If we were to count the total number of years members of MH&L’s editorial advisory board have devoted to the fields of material handling and logistics, it would be an impressive figure—especially for such a small group of professionals. That’s not unusual among many leading supply chain organizations. That strength in tenure turns into a potential weakness, however, if there’s no succession plan among the logistics talent in an organization.
The logistics talent challenge was a major theme of MH&L’s second annual in-person Editorial Advisory Board Roundtable, taking place at the magazine’s Cleveland headquarters. This year, in an effort to do something more than just talk about this challenge, MH&L invited an administrator from a local vocational education school (that has no logistics programming) to learn more about the pent up demand for this talent. Ron Zybura manages the job training program at the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center in Cleveland. His specialty is helping students with disabilities obtain, maintain and advance in competitive, community-based employment.
Mr. Zybura was invited to attend not only to inspire him to investigate developing a supply chain and logistics program at his school, but to inspire our roundtable participants to put this need in context for him and for MH&L’s audience.
The discussion started with the state of global supply chains and focused further on logistics enablers like the transportation infrastructure, technology and talent maintenance/development.
Global Supply Chain
ANDEL: Many companies have gone offshore for more affordable labor and other reasons. Now we are hearing more about companies reshoring or coming back to, if not to the U.S., then to South America or Mexico.
Harry Moser of "The Reshoring Initiative," told MH&L’s sister publication, IndustryWeek, that most companies making sourcing decisions base them on price alone. That results in a 20 to 30 percent miscalculation of actual offshoring costs. He said companies look mostly at labor costs when deciding whether to move offshore, and they were not focused on other costs such as intellectual property issues, import-export costs, or potential shortages against demand because of unpredictable variables like shipping.
Al Will, as a Marine with expertise in logistics you keep track of the development of global supply chains. Do you agree with Moser?
WILL: Well, I certainly believe reshoring should happen. From a national defense perspective it makes sense to keep your industry base here and employment up. You also have a bigger tax base when you have manufacturing plants here. Plus, manufacturers can more quickly adjust to changes in their product, which can affect safety issues. If you contracted with an overseas manufacturer and suddenly you have a safety problem, it is kind of hard to adjust that right away. Domestic manufacturing also means lower inventory costs because it’s closer to you, and you can control it more easily.
Now, obviously, there are certain consumer goods, toys and things like that that are probably just going to stay in China or elsewhere.
ANDEL: Like India, for clothing? That region has generated its share of bad news with their poor factory standards and the toll it took on the lives of garment workers. Shekar, you are shaking your head.
NATARAJAN: In the last few years I’ve been involved in research surrounding resiliency planning, which actually brings the discussion back to reshoring. The Japanese earthquake and tsunamis woke people up to a different kind of a lean philosophy. It includes things like safety, which in the food and beverage industry has always been a top concern.
ANDRASKI: I have been doing some work on serious problems that have been experienced in Bangladesh with the lack of concern for safety in the way products are manufactured there and how they are used, but when you look at the monthly wage being paid today to factory workers, it is not enough to support a family of four. With this emphasis on safety and changing manufacturing rules, the cost of manufacturing in Bangladesh and other countries is going to increase dramatically and have an impact on reshoring decisions.
TOMPKINS: Some consultants continue to say that the cost of labor in the United States for manufacturing will be equal to the labor in China in the year 2015. It is all total hogwash. The average manufacturing person in China today makes a dollar an hour. But no company looks only at labor costs. Everyone looks at transportation cost. There will be some reshoring, and it should be done, but it has nothing to do with employment. The companies that come back are not employing a large number of people because they are automating their factories. Employment is not going to come from manufacturing. The factories have been torn down or turned into health clubs and condominiums. The people who worked in those factories have moved on to something else.
ANDEL: So if you are one of those companies that did go offshore and then decided to come back, if you laid people off, where are you going to get the talent?
MILLER: At the companies I worked for in the last 10 or 15 years before I went into academia, they look at landed costs, not just labor costs. To take advantage of that type of integrated cost perspective, you need coordination across the major functions in a company.
