sc digest
February 22, 2018 - Supply Chain Flagship Newsletter

This Week in SCDigest

bullet Trip Report - Tompkins Emerging Technology Center bullet SC Digest On-Target e-Magazine
bullet Supply Chain Graphic & by the Numbers for the Week bullet Holste's Blog/Distribution Digest
bullet Cartoon Caption Contest Winners bullet Trivia      bullet Feedback
bullet Expert Insight Column bullet New Videocast and On Demand Videocasts


  Reducing Costs through Automated Inventory Replenishment & Analytics

How Motor City Industrial Taps into Data Visualization to Help Customers Identify Waste, Reduce Inventory


first thought


Supply Chain Graphic of the Week
Uber Says Autonomous Trucks will Increase Driver Jobs


Walmart Stock Hammered on Disappointing eCommerce Sales

KFC UK's Supply Chain Nightmare
Ocean Container Rates Stay Low even After Consolidation
Retailers Facing a Growing Mountain of Returns


January 17, 2018 Contest

See Who Took Home the Prize!

Holste's Blog: Increasing System Throughput Capacity - The Fix Maybe Easier Than You Think


Weekly On-Target Newsletter:
February 21, 2018 Edition

Last Chance Cartoon, Mobile DC Robots, Driverless Trucks May Increase Jobs and more

The Retail Vendor Performance Management Bulletin

January 2018 Issue

Global Trade Management Looks to the Future
by Ty Bordner
Vice President,
Solutions Consulting
Amber Road

Changing the Status Quo to Stay Ahead of the Amazon Effect

by Henry Canitz
Product Marketing & Business Development Director



In the 1990s, the US had two trade magazine focused only on bar coding and other forms of automated data collection. What were they?

Answer Found at the
Bottom of the Page

Trip Report - Tompkins Emerging Technology Center

Dr. Jim Tompkins has certainly been among the most impactful figures in logistics and supply chain over the last now almost 40 years. His firm - originally Tompkins Associates, now Tompkins International - was more responsible than anyone for helping to create the market for Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) in the late 1980s through the 1990s.

That was a long time ago - but Jim is hardly done innovating.

I am just back from a dog and pony show of sorts at the Tompkins Emerging Technology Center (ETC) just a few miles from the Orlando airport. It was basically a structured open house with presentations and an ETC tour held in morning and afternoon sessions over two days, with some 120 attendees in total - a good number for this type of thing.


The 3PL provides the space, and runs the facility. But for ecommerce fulfillment, those facilities will be designed by Tompkins, and feature new age robots to support expensive piece picking.


Send us your
Feedback here

The center was first opened in 2002 at a location close to the current site, then it was moved into its new location in 2007. I was actually there at the original opening as chief marketing officer at the time at WMS company RedPrairie, which had a Tompkins partnership.

As any company that has tried such a thing can tell you, such demo centers are not easy to maintain and most importantly keep current, and I really don't know how good a job Tompkins has done with its ETC over the years. The ETC has primarily focused on four-wall distribution technologies from its inception.

What I do know is that the 11,000 square-foot ETC has been interestingly refreshed with a whole new slate of technologies, many of them from Tompkins itself, as the company pursues a number of interesting initiatives, to put it mildly.

At the center of those initiatives it something called MonarchFx. Not sure where the name came from, but the idea sprang into Tompkins' head in 2012, when after pondering deeply about supply chain while on vacation he came to the realization that Amazon was simply going to take over the world, in large measure as a function of its logistics.

With its Prime service, Amazon has created the expectation for two-day, largely free shipping for on-line orders. And of course, it is moving to same-day and/or almost instant delivery for some items in some urban markets.

At the event, Jim Tompkins told an interesting anecdote that nicely sums up the current scenario. The CEO of a mid-sized apparel company was directed by the board to make free two-day shipping available for the 2017 Christmas season for orders across the US. The company operates with a single distribution center in the Atlanta area.

The numbers were crunched, and it was estimated that the cost to the company to do this would be $26 million. Its annual profit was expected, without the program, to be about $54 million. In other words, profits would be cut in half. The program was scuttled for 2017.

But of course that doesn't stop Amazon from building more fulfillment centers, postal sorting centers and more. So what is this apparel company - and thousands of others like it - to do?

Hence, the Tompkins vision for MonarchFx. The company, owned by Tompkins International, is creating a series of distribution facilities across the US that it hopes will allow retailers and brand companies to achieve rapid, low-cost distribution with very low investment.

