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About this week’s guest
Dan Gilmore is the chief marketing officer at supply chain solutions provider Softeon.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 00:00
Warehouse software systems prime for more automation. The White House reveals its report on America’s supply chains. New efforts to aid river traffic on the Mississippi. And look back at National Forklift Safety Day. Pull up a chair and join us as the editors of DC Velocity discuss these stories, as well as news and supply chain trends, on this week’s Logistics Matters podcast. Hi, I’m Dave Maloney. I’m the editorial director at DC Velocity. Welcome.
Logistics Matters is sponsored by Honeywell Intelligrated. From system design and emulation to integrated warehouse automation software and technologies to AS/RS shuttles and robotics, Honeywell Intelligrated’s end-to-end solutions address the most pressing e-commerce and labor challenges facing our industry. To learn more, visit sps.honeywell.com.
As usual, our DC Velocity senior editors Ben Ames and Victoria Kickham will be along to provide their insight into the top stories of this week. And we’ll also be joined this week by contributing editor Toby Gooley. But to begin today, companies are adding new automation and robotics systems to their distribution facilities at a dizzying pace, and all of that requires sophisticated software to tie everything together for a smooth operation. Are today’s warehouse management systems up to the challenge? To address that topic, here is Ben with today’s guest. Ben.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 01:31
Thanks, Dave. That’s right, we have a guest with us today, who’s Dan Gilmore. He’s the chief marketing officer with Softeon, who are a warehouse and logistics software provider. Dan, thank you for being with us this morning.
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 01:45
Ben, glad to be here. Look forward to the conversation.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 01:47
Great. As Dave had referred to a minute ago, we’ve seen a huge jump in automation, technology, robotics in the DC: autonomous mobile robots, picking arms, good-to-person flows, wearables, you know, at the same time, a huge jump in e-commerce and that pressures for next-day delivery. What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen for installing warehouse management system—WMS—platforms today, that might have been different from five years ago or 10 years ago?
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 02:20
Sure. Well, you know, the reality of it is, of course, taht much as the same, right? I mean, so one of the unique, you know, characteristics of a WMS, apart from any other supply chain application, is the need to synchronize kind of the logical world and the real and the physical world, and do so in real time, and that just doesn’t isn’t the case for things like supply chain planning or network design or any number of other supply chain—even transportation management, to an extent, is not quite the same as that. So, it’s just presents some real challenges that I think will be with us for a long, long time. But as you stated, you know, the challenges are evolving. Fåirst, clearly, there’s a lot more automation, there’s no question about that, as you indicated, driven by e-commerce. But, you know, there’s kind of two flavors of that, right? There’s the traditional automation that is still very prevalent, in terms of things like conveyor transport and automated sortation and those sorts of things, and then sort of a new generation of technology in terms of things like goods to person, mobile robots, even put walls, and things of that nature, so, you know, it’s just a different landscape now, and all of us are kind of evolving together in this kind of new paradigm. But, you know, really, there’s there really shouldn’t be that much of risk in the integration between the WMS and the automation if you know what you’re doing. What is the challenge more is just to fit the integration to the kind of physical equipment. It’s just all the process complexity that’s going on in our world today, both driven by automation and in part, in terms of services and, you know, customer requirements that have to be met uniquely, and the dependencies that are in the DC. So, when you have multiple steps and multiple stages in the process of order fulfillment, you have these dependencies that are going to affect the throughput of up- and downstream systems. So, going back to the put walls that I referenced a second ago, if you have delays upstream, you’re going to starve that pool and slow down the turns of those cubbyholes. Hopefully people know what a put wall is. But it’s going to slow down the turning of those cubbyholes, how fast an order is processed, which is the whole key to success and ROI, right? So, what’s different now is that you really have to be more cognizant of all the flows and their dependencies and synchronize those in a way that’s going to have a steady flow of work and neither overload or starve individual process areas.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 04:46
Got it, yeah, I mean, it’s a great point about tying together those digital and physical worlds. So, I mean, what happens if it doesn’t go well? What are the potential risks or the costs for a user if a WMS installation takes longer than expected, or if it struggles to integrate all those different platforms?