ANDEL: The Panama Canal has been getting a lot of press and pundits are expecting established supply chains to flow differently—so maybe not as much comes through West Coast ports and more goes all water through the Panama Canal or through the Gulf of Mexico. Does anybody have any thoughts about whether this has major implications or has this been hyped?
TOMPKINS: A lot of retailers are building DCs on the East Coast because they think the Panama Canal will be a significant help in getting product east. It is clear that west of the Mississippi is about rail, and east of the Mississippi is about truck. So it is ineffective and inefficient and expensive to bring a lot of product into the west. The country is designed to bring product into the east, and there are more people living in the east than there are in the west. So I think the Panama Canal will help.
The question is how do we reduce cost, and one of the ways is to keep it in the most fuel efficient, most direct route possible, which, number one, is water. Number two is rail; number three is truck, and number four is, of course, plane. And so the more you can keep it in the water the better off you are.
WILL: Right now you can run ships with 4,800 twenty foot container equivalence through the canal. When it is completed, it will jump to 12,500. So it is a significant jump in the number of containers. And, of course, now the rail infrastructure has been completed to support getting it into the Midwest and distribution is perking up because now we have a mid Atlantic opportunity for distribution.
BLANCHARD: What about customer service? As far as fuel efficiency, air is the least fuel efficient, but it is also the quickest. In terms of customer service, are customers already being programmed to expect it to take longer?
WILL: Well, you have to figure that what's being replenished are the distribution centers. This isn't distribution to the customer or to the retail outlet. Wherever Amazon gets its products from, as long as they can get it to that customer in two days or less, that's their focus. The containers are coming in for the mass replenishment of that.
BLANCHARD: But there’s a presumption amongst everyone who covers Panama Canal that the economy is going to recover. Just because we have these huge ships coming in doesn't guarantee they will be full.
ANDEL: I recently visited the Port of Houston, and it looks like the air carriers are starting to compete more for the food and perishables business. They’ve found customer justification for flying fresh produce to other countries as opposed to shipping it on the water.
HILL: One of our clients and a good friend for many, many years just spent the last three weeks in Europe working with the various brokers as well as air carriers on safety and delivery times. This particular company grows fruit. You have about a one-week window from harvest and package to putting it on the store shelves. They have had some issues over the past several years trying to grow their business in Europe and other parts of the world, and unless the air carriers belly up and play with them, true partnering, they won’t be able to satisfy the demand. So their fallback is, could we grow in Africa? Could we grow in Southern Europe? And they are looking very seriously at that. But talking with them recently, it appears the major air carriers are ready to move forward in a true partner relationship even though the costs are high.
ANDEL: Let's talk about the consumers driving all this. One of the trends talked about at this summer’s MHI Roadmap meetings was population and demographic shifts. Shekar, any comments about how those changes affect global supply chains?
NATARAJAN: CPG companies have tried to use microstrategies. They are trying to find niche markets, like the Latino market, or smaller demographic markets. One of the other trends is consumers want a lot of convenience, so companies like Fresh Direct are focused on getting California strawberries to the New York market within a day. People are working two jobs now, and even the stay-at-home moms are transitioning into the work force. So people are demanding more convenience.
TOMPKINS: Wal-Mart is guaranteeing all their produce. You don't even have to bring the banana back. All you have to do is bring the receipt, and they will refund your money. If you look at what Wal-Mart is doing in Europe through Asia with Integrated Procurement and Logistics, they are going from the farm to the shelf literally. They control it all, and so they are talking to the farmers early on. Wal-Mart understands that what will pull the consumer to the store is fresh. If you are not going to get pulled to the store with fresh, you are going to buy it online. Urbanization will drive that and Amazon Fresh will be successful because of the density of the delivery. The top ten metropolitan statistical areas in the United States represent 27 percent of the population. You go to the top 30 metropolitan statistical areas, that's 45 percent of the population. So you see why Amazon Fresh announced they will be in 20 of those locations by 2013.
NATARAJAN: Another interesting thing about urbanization is people won’t be there to receive those products. You will see vending machines pop up, like lockers in the middle of nowhere where people can access their food. Stores will just bring the product in and put it in those lockers for people to pick up at their convenience.