Oh, this is just a 3PL offering your saying. Well, yes and no. It is actually a somewhat complicated assembly of a variety of technology and service providers - including other 3PLs. So, MonarchFx picks the markets it wants to offer service in, and finds a 3PL partner to work with (right now, three such partners: NFI, DHL and Kenco). The plan is for MonarchFx to first open a facility soon in the Los Angeles area, followed by Columbus, Dallas, Atlanta and New Jersey (not certain of the sequence, but these first five are expected to open in 2018). Dozens of additional facilities are in the long range plan.

The 3PL provides the space, and runs the facility. But for ecommerce fulfillment, those facilities will be designed by Tompkins, and feature new age robots to support expensive piece picking.

As was announced about this time last year at the ProMat show in Chicago, Tompkins is the exclusive North American distributor for robot technology from a Chinese company called Lab Z. The story is a Chinese businessman was frustrated by late delivery of an on-line order. He went the local parcel hub and found lots of chaos, with thousands of parcels not really being tracked in the facility.

So he went home and created the concept for the T-sort robotic system. These are small robots, about two-feet long, and carrying a tray. There is a technology for piece picking quite popular in retail and soft goods called tilt tray sorters that have been around for some 30 years. With this approach, hundreds of trays circulate in a loop. Trays stop and are dispensed in front of workers, who place an item on the tray. After receiving the item, the tray is pushed back onto the track, from where it travels to later "tilt" to release the product, typically down a chute and into a tote or carton. When an order is complete, the tote/carton is taken to packing/shipping and replaced with an empty. All this is typically driven by bar code scanning.

That explanation was needed because the T-sort system is basically a mobile tilt tray sorter. The little robots travel flexibly on tables (different configurations, and snapped together like Lego blocks) and "pull over," if you will, to a spot where an operator has SKUs for orders. An item is placed onto the robot tray and then pushed back onto the table, where it moves to a tote/carton and delivers the picked product. The system can then also be used to deliver packed cartons/bags to the right shipping lane. (See photo below).


These speedy robots travel at about two meters per second, by the way.

Tompkins would claim a number of benefits of this approach versus traditional tilt trays - and I agree. The physical footprint is maybe 20% or less for T-sort, for example. It costs much less. It is flexible and scalable - you can start with a given number robots, and add tables and robots over time, or during peak seasons.

And this is truly portable DC automation - maybe the first ever. Tompkins says it is working with one major retailer that wants to use the system in the back room at night to pick/pack ecommerce orders, then fold it up and store it to the side during the day time. Apparently, this can be done. Another company wants to use the system for picking some of the time, and also move some of it over to the receiving area for inbound sortation for other parts of the day.

There other players in the MonarchFx mix. Though the core controls of the robot system come from Lab Z, Tompkins' own Warehouse Execution System provides most of the smarts. MonarchFx will use the WMS and Distributed Order Management (DOM) system from Softeon, a company with which Tompkins has had a number of successes at joint customers in the ecommerce area. There will be a partner for returns management, and someone for actual parcel delivery, though local contractors/regional parcel carriers may also be used.

At the ETC, there were also partners that can add additional automation that connects to the T-sort system, such as a very interesting robotic piece picking technology to replace the human induction from a company called RightHand Robotics, and the latest in human-less picking using A-frame technology from SI Systems.

Also featured at the event was yet another company Tompkins has created called SensorThink. The idea is to bring all the data from a DC - from materials handling systems to HVAC - in one place, sometimes using Internet of Things technology, other times just through basic integration.

I am still a little bit of a skeptic on this idea, awaiting more information, but will say the anecdote that one potential customer saying he wanted to be able to look at one place "on the health of my building" did strike a chord with me.

There is lots more, but I am out of space. Will have additional reporting and some video clips on our Supply Chain Video News broadcast next Monday, so take a look for that.

As a side note, Tompkins is also marketing this T-sort system to other companies outside of MonarchFx, even to other 3PLs, some of which were at the open house - as long as it the technology is used for a single customer. Want to create a MonarchFx competitor? Isn't going to happen.

What do you think of this MonarchFx concept - or the T-sort robots? Let us know your thought at the Feedback button below.



Tuesday's Videocast:

Reducing Costs through Automated Inventory Replenishment & Analytics

How Motor City Industrial Taps into Data Visualization to Help Customers Identify Waste, Reduce Inventory

This videocast discusses how to connect people, processes and technology across commerce and supply chain operations to achieve unified commerce.

Featuring Dan Gilmore, Editor along with Joseph Stephens, CEO, Motor City Industrial, Jay Fielder, Supply Chain Technology Manager, Motor City Industrial and Mike Wills, Chief Revenue Officer, Apex Supply Chain Technologies.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

On Demand Videocast:

Yes, Retailers and Distributors Can Survive and Thrive by Unifying Commerce and Supply Chain

Integrated Approach will Improve Customer Experience as Smart Retailers Move Beyond Omnichannel

This videocast discusses how to connect people, processes and technology across commerce and supply chain operations to achieve unified commerce.

