Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Ship a 10 Meter High Sunflower

Yesterday, Airlight Energy, a Swiss-based supplier of solar power technology announced a collaboration with IBM Research to bring affordable solar technology to the market by 2017. The system can concentrate the sun’s radiation 2,000 times and convert 80 percent of it into useful energy to generate 12 kilowatts of electrical power and 20 kilowatts of heat on a sunny day—enough to power several average homes.

The High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system, which resembles a 10-meter-high sunflower, uses a 40-square-meter parabolic dish made of patented fiber-based concrete, which can be molded into nearly any shape in less than four hours and has mechanical characteristics similar to those of aluminum at one-fifth the cost.

I know about the project because I was involved and of course, with my SCM hat on, I asked about how the system will be shipped. While Airlight Energy hopes to partner with local firms to construct the systems they will initially build the sunflowers in Biasca, Switzerland and ship them in 40’ (12m x 2.5m x 2.5m) containers to the construction site. Below is a CAD model.



More details on the system can viewed in the video.

And if you are interested in testing one of the systems in your home town IBM and Airlight Energy are hosting a competition. For details visit

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Underwriters Laboratories Offers Preventative Intelligence for Supply Chain Sustainability

Sara Greenstein is the president of supply chain and sustainability at Underwriters Laboratories - yes, the same company responsible for the UL logo on millions of goods.

To my surprise UL offer a number of informative supply chain intelligence products which give every player in the supply chain the tools to be compliant and sustainable. Who knew.

I asked Sara a few questions to get a better grip on what UL is up to:

Q: There are a lot of opinions about end-to-end supply chains.  How does UL see it? Specifically, an end-to-end supply chain is from raw material until the product is disposed/recycled. So I am interested in how UL can help.

SG: Managing global supply chains from end-to-end has become exceedingly complex. With increased product complexity, mounting competitive pressures, the need for more suppliers to complete product requirements and shorter product lifecycles, supply chains have become a confusing informational labyrinth the byproduct of which is creation of more non-sustainably made products that are unsafe for human use, toxic for the environment or made through socially unacceptable labor practices. 

In short, the issues found within the modern end-to-end supply chain have greater impact to the world around us then we ever anticipated. And this has to change. Given the major human, environmental and societal impact that supply chains are having, we must now move our attention to transforming our global supply chains from end-to-end in order to remove harmful product attributes. And this is where UL’s Information & Insight (I&I) division comes into play. 

As you know, UL the global independent safety science leader, recently announced the expansion of its new I&I division.  For background, I&I was purposely created to provide all supply chain stakeholders - from material suppliers, formulators, manufacturers, distributors to retailers - with access to the most comprehensive end-to-end supply chain intelligence needed to make better informed decisions related to sustainable product creation.  

By providing  “preventative intelligence” with a state-of-the-art SaaS platform, I&I customers receive real-time product attribute intelligence and have the ability to research, vet and then remove non-sustainable product attributes, thereby mitigating significant inventory risk, before products land on shelves or lead to expensive, reputation-damaging recalls.  

UL’s recent acquisitions of The Wercs, GoodGuide, PurView and Prospector (formally IDES and Innovadex) form the basis of the I&I division which provides end-to-end supply chain insight from materials and chemicals search, to granular product attribute data to materials safety data sheets (MSDS) related to on-premise product regulatory compliance and more.

Q: How will consumers know if a supply chain has passed? Is there a label or Good Housekeeping seal?

SG: While parent company UL is known for providing seals related to product safety and sustainability which consumers have become familiar with, I&I is not a inherently a focused brand. Instead, I&I provides connected data and information across that supply chain that related businesses including suppliers, formulators, manufacturers and retailers use to inform their product development decision making processes. This said, I&I does have a consumer facing solution with GoodGuide.   

GoodGuide provides consumers with access to expert-based information about the health, environmental and social performance of products and companies. The GoodGuide service (platform and app) helps consumers make purchasing decisions that reflect their sustainability preferences and values. 

As more consumers buy better products, retailers and manufacturers face compelling incentives to make products that are safe, environmentally sustainable and produced using ethical sourcing of raw materials and labor.