TOMPKINS: DHL has 2,500 such pickup/drop-offs in Germany. So it is not just a way to do your online grocery business. If I am living in Stuttgart, and I want to send something to my sister in Berlin, I go to my PUDO, drop off, and use my Smartphone to arrange invoicing me directly. Tomorrow my sister in Berlin will get an e-mail telling her to go to her locker. She puts her Smartphone there, the locker opens up, and there it is.
ANDEL: SmartPhone-equipped consumers are driving omni-channel logistics, and that’s a sexy word, but it is an old concept, right Shekar?
NATARAJAN: At Coke, Pepsi, Anheuser Bush—at every place that I worked, there is a certain way of delivering and you stick to it. That means you are sending three trucks to the same parking lot to serve three different kinds of customers, and you are being very inefficient. Why don't we just send one truck to the parking lot versus three? Why doesn’t a Shell Gas station behave like a Wal-Mart store for delivery purposes? This is the omni-channel concept and not new.
MILLER: Omni-channel is an important trend, but you’re right, the concept of omni-channel has been around before in different forms. In the late '90s some pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare
aid manufacturers were omni-channel—with, for example, one DC serving pharma as well as consumer products, arranging integrated delivery of pharma and consumer products to a Wal-Mart and to distributors.
ANDRASKI: But Wal-Mart or Macys never thought about using 200 of their stores as replenishment centers for their other stores. Now they are thinking about expanding that to all their super stores.
ANDEL: Which presumably will enable same-day service.
ANDRASKI: It’s beyond that. If my wife goes to Macy's for something and they don't have it, they’ll have it sent the next day from St. Louis to our home in Philadelphia. If they don't have it in St. Louis, they’ll ship it from a distribution center in Arizona that has been set up primarily to service my direct-to-consumer business. That's what omni-channel is, it is from anywhere, anytime to any consumer.
TOMPKINS: Some of the examples I hear tabled as omni-channel are really cross channel. Omni says it is all functioning as one, which means you have one merchandising organization, one planning organization, one allocation organization, one logistics organization, and so that is a totally different thing. And we’re really not there yet.
Logistics Service Providers
ANDEL: We’ve talked a lot about those high level things like channel structure, but we need to address SKU proliferation and the people on the ground who are trying to enable all the stuff being planned at the higher levels.
ANDRASKI: People just don't understand the impact of SKU proliferation. The cost of a slow moving C item is substantially greater to manage than an A item. It is a marketing person who insists that because this food line is in demand it will be carried by the entire organization. One manufacturer in the northeast has a policy that for every new product introduced, one slow mover has to be discontinued. They are a multi-billion-dollar company and they have really enforced this because it is adopted and understood by their management.
HILL: The complexity of the fulfillment center that serves multiple masters is an enormous challenge, and the innovation that is going on is primarily at larger firms. They would like to move away from multiple facilities serving multiple channels to a single facility or a number of single facilities geographically positioned appropriately to serve their customer base. Some serious efforts are underway on the part of the major material handling suppliers to put together hybrid systems that use everything from AS/RS to shelving to satisfy those needs with creatively designed new integrated systems. The pressure that puts on the systems themselves is causing some of the warehouse management systems and warehouse control systems suppliers to take a fresh look at what they are offering in terms of capability.
An apparel company wanted to do it all from a single facility, but the supply side wasn't quite ready to support the dream of simultaneously doing e-commerce fulfillment, big box store replenishment and replenishment of their own stores -- each of which requires different packaging sizes, different shipment sizes and so on. They put together a phased program about a year and a half ago, with e-commerce set up first because that's the fastest growing segment of their business. Big box store replenishment followed and is now handled from the reserve pallet storage area in the same building. Cross-functional staff training has been critical to project success, as has the addition of a robust WMS. They are going to bring their own stores into the picture next year.
NATARAJAN: I think the major problem managing SKU proliferation is we do the same things and expect different results. We are applying innovation to the same pipeline and expecting it to perform exactly the same instead of taking a fresh look like at network design. The questions are, what is a customer willing to pay, and what are the supply chain components--who makes it, how do I move it, when do I move it, and what is the inventory strategy associated with that?
