Supply Chain by the Numbers

- June 30, 2016 -

  Supply Chain by the Numbers for Week of June 30, 2016

New Panama Canal Finally Opens; 3D Printing Losing Some Steam; Walmart Continues to Expand Its dot com Business, but is it Enough? Sweden Testing Electric Highway for Trucks


$5.4 Billion

That's what it took over 10 years to complete the Panama Canal expansion, with new locks and channels capable of handling much larger ships opening this week. A ship from China was the first to traverse the new system connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It takes about 11 hours for a container ship to move through the Canal system. The expansion, long said to be on-time ultimately opened a couple of years behind schedule and was the subject of major legal battles over costs between the Panama Canal Authority and some of its contractors. The expansion will enable ships carrying some 14,000 TEU to cross the Canal, up from just 5000 currently. This could have a major impact on global logistics flows after US East Coast and some Mexican ports complete their own expansion projects to be able to handle these large "Post-Panamax" ships. The original Panama Canal opened in 1914.




That was the per share price of leading 3D printer maker Stratasys in mid-week, down from about $129 just last October, as the bloom has come off the rose for the moment when it comes to the predicted 3D printing revolution. According to a new article from Newsweek, there are several challenges to the 3D printing market. First, at the high end, 3D printers are still very expensive, costing $20,000 to $60,000 depending on the model. While there are printers that just a few thousand in cost, the quality of these machines is in many cases dubious, and material choices limited. And for many items, the economics just don't add up. A writer for Inc. magazine notes that a good water bottle for a bike can be had for maybe $4, while it costs some $65 for even a small spool of plastic filament that goes into a printer to make one. In fact, Stratasys competitor 3D Systems has recently abandoned the consumer market and its low end printer line. Still, there is potential. Printers capable of working with metals are now being integrated into production lines. They are even producing some parts completely on their own, as in Stratasys's contract with Airbus to produce more than 1,000 components for some of the latter's aircrafts.

10 Million

That is how many products that are now available through the web site, according to company executives this week. That number has been rising over time, as Walmart expands its "marketplace" type program, in which other retailers sell their goods through the Walmart website. While that 10 million is many multiples of the 120,000 or so SKUs carried in an average Walmart superstore, it still pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of products Amazon carriers on its web site. Another difference for now at least is that all third party vendors on the Walmart site must do their own order fulfillment, whereas Amazon offers its "Fulfilled by Amazon" third-party service. This news as Walmart announced it was expanding the availability of Shipping Pass program, which offers free two-day shipping, to all customers. Until now, the program – which costs $49 versus the $99 for Amazon Prime – was only offered to select customers. How will all the free shipping impact the bottom line? Not positively, as Amazon's experience shows.



That's the number of kilometers along a stretch of the E16 highway in Sweden that have been "electrified" to enable a new breed of hybrid truck to be powered by an overhead system, similar to how electric trolleys have been running for years. The overhead system was developed by industrial giant Siemens, and will be tested using trucks built by a company called Scania. During the two-year trial, Sweden transport officials will study whether the system is suitable for future long-term commercial use and further deployment. The goal of course is to reduce CO2 emissions created by freight transport. The core of the system is an intelligent pantograph - a jointed framework conveying a current to an electric vehicle from overhead wires - combined with a hybrid drive system on the trucks. A sensor system enables the pantograph to connect to and disconnect from the overhead line at speeds of up to 55 mph. The hybrid system allows the vehicle to also operate outside of the contact line, allowing for the same flexibility as conventional trucks. The system may work, but the approach would require a beyond huge investment in infrastructure to deploy.