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Supply Chain by the Numbers

- April 20, 2023


Supply Chain by the Numbers for April 20, 2023


US Freight Falls Sharply in March; How Many Train Drivers are Needed? Japanese Demographic Woes; New Machine Learning Tech for the Warehouse



That was the month over month decrease in US freight tonnage in March, according to the usual report this week from the American Trucking Associations. In March, the index equaled 111.6 (2015=100) compared with 118 in February, meaning freight tonnage was up just 11.6% versus average 2015 numbers now eight years later. ATA says March’s sequential decline was the largest monthly drop since April 2020 during the start of the pandemic, leaving some to ask if the long predicted freight recession is nigh. Compared with March 2022, the index decreased 5%, which was the first year-over-year decrease since August 2021. However, contract freight remains more robust than the spot market, which continues to see prolonged weakness.



That’s how many workers a new bill in Congress would mandate for most freight trains, including a certified conductor and an engineer. The proposed legislation was driven by the recent derailment of a Norfolk Southern train with hazardous cargo in East Palestine, Ohio. But it turns out currently two workers are already required, under the industrywide labor contract in place for the seven largest railroads. However, many regional carriers routinely run trains with a single engineer, saying a second driver is unneeded for shorter hauls, with lots of tools for single driver to manage quite well. And a transportation economist at the University of Tennessee found in December that the two-man requirement would decrease non-coal rail traffic by up to 14%. By the way, the train that derailed in East Palestine had a three-man crew.




That is how many years in a row Japan’s population has shrunk, leading a number of countries seeing dramatically falling birth rates. Last week, Japan’s government announced its headcount fell by 556,000 in 2022 to 124.95 million. This marks the 16th year in a row in which deaths exceeded births, with a record drop in births of 731,000, as the country is simply fading away. To maintain a stable population, countries need a female fertility rate of at least 2.1. Japan’s is 1.34. The U.S. has a birth rate of 1.64, after being around 2.1 not long ago. Twenty-seven percent of Japan’s 50-year old women have never had a live birth, the highest share of childlessness among developed countries. Japan has tried numerous incentives to stem the trend, but nothing has worked.



$10 Million

That’s how much Seattle startup Groundlight announced this week it has raise to commercialize its technology to make it easier for businesses to monitor their warehouses using artificial intelligence and computer vision. Launched in October 2020, the startup was co-founded by Leo Dirac and Avi Geiger. Dirac worked as a senior principal engineer at Amazon Web Services for more than six years, where he led the AutoML program. Traditional machine learning takes too long, the company says. Groundlight claims it has figure out how to reduce the time and money required to create machine learning applications, targeted to start with warehouse applications such leveraging a buildings camera network. For example, users can input prompts — such as, “is there a truck in the loading dock?” — and then get results instantly. Groundlight further says that its platform that can enable image understanding from natural language queries and a few lines of code.

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