You need scenario-based thinking. It is difficult to forecast and everyone knows that--I don't know why they do it. You need to ask several what ifs, instead. What if the product takes off? What are my response strategies? Who do I engage? When do I engage? What does a successful launch look like? When does a trial buy become a repeat buy? So it has to be a very structured commercialization process.
Next is using the life cycle management concept. When do I bring out this product? What do my plan options look like? What is the day I am going to take the product completely out of the system? We have to approach it with an end date in mind.
After a product is launched, you think about changing the cost structure so it is profitable or getting rid of it. These disciplines are missing.
By combining information systems and material handling systems we completely wiped out the inventory from much smaller distribution centers. That created space, which helped us carry more products.
ANDEL: Of course there are plenty of firms that decide this is too much for them and not their core competency. This drives them into the arms of third-party logistics providers, and that's why that industry has grown so much. But traditionally, many third parties have been kind of technology poor in many ways so they can stay flexible. Is that changing?
HILL: That's the biggest challenge they have been faced with. In my former life, I spent a lot of time with 3PLs. The client’s thinking goes, “if I am going to contract with this provider to handle my logistics, I want to do it in a short enough time frame that I not put all of my eggs in one basket – just in case that provider is unable to perform.” Without longer term contracts, the 3PL is not going to make the investment in technology necessary to be able to provide the level of service that their customers expect. I see some shifting there. Kate Vitasek of Supply Chain Visions calls the new trend "vested outsourcing," a partnering approach to 3PL contracting that couples incentives for the 3PL with the longer term contractsessential to funding the equipment and systems investments needed to keep their capabilities up to speed.
SHEPHARD: 3PLs are behind the power curve. They are not up to date. All this new technology is not getting to them, and it seems like they are having a hard time adjusting. The cost to them is so high that they are really struggling. And some of them are going to fall by the wayside.
TOMPKINS: Look at what Staples has done, they are going from 22,000 SKUs to a million. Amazon is now up to 36 million SKUs. Amazon Fresh in LA is delivering 500,000 general merchandise items with groceries. Rather than trying to manage that internally, they’ll outsource it—but not to a 3 PL. They’ll go to their suppliers and have them ship to the customer. That’s where Amazon is going.
HILL: Manufacturers are now talking about sharing logistics lanes. I mean, planning and consolidating shipments in a given geographic location.
ANDRASKI: Putting multiple LTL loads into truckload form and delivering to the customer's distribution center isn’t new, but it’s been proven and done it, but the industry still doesn't accept it.
ANDEL: Carriers need to step up their game in terms of maintaining the relay of information and product from link to link and then to the customer. But these transportation providers face a two-prong challenge, not only adopting the necessary technology but finding enough drivers to get stuff through. Any comments about the people aspects of logistics capability?
SHEPHARD: I met with a company yesterday that has 580 truck drivers. One of their big problems is a language barrier because they have people from all over the world driving for them. Probably 40 percent of their drivers are foreigners, and the training these drivers are receiving is really way below what is necessary for these guys to do the job. Plus, you get partially filled trailers because customers are not getting full loads. It’s as costly to ship an empty truck as it is to ship a half full or a full truck, and that's one of the problems. The cost is hitting them high. The Wal-Marts can come out of a DC with a loaded truck to a store, but a lot of carriers are not able to do that today.
TOMPKINS: That’s why the U.S. Postal Service is dead. They just haven't announced it yet. They didn't anticipate what is happening in parcels, and in fact, now we are seeing UPS and Federal Express finally waking up after announcing that their next quarter is going south. That's why Amazon didn't buy Federal Express. They decided instead to create their own transportation service, which is what Amazon Fresh is really about. It is about transportation.
That’s why the Messenger Courier Association of America two months ago changed their name to the CLDA, the Customized Logistics Delivery Association. When we don't have the density of delivery up, the local courier costs about 30 percent less than the best discount you can get from UPS and Federal Express. The couriers are the guys of the future, not the UPSs, the Federal Expresses, or the United States Postal Service.