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 05:04
Sure. Well, there’s—it causes big problems, that’s for sure. You know, there’s obviously, the obvious risk of not being on time with the project, and unfortunately, when you’re not on time with a project, that usually means you’re not being on budget, either, because you’ve got building costs that are going to be incurred due to the delay. But there’s even then more serious risks. Companies are often now implementing WMS on, really, kind of tight timeframes in terms of their own schedule. And so, if you have delays or problems, you know, you may miss a window before a company’s peak season, and you now no longer have the luxury of implementing it even just a few months late. You have to a bunch of additional months, until a low-volume window kind of opens itself up again, and that’s going to be you know, kind of hell to pay, if I may, for a lot of different stakeholders, in that kind of a process. And then, you know, so we focus on real on time and on on budget, and we often kind of leave off, you know, on results, and when you have the kind of delays that you were referring to there, the ROI of the project is certainly going to be affected as well, sometimes for a long time. I mean, once you get that time-to-value, in terms of what your expectations are and relative to the kind of problems that you indicated, you may never get to the levels of performance that you were expecting going in, or it’s gonna take a lot of work and time to do that. So, one of the things that I’ve noticed in terms of WMS, the selection processes and things: There’s a lot of focus, obviously, on the functionality and the capabilities, and that’s as it should be, of course, but sometimes there’s not enough focus on this delivery aspect of the WMS and what companies can do to accelerate that time-to-value and the differences in approaches that different WMS vendors take to doing that. You know, just as an example of that kind of thing, we have a notion we call hypercare, and that’s after go-live, we just put a lot of intense focus for a couple three weeks on getting that ramp from, you know, usually a little bit of a drop in productivity, to back to the productivity, and now above that, that justifies the whole system. And so, that’s really, you know, especially in the complex world of distribution that we’re living in now, that’s something companies really need to pay a lot of attention to, because no one wants to go back to the CEO or the VP of supply chain or the CFO or whatever, and say, “This project’s late, and this is the cost we’re going to incur from doing so.”
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 07:24
Right, right. It’s big problems and costs there. But at the same time, it’s not necessarily getting easier to install or to implement a WMS. We were talking earlier, there’s an evolution from, you know, just a sort of a pure warehouse management system to warehouse management and a warehouse execution system, which is a sort of newer platform that a lot of facilities use to manage those automation platforms.
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 07:50
Yeah, sure, and I’ll just—quickly, to your comment, there are some things that are happening to make WMS implementations easier, especially in a mobile facility. So, things like configuration wizards, a term that we use, that can kind of guide somebody, you know, a company through the implementation process in a faster and easier and kind of error-correcting way, you know, there’s progress being made there, there’s no question about it. It’s combating the added complexity and automation levels that we see in the DCs today, but there’s certainly some progress being made there as well, I’ll just note that. WES is a fascinating category. You know, it’s actually been around for more years than most people realize, but it’s just kind of come back into prominence. What the WES can do, from our perspective, you know, in terms of providing that real-time visibility to what’s happening on the DC floor, and the flows, and the dependencies that I talked about earlier: very advanced labor planning and scheduling, and doing that in kind of a time-phased way, to understand what my work and my resources are going to be from eight to nine, and nine to 10, and 10 to 11, and that kind of thing that we’re used to in manufacturing, but hasn’t really been present in distribution; optimizing order branches as they’re released to the floor, and really smoothing them to the point, we’re talking about smoothing that flow of work based on capacities and constraints, so that, again, you’re neither starving or overloading an individual processor. And you only can do that by kind of understanding the whole flow of the distribution center, not a not a series of, kind of, islands of automation, if you will. And from our perspective—and this is where the real breakthrough really is—is the ability to automate the release of work to the floor. One of the insights that we really had is how much even an advanced WMS requires of a lot of human decisionmaking and looking at screens and looking at data, and is there not a way to add the smarts to make that happen automatically? And so, we’re just going to, you know, really change things, and what Gartner, again, calls the autonomous WMS or the smart warehouse of the future. How do I release work automatically based on optimization opportunities, order priority, inventory and resource availability, carrier cut-off times, and other variables? We’re going to make, you know, the system is going to make sure that the boxes that are supposed to be on the UPS truck at four o’clock are on there and release the work automatically to ensure that that happens, versus the kind of, you know, almost semi-chaos that happens in a lot of facilities trying to make sure all those orders get on the box that they’ve committed to in terms of next-day service, or whatever that happens to be. And I think the really exciting part about that, Ben, is that applies not only to automated DCs, where we so much think about WES, but also the nonautomated facilities as well. And some of our best successes in WES have been either manual systems or lightly auto—or mid-level automation systems. And you don’t have to be fully automated to enjoy the benefits of WES in terms of that auto release of work, labor planning and scheduling, etc.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 10:42
Interesting point. Yeah, nobody likes that, that sort of controlled chaos that you’re talking about there. I don’t think that’s in anybody’s work plan for the day for the warehouse. But it sounds like the goal of some of this, though, is to try to move from a difficult integration to more of a plug-and-play approach with with the new software platforms, is that right?
