For part two of our tech-focused feature, Global Trade identified industry players who confronted challenges with the help of technological partners. Our case studies are arranged by the categories Global Trade covers on the regular, from 3PLs and e-commerce to intermodal and air cargo logistics.
Please be aware that each category could have had many multiple case studies. Therefore, we do not want to leave the impression that only the best of the best are represented. We felt it better to spread the coverage around to different types of tech challenges and solutions. Do you have your own special story that could have been reported here? Please continue sharing it with us. Read part one here.
Institution: Humber College of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Challenge: Preparing students for Industry 4.0
Problem Solver: SEW-Eurodrive Canada of Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Solution: Industry 4.0 Laboratory
SEW-Eurodrive, which specializes in geared motors, frequency inverters, controls and software to individual drive solutions, has been headquartered in Bruchsal, Germany, since its founding in 1931 as Süddeutsche Elektromotorenwerke (SEW).
However, the company’s facilities around the world include the North American corporate offices, SEW-Eurodrive Inc. in Lyman, South Carolina, and SEW-Eurodrive Canada that is about a half hour from Toronto.
Humber College and SEW-Eurodrive are now at about the mid-point of a five-year partnership to prepare students for Industry 4.0 technologies, a critical aspect of advanced manufacturing, with training, applied research and future career opportunities. The centerpiece of the partnership with the college is the SEW-Eurodrive’s first-ever Industry 4.0 laboratory in North America. Focused on automated guided vehicles (AGVs), mobile worker assistants and connected automation equipment, the SEW-Eurodrive Industry 4.0 Live Laboratory is in Humber’s Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation.
The lab opened in 2018 after a $4 million+ investment in SEW-Eurodrive technology, $125,000 to establish new scholarships and a commitment to have students intern at the company’s Canadian locations and be considered for permanent employment at those facilities after graduation.
“At SEW-Eurodrive, we see great value in investing in Humber students,” says Anthony Peluso, SEW-Eurodrive Canada’s chief operating officer, “and providing the opportunity for students to develop the skills and gain the practical experience that today’s employers demand.”
Challenge: Digitize its rail transport division fleet
Problem Solver: Nexxiot AG of Zurich, Switzerland
Solution: IoT technology
Jaeger Bernburg is actually a group of medium-sized companies that offers a wide range of different services in the construction industry, with a focus on transport infrastructure and civil engineering. They are primarily active in railroad construction and managing a large number of vehicles adapted to deliver related services.
“Our company is pursuing an ambitious digitalization strategy,” explains Christian Koch, Jaeger Bernburg’s local operations manager. “To achieve this, it was important for us to rely on a system that is maintenance-free as well as one that enables precise monitoring of the mileage of our fleet.”
The collaboration with Nexxiot, which began in April 2020, has relied on equipping the rolling assets with IoT technology to make the monitoring of mileage and other real-time data communication possible. The entire Jaeger Bernburg fleet is now equipped with Nexxiot sensor gateways called Globehoppers.
“The technology enables us to ensure that our vehicles are maintained in accordance with European regulations and that we always have an overview of the operating performance,” Koch says. “This allows us to optimize our processes and automate the collection and evaluation of data.
“We can deliver our vehicles to construction sites more efficiently because we know where they are at all times. This prevents unnecessary shunting and saves CO2 emissions. We also improved our support for our own employees, especially with regards to their working processes. We now provide them with critical information for improved transparency and fact-based decision-making in real time.”
Nexxiot, which was founded in 2015, now operates more than 122,000 Globehoppers globally, with connected assets having traveled a combined total of more than 2.5 billion miles.
“Our goal is to achieve a five percent reduction in total global cargo CO2 emissions by shifting freight traffic from road to rail and optimizing routes,” says Nexxiot CEO Stefan Kalmund. “Enabled by our technology, every mile saved contributes towards this goal.”
Company: Walmart of Bentonville, Arkansas
Challenge: Expand and improve deliveries between distribution centers and customers
Problem Solver: Flytrex of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Two years after announcing a pilot-less program (get it?) focused on food delivery from a distribution center to a recreational area in North Carolina, Walmart recently revealed an expansion of drones over the Tar Heel State.