ANDEL: Let's talk technology. One of the challenges with regard to the use of technology is the need for standardization in putting all these system building blocks together.
HILL: The larger companies had the wherewithal to put the systems' infrastructure in place enabling disparate systems to talk to one another. And some standards emerged. But this problem hasn't really gone away. And although initially I was frightened by the concept of cloud, I really think the cloud is going to provide a solution that will enable us to interconnect from a data point of view far more efficiently than we ever have. The larger companies are doing it now. The smaller companies are still scratching their heads and trying to figure it out.
ANDEL: To those companies for whom it is brand new, is this an opportunity to get in early and leap frog their competition who are still struggling with what's been established?
HILL: Well, that's a really good point because, if I already have my own infrastructure in place and am going to have to scuttle, overhaul or change portions of it, it is going to be challenging. On the other hand, if I am a newbie, being able to jump forward without having to dismantle the fence is going to be a real plus.
ANDRASKI: Many people at the C level are trying to understand what they get out of it and what they have to put into it. They may not have the necessary talent within their organization to help them, So while they wait to see what's going to take place the opportunity has gone by.
Meanwhile industry is being flooded with a tremendous amount of information. In retail, you have mannequins with cameras in their eyes viewing the shopping floor.
GIUNTINI: Now they can study an area of a store from 1:00 to 5:00, notice that a lot of customers are at the younger age, so they decide to change the store layout so that it will appeal to those younger shoppers, and then at 5:00 o'clock, we are going to switch it back. As a manufacturer I need to understand what they are doing with all that information and how it will affect them. It is getting so confusing that I think people are starting to lose their way.
MILLER: Go into a lot of very good companies and you will find an incredible amount of junk in their databases. In one company I worked for, we figured out that in the interface between the ERP system and the data warehouses there were issues in terms of the configuration. We were losing one half of one percent on our fill rate per year. We were back ordering some customer orders where, in fact, the inventory was available and not reserved. It was sitting in a warehouse. The cloud is just another vehicle to store this type of data. You still need to get back to the fundamentals.
ANDEL: Is that where standardization comes in?
NATARAJAN: I don't believe you will ever reach a state of standardization across the board. When you are working with different suppliers at different levels of sophistication, you can't expect everyone to be at the same level.
ANDRASKI: But you can agree on standardizing to a point where the information is going to be the same.
GIUNTINI: We were talking about modularization, and that always occurs. It is a question of timing. When you first start to look at the early history of the railroad, it was a disaster. I mean, they had different gauges. They had different locomotives. It was total chaos, but eventually modularization became a norm, just as it did in the airline industry and the automobile industry. So what we are seeing in the warehouses and the whole supply chain is a revolution. There is an incentive for the private sector to standardize and to modularize because everyone benefits from it, and you ultimately have the supply chain. You will have integrators who will take all these modules and put together specific solutions.
TOMPKINS: The challenge is that networks are designed as one-to-one between the links. We have the technology to replace that, and that's on the cloud, and it is a many-to-many network. Today for very few dollars we can do a demand driven supply chain that’s a pull, not a push.
ANDEL: How will 3-D printing of products change the nature of supply chain product and information flows?
HILL: I am more excited about 3-D printing and the evolution of an Internet of Things (IoT) than I was about bar coding – and I was there when they started bar coding.
GIUNTINI: The military actually has part hospitals. These are 40 foot trailers with lathes and 3D printers. They make parts in theater. This technology will hit virtually every part of the supply chain ultimately. I really believe within 20 years we’ll be making food with them.
We are starting to see this in low volume production. Stratasys has a bank of high end 3D printers and you can send for one-off pieces or, order a lot size of 10 and they will manufacture it for you. You just send them the CAD drawing.
I know there will be limits, but you will start seeing changes probably in the next 10 to 15 years.
HILL: And, we will still need an infrastructure to deliver the raw materials to the facility, service center or home office.
GIUNTINI: Also, the Intellectual Property—the value will be the CAD drawings.