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 11:04
Yeah, yeah, that’s part of it. Of course, this is a big topic, and we probably can only partially cover ittoday here, but, you know, there’s no question that, you know, if you have a highly automated distribution center, it’s going to take some time. I mean, if nothing else, you got to wait a long time for the conveyors to show up these days, the hardware side of things. But, you know, there’s going to be some time it takes to integrate, but there are some things you can do to acclerate the timeframe of the integration. One of the things for example, we think is underused is this concept of simulation, where you can really streamline the process of the MHE [material handling equipment], the WMS integration, and of performance. So, you can simulate the messaging with an MHE system with the same configuration that a customer’s WMS is going to be, and really let it play out and see what message response times are and make any adjustments that are needed, based on that simulation so that, you know, when you’re ready to go live, you’ve reduced the risk and have a high level of confidence that those integrations are going to work. That’s very interesting. But I think with some of the, what I like to call picking subsystems—things like voice, pick-to-light, smart cards, put walls, mobile robots-it still just takes too long, and it’s just too hard to integrate these into WMS. And, you know, often the provider of those systems provides the software as well. It’s kind of an add on that has to be integrated with the WMS, and they wind up operating kind of in a silo, and you can’t fully optimize those processes, because you don’t have the full information, and exception handling is very difficult. So, in that plug-and-play concept, we find it faster and easier to integrate kind of just at what we call the API level, to all this equipment. It means you don’t need that additional layer of software to run the put walls, or to the run the pick-to-light, or whatever that subsystem happens to be. It can all be managed on the WMS platform. And that has lower costs. It improves decision making, because you’re looking at all the data and, as I said, dramatically improves exception management. And you mentioned autonomous mobile robots. This is where we think it’s especially valuable. You want to have, if you use the robot software, then you’re kind of locked in there. Well, what if you need robots for other purposes, or what if there’s a better robot that comes around, you know, two years from now? We think the right way to think about it is to have a platform that can manage multiple robots from multiple vendors. That’s going to give you the greatest flexibility. If you need one kind of robot for piece picking, you assign that kind of robot to the task. If you need another one for putaway or replenishment, you assign that to the task. And all of these are visible and operating and optimized on one platform, and if a couple years from now a better mousetrap comes along in terms of a robot, you can keep what you have and add new robots in, or phase them in, or whatever you want to do. It kind of futureproofs your operation. So, we think this notion of extensive, lengthy materials handling integration certainly it’s going to come down due to these kind of techniques.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 13:55
Yeah, I mean, if there’s one thing that we can be sure of, as we’ve seen technology advance, is that there will be another mousetrap, a better one, coming around the corner soon. Dan, thank you, really, for being with us and talking us through all these interesting steps today.
Dan Gilmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Softeon 14:08
Yeah, Ben, it was great. We could go on for a long time. A lot happening out there right now. But a pleasure to be on with you here today.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 14:16
For sure. We’ve had with us today, a guest on the podcast is Dan Gilmore, and he’s the chief marketing officer with Softeon. Back to you, Dave.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 14:25
Thank you, Dan and Ben. Now let’s take a look at some of the other supply chain news from the week. National Forklift Safety Day was held this past Tuesday, June 8, and we’re proud to mention that DC Velocity is official media partner for this industry initiative. Contributing editor Toby Gooley is here to tell us about the annual event and what took place this week. Welcome, Toby.
Toby Gooley, Contributing Editor, DC Velocity 14:47
Thanks, Dave. Good to be here.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 14:49
First, can you give us some background about National Forklift Safety Day?
Toby Gooley, Contributing Editor, DC Velocity 14:54
Sure. This is the eighth year that the Industrial Truck Association has sponsored National Forklift Safety Day. They see it as an opportunity to—for ITA and its members to educate customers, government officials, other stakeholders about the safe use of forklifts and the importance of training not just the operators, but also the pedestrians who work around forklifts. So, to help ITA spread the forklift safety message, we published a special supplement to the May print issue. We also created a web page with links to those articles, as well as related news stories and information from program sponsors. And listeners can find all of that information at DC Velocity.com forward slash nfsd2021.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 15:44
Right, and those people who have podcast notes on their podcast platform, we’ll also include that link there. So Toby, what does National Forklift Safety Day program usually include, and was it affected by having the Covid-19 pandemic happening still this year?
