E-commerce: the buying and selling of items over the internet. People around the world are using this purchasing platform at a rate that individual companies can barely keep up with. Thankfully there are a host of companies who specialize in transportation and logistics. Even so, to adequately cope, these companies need to automate their technologies, including the heavy lifting, so that they can spend real manpower on customers.
Most people embracing E-commerce don’t consider the immense engineering challenges that it presents.
Through continued innovation and automation, products are transported ever more efficiently and expeditiously. An item purchased by a customer often sees a warehouse, a shipping container, and two delivery and logistics companies, before reaching its destination.
The ports around the world, handling an increasing number of shipments, are investing in automation engineers as they increasingly mechanize their processes.
Container automation has become a focus for logistics companies in the last five years. One of the world’s first fully automated container terminals is in Qingdao, eastern China. The system can unload 1,785 containers in 9 hours.
The plant recently made a new world record for average crane moves per hour; it performed 39.6 moves in one hour. There are no lunch breaks for an automated crane operator! An automated port is able to achieve 30 percent more productivity than a fully manned container terminal.
The United States is also automating container terminals; the Port of Los Angeles’ TraPac terminal employs automated cargo-haulers and automated stacking cranes. The port is one of the very first in the US to be experimenting with automated technology.
Norway is also pioneering automation in the logistics space – it is engineering the world’s first automated container ship. The ship, the ‘Yara Birkeland’ is set to be released this year.
From port to portables
XPO Logistics is the fastest growing Fortune 500 company specializing in transport and logistics. It spends close to US$500 million on developing new technologies for the industry every year.
The company understands that delivery efficiency is the key.
CEO of XPO Logistics, Brad Jacobs, says that the 750 warehouses that the company owns have become high-tech hubs. Robots do the heavy lifting, drones take the inventory, the staff use internet-connected wearables. In general automation replaces humans in the more repetitive tasks. Speaking to Fortune, he said:
“We’re actually the largest manager of expedited shipments in the world. These are critical, urgent, unplanned shipments that have to be delivered right away. Usually they are picked up in 45 minutes and delivered in a couple of hours and we usually do that by truck, we also do it by plane, we also do it cross-continentally.”
The company has just introduced a new warehouse management system, optimized for mobile devices: WMx technology. It is a cloud-based system which ensures efficient internal communication – personnel merely log in to locate specific information.
As the industry heats up, companies like Uber are trying to enter the freight business as well. They’re trying to mobilize drivers to deliver items around their cities, suburbs and towns.
In fact E-commerce is available to anyone willing to service the eager, paying customers in all corners of the world. The competition is fierce, however, and efficiency is king, but with automation expertise gathering steam the deftness and speed of delivery is almost poised to defy logic.
“U.S. Ports Take Baby Steps in Automation as Rest of the World Sprints.” Fortune, fortune.com/2018/01/30/port-automation-robots-container-ships/.
“World's Most Efficient Fully-Automated Port in E China.” YouTube, 3 Dec. 2017, youtu.be/4AF9aIgUj3Q.