Thanks Sara, but you should reconsider a UL stamp for supply chains for consumer products. It would be helpful to know that I am buying from a sustainable supply chain.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Supply Chain for the 2014 Olympiad

From a logistical standpoint, the Winter Olympics is one of the largest freight and shipping nightmares to happen on a global scale. There will be packages, parcels, and pallets of goods shipped from other countries to one central location -- en masse -- for the athletes, spectators, media representatives, and workers. These goods will be shipped by sea, air, rail, and land as all transportation routes will be monitored by the Federal Customs Service and managed by the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.
Due to the complexity of the logistics, any company or individual planning to bring goods into Sochi should prepare well in advance. For example, only a few checkpoints can pass certain types of goods for entry to the country. It is imperative that you work with freight forwarder and customs broker familiar with both the region and the new regulations pertaining specifically to moving goods to the region before and after the event.
You will want to familiarize yourself with Russian government Decree 911, dated November 3, 2011 and Eurasian Economic Community Customs Union Decision Number 663, dated March 14, 2011. While there are other regulations that may apply, these two speak specifically to the Sochi Olympics. Working with an experienced freight forwarder is crucial to guarantee your goods reach the venue without incident, delays, or fines.
While there are specific marking and labeling requirements for importing goods to Russia for the Olympics, there are extensive regulations regarding cosmetics, hygiene products, food, and certain types of equipment. No rapid-fire guns, long guns, armor piercing ammunition, switchblades or other similar weapons can be imported. If you are responsible for ensuring firearms and ammunition reach the site for use in the games, you must have a special permit.
·   Managing assets through customs and into Russia. There will be a tremendous volume of materials brought into Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Skis, bobsleds, electronics, training equipment, and more will all need to pass through Russian customs, be stored appropriately, and be sent back to their originating countries. Customs management into Russia depends largely on how the items are transported, the goods transported, and where the items are transported. All customs regulations should be thoroughly reviewed and followed to ensure there are no delays or additional fines regarding transportation. If possible, items should be sent in advance.
·   Types of assets moving into Russia. A large volume of the assets moving into Russia are not Olympic equipment, sports training equipment, or professional equipment, but rather marketing materials, promotional goods, consumable items, gifts, and other similar items. The 2014 Winter Olympics will be an incredible marketing platform, and thus a large volume of items will be shipped and will require tracking. There are many merchandising and marketing opportunities during the games and most of these goods will be imported rather than locally sourced.
·   Asset management challenges in Russia. With widespread corruption now plaguing the region , asset management becomes even more difficult. Not only do assets need to be tracked as they enter and exit the country, but it also needs to be certain the assets will be safe throughout the 17 days of the event itself. It becomes necessary to verify the presence of the assets at every turn and to constantly check they have reached their destinations. Not only do large items, such as sports equipment, need to be tracked but smaller items, such as merchandising material, needs to be both tracked and verified by quantity. This is an incredible enterprise that, without the proper tools, may ultimately lead to theft and loss. This is especially true if goods are transferred early on, as they will need to be stored.
During the entire first quarter of 2014, the area around Sochi will be under tight security; requiring deployment of more than 37,000 security personnel. Every delivery vehicle must be registered and have a special permit. The cargo must be screened and sealed and the vehicle must have an assigned slot on the master delivery schedule to prevent undue congestion on roadways and docks. There are similar requirements for removing goods after the event.
The logistics for this event are as complicated as logistics can ever be, so it’s important to be aware of the regulations and to ensure your goods are marked properly. After all, it takes a lot of beets to create the 70,000 gallons of borscht that the 7,000 chefs and waiters expect to serve during the Sochi Olympics - not to mention all the other food, equipment, and personnel necessary for the event.

Submitted by Brian Sutter 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Supply Chain of My Underwear

It's been a while since I've been inspired this much about a pair of underwear. I recently purchased a pair of Icebreaker GT Spring Boxer Briefs. It's ski season here in Europe and I wanted a little extra warmth and you can't go wrong with merino wool. It's a perfect, natural material for insulating the body and keeping it dry.
But besides the product itself, the New Zealand-based Icebreaker Ltd., offers an intimate peek into its supply chain for every garment using a serial number, which it calls a "baacode" -- I guess "baa" refers to the sound of the sheep, unless these New Zealanders are originally from Boston.

The baacode enables consumers to trace the supply chain path from the sheep in New Zealand to the manufacturing plant in China.
As explained by Icebreaker:

"Icebreaker Baacode lets you trace your garment back through the transparent supply chain to the farms that grew the merino fibre it was made from. We believe that the best way we can use this land is for fine wool production. Its more sustainable, and it uses resources in a low-impact way. We take great pride in sustaining the resilience of the natural resource base, including the air, waterways, soils, tussock rangelands, and native scrub. Merino are an interesting breed of sheep and are best suited to the unique character of our land."