Featuring Dan Gilmore, Editor and enVista CEO Jim Barnes, a highly recognized industry expert on retail and distribution.

Now Available On Demand

On Demand Videocast:

The State of Retail-Vendor Supply Chain Relationships 2017

Results from SCDigest's Second Biannual Benchmark Study of Retailers and Their Vendors - and SCDigest's New Index to Measure State of the Relationships

These findings are being presented in a live panel discussion with interactive questions from audience members throughout.

Featuring Dan Gilmore, President & Editor-in-Chief of Supply Chain Digest plus Greg Holder, CEO, Compliance Networks, Kim Zablocky, President, RVCF (Retail Value Chain Federation)
and Victor Engesser, Retail Executive Advisor, RVCFP.

Now Available On Demand


Here are some additional emails stemming from Gilmore's First Thoughts column on The End of the Fossil Fuel Era?

Feedback on The End of the Fossil Fuel Era?


First of all you seem to be using the term Peak Oil in a couple of different ways – Peak oil in the sense that the output of a given well will peak early in its life and drop off at a predictable rate. Extending this to an oil field works in that the area with a bunch of wells I guess will behave in a similar manner.

Then you try to use this to talk about global peak production but that not only depends on the production of existing wells and fields but also on new exploration - the end of oil production from all the existing fields in the world would only give you an estimate of Peak production if no new production was developed. Global Peak production needs to take into consideration new production from new wells / fields and getting more out of existing fields by techniques like fracking.

The third use of Peak Oil comes in when you start talking about price - if production is slowed to barely meet demand ( thank you OPEC) then the price will go up. So a higher price may not be because production capability has peaked only because actual production has peaked.

The other major issue that I feel is lacking in the article is the fact that not all oil is used for transportation. While it is a major player some is used for electrical generation and some is used for manufacturing of things (plastic is likely the largest user so I will just use plastic for this area). While developing economies may get electric transportation something still needs to generate the electricity and if the price of oil falls because less is used in transportation people are likely to start using it to create electricity which will be in high demand from the electrical transportation and other uses in the developing countries. Developing countries will also be purchasing more things like refrigerators which need plastic and electricity thus more use of the oil.

So the article is asking will the demand for oil peak, without a detailed analysis on all of the factors it is hard to say - my gut feel is that if demand peaks the drop off will not be fast giving companies and countries time to react to the changes.

Mike Entner
Global Service Quality Assurance Manager
The Dow Chemical Company



Editor's Note:

Thanks for feedback - I love the debate.

Just couple of quick comments:

1. It's not me but Peak Oil theory that applies it at multiple levels. Originator Hubbert in fact was the one who applied observations from individual wells to nations and ultimately globally.

2. There is no question that new sources - e.g., fracking - have upset the Peak Oil model. Hubbert did not envision this. But I can just say from my research Peak Oil is really of little concern to oil companies/countries today, its Peak Demand. I am not making such a prediction myself, but look at the chart - Royal Dutch Shell, an oil company, say Peak Demand will occur in 2025-2030. Others push it out further, but agree it is coming.

3. I agree fossil fuels - largely natural gas - will probably be used to generate electricity for some time - though solar is making gains much faster than expected. To be clear, I am no fan of solar subsidies and am hardly an anti-fossil fuel person. I also recognize the use of oil/nat gas in making chemicals/fertilizer/plastics, etc. which may continue for decades or forever. But I think as electric cars will become common, it will start to feel like the end of the fossil fuel era, which will accelerate changes in other areas, such as more solar.

As I wrote, we're not at the end of course, but maybe not far from an inflection point that marks the beginning of the end, which we might agree is reaching Peak Demand.

And on top of all that, it's good to be a bit provocative to stir the debate.

We'll know a lot more before long!

Thanks again.

Dan Gilmore


I think you are quite right that electric cars and trucks are going to come on much faster than  many realize, and that this will result in a great drop in demand for oil.

This will then start the beginning of the end for oil energy domination, though of course oil may still be used in applications such as plastics.

Also a fossil fuel, natural gas' future in industrial and utility applications is much brighter, and should be around for decades.

Martin Wise

Ft. Thomas, KY





Q: In the 1990s, the US had two trade magazine focused only on bar coding and other forms of automated data collection. What were they?

A: ID Systems and Auto ID News.

© SupplyChainDigest™ 2003-2018. All Rights Reserved.
PO Box 714
Springboro, Ohio 45066