ANDEL: None of what we’ve talked about is going to happen without the talent to get it done. That requires education and that’s why Ron Zybura is here—to absorb the demand for talent in our world of logistics and supply chain.
HILL: I’ve read that better than half the work force in distribution centers and warehouses in this country today are 55 years of age or older. That's pretty dramatic. There are over a half a million workers in warehousing and distribution, not counting the truckers. That base of core workers is eroding rapidly and applicants are not banging down the doors to replace them. There is room for Ron’s school and a lot of other vo-tech schools across the country to fill this void.
There are also other programs underway, for example, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the Robotics Industry of America, CICMHE, CELDi out of the University of Arkansas and the National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (NCSCTE). What we have been talking about at MHI is, “let's lay out what's out there, which programs are already underway, what's the level of funding, what's their focus, what programs have they initiated on a local level around the country, and develop a data bank” that people like Ron Zybura can turn to for help in curriculum and collateral material development. This is absolutely essential, because in spite of automation and additive manufacturing, we’ll still need people for some time to come.
SHEPHARD: Ten years ago we put in a program through the Social Services Unemployment Division. We selected over a period of two years, over 700 people out of Arkansas and Tennessee. These people were dislocated or disadvantaged. We put together a material handlers course. Most of these people had never worked and had been on some kind of subsidy pay all their life. Some were 40 and 50 years old, but the majority were under 30 trying to find a career. The level of knowledge that come to us out of both groups, the dislocated and the disadvantaged, was amazing. We rewrote the curriculum down to an eighth-grade level. By taking it down to basics we started seeing growth and people retained what they were taught. The most important thing was to see them practice what they were taught. We followed these people for 13 weeks after training at the job site along with supervision and management. The success rate was in the high 90s. Those we didn’t track had onsite mentors. Some were in material handling, some were machine operators, some were in maintenance and some went into clerical work.
ANDEL: Does this include interpersonal skills as well?
SHEPHARD: Yeah. We actually had to put in a short classroom on how to communicate with team players and how to become a team player. They didn't know how to do it.
ANDEL: Al, you have been working a little bit with Jim on trying to get a program going at the community college level.
WILL: Another 61,000 supply chain technicians will be needed in two years, but the skill level required and the mathematics are difficult. Our program—and I will tell you right off , we failed—Paul DeCamp Community College in Suffolk, Va.,--because we focused too much on academics. We stretched out a training program to teach people basic skills to work in a warehouse. You can't do all that online. There is nothing like putting a reach truck out there in the warehouse and lifting that pallet 20 feet in the air and putting it away and realizing that if you fail, it is going to fall on your head. You have to do that on the warehouse floor—the same thing with bar code scanning and some other things to actually learn how they operate. We put it together with a focus on getting 9 credit hours out of the program. That stretched it out over four and-a-half months. But these kids just want to get a job and the employer just wants to employ them. The training has to take place in less than 30 days and get them the skills to get out there. Now, Vincennes University in Indianapolis has created a very good program that should be replicated at the local levels with stackable certificates. That's where you start out with your career certificates. You start on the warehouse floor developing basic skills in forklift operation, OSHA training, certain things like that. Then, as you try to build into supervisors, you are going to develop more advanced skills, with more certificates, eventually leading to an associate's degree.
ANDEL: We put a lot of the onus on the system, on the educators at the school level, but now the employers also have to play an active role in education, in shaping the talent that they need. That could take the form of internships.
HILL: Education institutions need to reach out and create an advisory board. Make companies put skin in the game, to help determine what's going to be taught. And then the other thing you get out of that is the potential donations of equipment to the organization as well as tours to help the students understand the different types of industries and what they are going to see out there.
ANDEL: What we need to conclude on here is how do we keep the brain power going, the imagination, the spark, to get young people through the door and see this as a path somewhere, not just as a dead end. Ron Zybura, I thank you so much for coming, and I am hoping that we can get a spark going at your school and build a model that shows how this can be done.
ZYBURA: I think there is a change in what’s expected from education and college may not be the direct pathway to a career. What we talked about here could give young people a pipeline to a direct job, as well as an opportunity to keep lear