What were some of the most interesting new products in supply chain and logistics in 2007?
| Gilmore Says:
" I just liked the idea that consumers, including you and me, should have the ability to “opt out” by whatever means to being tracked."
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This is the first open editorial spotwe’ve had this month to do a review of some of the tools and technologies that caught my eye over the past year, and I am pleased to offer my thoughts on that topic this week.
In no particular order, here are the new product releases that intrigued me in 2007:
“Aria” from LXE. Aria isn’t really a product, it’s more of a concept that was unveiled in the first part of the year. The idea is consistent with the growing focus on “multi-modal” devices in the distribution center, combining some mix of traditional RF, RFID, and voice.
Aria demonstrations featured an order picker receiving case pick instructions via a Voice headset; cases with RFID tags were then placed on a pallet jack that included an RFID reader that validated the SKU and quantity.
I think this integrated combination of technologies makes sense, and admit to some bias because I proposed such an idea in about 2001 to an unnamed analyst from a major research firm who thought I was crazy (“No reason to mix those technologies.”). Voice and RFID (and bar code) together have the opportunity to really take some costs out of order picking. Other vendors, such as Vocollect, now share similar visions and product development paths.
I was also very impressed with “the Virtual Warehouse” from Softeon. It’s hard to quickly describe this product, but can be thought of as filling a void between traditional forecasting and DRP systems and WMS. The product, part of Softeon’s broader supply chain execution suite, combines network-wide inventory visibility with an integrated view of demand, and helps companies make better inventory deployment, allocation and shipping decisions. Very cool.
I also liked a new truck loading automated guided vehicle (AGV) from Egemin, which expands on the traditional AGV solution and moves pallets right onto a trailer without an operator. It’s similar to a product released previously by Jervis B Webb, but I liked Egemin’s open technology approach to the controls. As more and more companies embrace visions of a future nearly “lights out” distribution center, technologies such as this will clearly be of interest to many logistics professionals.
It’s not totally new, but SCDigest Technology editor Mark Fralick and I also liked the most recent release of i2’s “Business Content Libraries.” As we noted in our review, the product is still understandably something of a work in process, but it delivers now and holds even more promise for realizing the potential of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). How? By enabling companies to craft processes (workflows) from a library of templatized processes ranging from sales and operations planning to transportation management, and then customizing those workflows to individual company requirements or new market dynamics. The framework enables users to link the data, functionality and user interface components required for the process. One of the first examples I’ve seen of where this is all going in terms of supply chain technology.
I only partially understand it, but I liked what I’ve seen from a new company named Extol that last year released a product designed to enable improved supply chain integration, especially for medium and small businesses. It is one of many companies that are trying to better leverage Excel or other spreadsheet data into business processes. Extol provides a platform to take Excel-based data, from a sales forecast to an advanced ship notice, and improve visibility and control of this often difficult to manage data, and to integrate the information into existing business systems. Have an offshore supplier that can generate spreadsheets but not much else? This could be your answer.
It’s silly in a sense and easily duplicated, but I actually was glad to see the $4.00 RFID shield for credit cards from Smart Tools. The idea: as credit cards, such as those envisioned by American Express, begin to use RFID chips which could track consumer behavior in-store, this shield blocks the tags from being read in your wallet. I just liked the idea that consumers, including you and me, should have the ability to “opt out” by whatever means to being tracked. We’re early in this showdown over RFID and privacy, I am sure.
LogicTools released a new solution that combines traditional network planning with the newer category of inventory optimization. Surprising to many, network planning/optimization tools have until recently not really handled multi-echelon inventory planning, leading perhaps to sub-optimal total supply chain decisions. In some cases, consulting companies such as Chainalytics have crafted some work-around tools to bridge the gap. The LogicTools solution released in Q2 2007 starts to solve the issue, an approach others such as i2, Llamasoft, and others are taking as well.
Finally, another new product I have had only partial exposure to, but which looks (literally) very compelling, is the WMS and broader supply chain execution suite from NextView. It uses all the latest technologies, such as a true SOA foundation, but what really distinguishes the product is the focus on real-time visualization – a whole new way of thinking about supply chain applications, and another example I think of where we are clearly headed. As my friend Steve Banker of ARC Advisory Group wrote, the NextView WMS solution “allows you to point at a driver and get productivity statistics on that worker, point at a warehouse slot and get slotting metrics, point at a pallet and get a detailed history of who did what in building and moving that pallet.” Also very cool.
Finally, though it’s been around for awhile, I had my first exposure to the Auto Vehicle Load Builder from Warehouse Optimization LLC in 2007. The product drives strong savings in transportation costs by simply getting more product on each truck through software that builds better loads, looks for consolidation opportunities across customer orders or planned shipments from plants to DCs, and other techniques. In an era of high transport costs and the urgency to get more “green,” this product is worth a look (see more in our videocast on the subject, where I first learned about the solution).
I certainly didn’t see everything, and I am sure many vendors will take umbrage that their solutions weren’t mentioned. Let me know what we missed, and we’ll take a look.
What new supply chain and logistics products impressed you in 2007? Where do you see opportunities for innovation and product development across hardware, software and services? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.