Flytrex drones had been soaring along fixed routes over unpopulated areas, but the Israeli company and the giant retailer recently received a Federal Aviation Administration permit to deliver to homes. The service is mainly for detached, single-family homes with front and back yards and within 3.5 miles of the Walmart distribution center in Fayetteville.
Causey Aviation Unmanned actually operates the 6.6-pound drones that were manufactured by Flytrex and will hover about 65 feet up in the air before lowering to the ground with a tethered device.
When it comes to incorporating technology into the business, Walmart Senior VP, Customer Product, Tom Ward repeats the words of founder Sam Walton, who went to that Big Greeter Stand in the Sky in 1992: “I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”
Ward claims, “It remains a guiding principle at Walmart to this day. From being an early pioneer of universal bar codes and electronic scanning cash registers to our work on autonomous vehicle delivery, we’re working to understand how these technologies can impact the future of our business and help us better serve our customers.”
Of course, Walmart is not alone in last-mile air space. Kroger has a drone delivery program flying the friendly skies of Centerville, Ohio, UPS has been making unmanned commercial flight deliveries for more than a year, and Amazon has famously been running pilotless pilot programs around the globe for some time.
Despite the near space race, Ward urges caution. “We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” he says. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”
Somewhere, Sam Walton is smiling.
“At the end of the day,” Ward says, “it’s learnings from pilots such as this that will help shape the potential of drone delivery on a larger scale and, true to the vision of our founder, take Walmart beyond where we’ve been.”
Challenge: Overcoming a skilled labor shortage
Problem Solver: Seegrid, Corp. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Solution: Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)
A Whirlpool manufacturing plant can crank out a new washing machine every 10 seconds. That can present challenges as humans, product materials and automation don’t always get along well with one another. Think heavy machinery whirring, forklifts whizzing by and, oh yeah, a global pandemic racing through your workforce.
Whirlpool managed to better the situation with the introduction years ago of automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which replaced the repetitive movement of items by workers from point A to point B. There are, however, drawbacks with AGVs: they possess minimal on-board intelligence and can only obey simple programming instructions. They are guided by wires, magnetic strips or sensors, which typically require extensive (and expensive) facility upgrades. While they can detect obstacles in front of them on their fixed routes, they cannot navigate around these obstacles, even if that obstacle is living and breathing.
Though AGVs do what people did before them, manufacturing plants still require humans . . . from a labor pool that seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Hoping to get ahead of that challenge, Whirlpool set the spin cycle for “Seegrid,” which specializes in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that navigate via maps that their software constructs on-site or via pre-loaded facility drawings.
The AMRs also utilize data from built-in sensors, cameras and laser scanners to detect their surroundings and chose the most efficient route to their destination. Working completely autonomously, an AMR will safely maneuver around forklifts, pallets and ol’ “Sleepy” Pete, choosing the best alternative route to avoid any obstacles. This optimizes productivity by ensuring that material flow stays on schedule.
“We see Seegrid as the evolution in AGVs,” says Jim Keppler, vice president, Integrated Supply Chain for Whirlpool’s North America region. Facilities under Keppler’s watch include a Clive, Iowa, manufacturing plant that now has more than 50 Seegrid units operating during three work shifts. The AMRs have created welcome changes for Clive’s 150 employees.
“For any manufacturer in the United States, there is an overall labor shortage, especially for skilled positions,” Keppler explains. “We have been able to take employees in our facilities that were doing more mundane work and move them to more value-added positions and let the Seegrids do the work.”
With Seegrids, whose technology is protected by more than 100 patents, intellectual property and proprietary know-how, Whirlpool has greatly reduced absenteeism, turnover and occupational injuries while increasing reliability, Keppler says.
“One of the key features of Seegrid is the configurability of the units,” the veep notes. “On one of my visits to Clive last year, they actually had me program one of the Seegrid units. And it’s so easy, even a guy like me can do it.”