Each of the "growers" who raise the sheep are interviewed in a series of videos on YouTube. While this isn't the first firm to open up its supply chain, I recall McDonald's as well, it is the first small business to do so. If there are other examples please send them my way.

Nice job Icebreakers.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Plausible Claus: Santa's Possible Distribution Network

Skeptics argue that Santa Claus's worldwide Christmas Eve delivery isn't possible, citing some arcane laws of physics that would need to be bent or bypassed altogether. Most of these arguments, however, don't take into account the complexity of Santa's possible distribution network that would make his annual globetrotting trek more plausible.
What follows is an outline of how Santa's network might be organized and used to make the greatest single-night delivery service work.
The facts
We all know that Santa has to deliver a lot of toys to millions of children, but exactly how much is a lot?
  • The world population is approximately 7.132 billion.
  • About 25 percent of the world's population is under age 14 (Santa's target audience).
  • So, in the best-case scenario — that all the children made it onto the “Nice” list — Santa must deliver toys to 1.783 billion children.
  • If Santa delivers a modest 5 pounds of toys to each child on the list, he must be prepared to deliver 8.92 billion pounds of toys — that's the weight of more than 54,000 space shuttles!
Carrying tons of toys on a sleigh is a big problem, but one that could be worked around.
Aside from the weight problem (the weight of the toys, not of Santa), time is also an important factor. Common folklore says that Santa Claus delivers toys to good little girls and boys all over the world "in one night." Although we normally think of "one night" as six or eight hours, Santa has a lot more time than that.
Taking into account the 24 time zones and the International Date Line, Santa can take as much as 32 hours to make his deliveries.
If he starts just west of the International Date Line (in, say, Kiribati) at 10 p.m. local time and travels west, spending an hour and 20 minutes in each time zone, he will finish his delivery route at 6:30 a.m. (in American Samoa). Further subdividing the planet between northern and southern hemispheres results in 48 delivery quadrants, and Santa gets a whole 40 minutes in each one!
The distribution network
As most people tell it, Santa loads up his sleigh at the North Pole with all the toys he needs to deliver to the children. This, of course, makes no sense. Not only is it inefficient, but the wear and tear on his sleigh would be atrocious, not to mention the strain it puts on his nine flying reindeer.
A more efficient system would rely on strategically placed distribution centers for each time zone or 15 degrees of longitude — perhaps one massive warehouse at the North and South Poles and 24 smaller centers near the equator — dividing the planet into 48 "delivery zones."
On the evening of December 24, Santa Claus sets off from the North Pole along the western side of the International Date Line, his sleigh laden with toys intended only for the first delivery quadrant. Nearly 40 minutes later, he arrives at the first equatorial distribution center, probably somewhere in northern Tonga, having delivered all the toys in the batch. Quick as a flash, his Tongan elves hoist the next batch of deliveries onto the sleigh and "refuel" his reindeer with a mixture of grasses, grains and Red Bull.
Then Santa continues south, disappearing down chimneys and filling stockings and arrives at the South Pole warehouse about 40 minutes later, where his sleigh is again reloaded and his reindeer refueled (or relieved, as the case may be). Then he takes off north through the next quadrant west, stops to refill the sleigh at the second equatorial distribution center hidden in the Solomon Islands, and continues north.
Meanwhile, at the North Pole, the elves have had two hours and 40 minutes — plenty of time — to prepare the delivery batch for the fifth quadrant. When Santa arrives in his now empty sleigh, that bag of goodies gets hoisted onto the sleigh and he takes off south again.
In this way, Santa crisscrosses the globe from north to south to north, ensuring that his reindeer remain well-fed and that his sleigh is never overloaded.
Remaining issues
Granted, flying from one of the poles to a distribution center in Sri Lanka, Gabon or Ecuador in under 40 minutes isn't exactly a cakewalk, even if you aren't stopping at every child's household along the way. Certainly some magic is involved in the process (we don't often see flying reindeer, after all).
But magic or not, a systematic delivery route with regular stops at strategically placed distribution centers can turn what seems like an impossible mission into (at the very least) a plausible one.
About the author: Andrew Hollandbeck is a professional writer and copy editor – as well as a semi-professional bringer of mirth – living and working in Indianapolis, Indiana.