Toby Gooley, Contributing Editor, DC Velocity 16:00
Yeah. So, typically the event is held in Washington, D.C. with ITA hosting an educational program that features speakers from government, the forklift industry, and industrial safety organizations, as well as meetings with members of Congress on the Hill. But due to the pandemic, this year’s event was limited to the educational segment, and it was presented as a webcast. So the webcast is free, by the way, and a recording version—a recorded version is still available with by registering through the webcast section of DC Velocity.com.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 16:39
Great. So what were some of the program’s highlights?
Toby Gooley, Contributing Editor, DC Velocity 16:43
Well, it kicked off with ITA president Brian Feehan reiterating the forklift industry’s ongoing commitment to safety. Then, ITA Chairman Jay Gusler talked about how demand for lift trucks in the U.S. has been fairly robust for the past year, and he partly attributed that to the dramatic increase in e-commerce during the pandemic. They also had executives from the Reverse Logistics Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association discussing some of the challenges and changes that their industries, which depend very heavily on warehouses and distribution centers, are facing right now. And then Michael Field, who is this year’s National Forklift Safety Day chair, talked about the benefits of using technology, like telematics and virtual reality, to enhance safety training for forklift operators. But the really newsworthy presentation was by James Frederick, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which everyone knows as OSHA. He said that from 2011 to 2019, the number of forklift-related fatalities increased by 20%, and serious injuries increased by 33%. The sharpest rise began in 2016, which is about the time that e-commerce volumes are really taking off. He also said that temporary employees and those with a year or less in their current jobs are particularly at risk, and that four of the top five forklift-related violations that OSHA cited in the past few years involved operator training. But Frederick also talked about the Biden administration’s priorities for OSHA. He said, first, that OSHA will be “reinvigorated,” is the word he used, under the new administration; that, second, the agency will enhance support for what he called the often-forgotten frontline workers in small employers and essential industries. And third, OSHA will work to eliminate inequalities in workplace health and safety. So, for example—the examples he gave—is that some workers don’t receive the same level of safety training as other employees because of language differences, race, ethnicity, immigration status, and other factors. So, these last two are areas that have not previously been priorities at OSHA. It sounds to me like “reinvigorated” means more resources, with more investigations and enforcement, all of which had been pared back under the Trump administration.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 19:19
And of course, safety is something we should always keep in mind, not just during National Forklift Safety Day. Thanks, Toby.
Toby Gooley, Contributing Editor, DC Velocity 19:26
That’s absolutely true. Thanks for having me.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 19:30
And, Ben, you reported this week on the long-awaited review from the White House on America’s supply chains. What did the report say?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 19:37
That’s right, Dave, yeah. We’ve seen companies in almost every sector have enormous disruptions over the past year, in supply chain, procurement, transportation, shipping. So this week, we did, we heard from the White House about what they plan to help do about it, in the form of a report that had been commissioned in March by President Biden as a 100-day review of the supply chain for certain products. Of course, the flow of goods around the world has been shaken by the pandemic, and that included restrictions on a handful of essential items that the White House said were critical for the nation’s well being. So, what they reviewed was four things—specifically, semiconductors; large-capacity batteries; critical materials and minerals; and pharmaceuticals, and some of the ingredients that make them. So we learned that the report suggests strategies for improving the supply of goods in each of those categories, and they also form a supply chain disruption task force that’s designed to address short-term bottlenecks, and also mismatches between demand and supply. Finally, it suggested leveraging data to track and to monitor supply chain performance, and also suggested convening a global forum on supply chain resilience.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 20:53
Well, it sounds like those policies could make a difference. Do we know how the industry has reacted to those suggestions?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 21:00
