possible.
Invoicing needs to be tightly integrated with the cargo management tools to ensure all billable activities and resources are captured and prevent revenue leakage.
An effective invoicing and financial system will also remove many of the manual processes that may exist, freeing up staff to focus on more value-adding business activities.
By focusing on these key areas, large port operators will be able to meet the demands created by new massive ships while their smaller counterparts will also be well placed to deal with the changes this means for them.
Overall, shifting from manual, paper-based workflows to digital tools will drive efficiency and boost customer service levels.
Information and communications technology (ICT) solution providers face unprecedented challenges and opportunities in the maritime logistics space and these are not just simply about ‘automation’ or even ‘digitisation’ – the latest buzz.
The growing democratisation in ICT calls for a rapid paradigm shift in the way ICT is produced, delivered and consumed in our industry.
In the near future, innovations will be largely driven on the basis of a shared economy. It will be a more distributed, trusted, shared and hence more innovative environment”. Written by Kaustubh Dalvi, President Global Sales at Jade Software.
FedEx Supply Chain, a subsidiary of international shipping company FedEx Corp. has announced ‘FedEx Fulfilment’ – a service catering to SMEs lacking in warehouse space and delivery know-how who want to appeal to online customers.
US companies using the service will be able to outsource the entire fulfilment process to FedEx. After receiving products from the companies, FedEx will handle warehousing, packaging, delivery and will also deal with returned orders. Sellers with have the option to use custom packaging featuring their logo rather than FedEx’s.
Using the service’s platform, sellers will be able to view and track their products, manage inventory and analyse trends.
“FedEx Fulfilment gives small and medium-sized businesses the potential to achieve profitable and scalable growth,” said Ryan Kelly, senior vice president, FedEx Supply Chain. “Online shoppers show deep-rooted loyalty to brands with fast shipments, easy returns, positive customer service experiences and flexible delivery options.”
The system works in a very similar fashion to that of Amazon: Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA), though without Prime membership benefits for buyers. According to Business Insider, FedEx’s offering could serve as a good alternative for sellers loathe to reveals their sales number to Amazon. “Amazon connects them with customers, but it also competes with these sellers” commented CNN Money‘s Matt McFarland. “Amazon can see which products are selling best, and start to sell those products itself.”
The Handheld Group, manufacturer of tough mobile computers, handhelds and tablets, has announced a new product to join its range – the Algiz 8X tablet.
The Algiz 8X offers communication features such as LTE and dual-band WLAN, along with an eight-inch ultra-bright chemically strengthened projective capacitive touchscreen built for outdoor use. With glove mode or rain mode enable, the tablet can operate in changing weather.
Handheld reports that the ‘compact’ and ‘rugged’ Algiz 8X has been put through exhaustive testing, including an impact test in which a 64-gram steel ball was dropped on the screen 10 times from a height of 1.2 metres.
“We’ve pushed the limits of modern field technology with this product, fulfilling customers’ needs for powerful computing, mobility, outstanding screen performance and battery life. We made no compromises,” said Johan Hed, Director of Product Management at Handheld.
The Algiz 8X comes standard with Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB, and an optional active capacitive stylus. LAN port, COM port and barcode scanner options are available and custom features and electronics can be added using a ‘backpack’ system.
The Algiz 8X is available from March.