Yeah, great question. It’s still early, they’re just suggestions, and they include some pretty broad-brush approaches, but having said which, the initial reaction is good from analysts and industry groups. For example, the Consumer Brands Association, which is a trade group for the consumer packaged goods, or CPG sector, noted that modern supply chains are complex and there’s no silver-bullet solution to achieving that resiliency goal. But, having said that, it called the report spot-on in its general approach, and said that while the private sector so far has stepped up to meet these challenges, government also needs to play a critical role. Also, an industry analyst, Johnathan Foster, who’s with a procurement consulting firm called Proxima, made a similar point, saying that global supply chains are incredibly complex. So although the report is focused on those four key sectors we mentioned—the semiconductors, the batteries, the minerals, the pharmaceuticals—it will likely have repercussions on a much wider array of goods. For example, if the strategy is successful in lifting constraints on computer chips—which, we’ve seen, put a stop to manufacture of a lot of cars. as well as electronics—that move could reinvigorate automotive plants that are now stalled, and that, in turn, would boost demand for related goods—you know, steel and rubber and plastic. So, overall, the Proxima consultant said that the report is likely to open what he called a dialogue about the constraints that are hamstringing all these supply chains together.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 22:37
Yeah. Well, hopefully we can better our supply chains and reduce much of the congestion we now see on our networks. Thanks, Ben.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 22:44
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 22:45
And Victoria, you wrote this week about a new smart port and resilience center project that’s designed to improve efficiency, safety, and management along the lower Mississippi River. Can you give us details?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 22:57
Sure, Dave, happy to. So, we talk quite a bit on the podcast about improving supply chain efficiency, and especially visibility. And usually that’s when it comes to you know, individual companies and their supply chain partners. These things always involve technology, of course. An interesting story came up this week on the same theme, but having to do with river transportation and port management. So, the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Agency awarded a $1.6 million grant to the nonprofit Water Institute of the Gulf to develop a Lower Mississippi River SmartPort and Resilience Center, as you said. The federal award adds to $1.4 million in matching funding from the state of Louisiana and other partners, and they’re all involved in what is essentially a $3 million collaborative project that creates the technology system and a facility to house it. The project aims to improve efficiency, safety, and management along the Mississippi, and the SmartPort, as it’s called, will use a digital platform to gather data about river conditions and traffic flow coming from the tugs, barges, and other vessels as they operate on the river. The platform was described to me as a sort of Waze app for the Mississippi, and it’s called the Real-Time Shoaling Forecast Tool. So, the tool collects all the data I mentioned from the vessels and analyzes it, and allows local ports to improve efficiency and really become more resilient. This is especially when they’re encountering things like natural disasters and economic shocks that can disrupt the supply chain—things we’ve seen a lot of this last year. The system will also pull in available road traffic and weather information, and it really is aimed at giving the digital platform a broader approach to port management. The project also creates a set of customized resilience dashboards for the local ports in the area. So, it’s really an interesting way, I thought, to streamline and better manage river-based transportation, and it really all comes down to visibility, technology, and communication.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 25:03
Yeah, that is. You mentioned there’s also a facility to house the project. Can you tell us about that?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 25:09
Yes, yes, that’s right. So the investment also includes a new SmartPort facility, which will be held—or I’m sorry—housed in a place called The Water Campus in Baton Rouge Louisiana]. And The Water Campus is a local center dedicated to studying coastal restoration and sustainability. That facility will also serve as a specialized emergency operation center for the ports. I should add that both the digital platform and the SmartPort facility are set to go online in early 2023, so it’s a longer-term project, but it is in the works, and again, thanks to the recent funding.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 25:42
Yeah, well, let’s hope it makes a difference for those that rely on transportation on the Mississippi. Thanks, Victoria.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 25:48
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 25:49
We encourage listeners to go to DCVelocity.com for more on these and other supply chain stories. And check out the podcast Notes section for some direct links on the topics that we discussed today. And again, our thanks to Dan Gilmore of Softeon for being our guest. We encourage your comments on this topic and our other stories. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also encourage you to subscribe to Logistics Matters at your favorite podcast platform, and to give us a rating. We appreciate your feedback, and it really does help people to find us. The new episodes of Logistics Matters are uploaded each Friday.
And speaking of podcasts, Logistics Matters is sponsored by Honeywell Intelligrated. Be sure to check out the Honeywell Intelligrated On The Move podcast on Apple, Spotify, or Google. All episodes of their podcast series are also posted at sps.honeywell.com/onthemovepodcasts. You can also find Honeywell Intelligrated on LinkedIn and Twitter using the hashtag @Intelligrated.
And we’ll be back again next week with another edition of Logistics Matters, when we will look at efforts at creating sustainable ocean ports. So be sure to join us. Until then, please stay safe and have a great week.
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