This month has been a busy one for FORWARDER. We officially launched the pilot edition of FORWARDER USA at Breakbulk Americas: the largest exhibition for the project cargo and breakbulk industry in North America. We were greeted with an incredible reception and are already gathering leads for the first ‘live’ edition of the quarterly publication, which will be distributed in January 2019. 

Not everything stateside is quite so sunny at the moment. Hurricane Florence has caused an estimated $38 billion in damage according to some reports, and at the time of writing Hurricane Michael has also hit the states causing catastrophe. The result for the logistics industry has been a backlog of work due to road closures, delays and the closure of major ports. A well-oiled supply chain is essential for getting consumers and businesses alike back to their routine, back to stability. 

October has also broken the news that Sears – America’s iconic retailer – has filed for bankruptcy, citing tough payment terms from suppliers and logistics. A number of suppliers are demanding payment upfront amidst the financial troubles, making things even more difficult for the retail giant. And the so-called ‘trade wars’ between the US and China are also causing upset, as expected. A supplier audit by AsiaInspection has found that ethical progress in Chinese factories has stagnated since Q2 of 2018, with the tenuous trade relations creating a ‘breeding ground’ for poor ethics. The report, ‘AI Q4 2018 Barometer’ paints a concerning picture for employee wages and working conditions, as well as poor waste management which is said to contribute to ‘immediate/imminent risk’. 

Back on UK soil, figures released in the latest Creditsafe Watchdog Report show promising signs of growth for the UK’s Transport and Logistics sector, as the total value of sales, number of employees and number of active companies have all increased year-on-year. Nothing much has shifted when it comes to Brexit, as negotiations are still ongoing. It feels a little redundant to continue second-guessing what’s going to happen when there are more pressing issues at home. The Felixstowe TOS implementation failure from earlier in the year has still yet to be cleared, with all Southern ports struggling to cope. The resulting congestion has meant that some imports are being diverted, resulting in knock-on effects at a number of other North European ports. 

In spite of Felixstowe’s next-gen digital TOS fiasco, – which, let’s face it, has had catastrophic consequences – excitement in the emerging and intelligent technology side of this industry is ramping up of late. I’m particularly enthusiastic about the recent partnership forged between Intel and Rolls-Royce, working together to explore the future of ‘autonomous container ships’ (driverless ships). This kind of project will be a mammoth undertaking. If you think autonomous cars and trucks are complex, there are a multitude of further variables to consider in this climate, and the amount of data that’s needed for this technology to work is astronomical. According to a Rolls-Royce press release, the collaboration is aimed at making commercial shipping safer with its combination of Rolls-Royce’s advanced ship technology and Intel’s components and systems engineering. 

Embracing this kind of innovation is the key to economic growth, productivity and stability. It’s important not to be turned-off to technology and digitalisation in the wake of failures such as Felixstowe’s. There have been a multitude of research reports published within the last few weeks that have confirmed the e-commerce sector’s rise is contributing significantly to market growth, along with R&D developments across the sector. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are going to be key to a safer, more efficient and more secure sector. 

Still not convinced? 

Let’s take a swing back to Hurricane Florence: the devastation, flooding, damaged infrastructure and employees left stranded. There is available data out there from national statistics offices, governments, analysts and the media which could be utilised to predict trends – but there would never be the time, the capacity or the ability to analyse this data and apply it in a predictive manner. But there are technologies available that can use this data to combat potential issues before they arise. Riskpulse Sunrise is an example of one such technology which claims to be able to predict issues up to two weeks ahead of time, analysing risks such as weather, extreme temperatures, natural disasters and even criminal activity. The system has been designed specifically for use by the transportation and logistics industry. 

Between next-generation innovation such as this and the Rolls-Royce-Intel partnership, we are seeing key examples of tangible developments happening within the supply chain which will catapult those implementing technology straight into the future – as long as any transitions to new ways of working are handled with caution and expertise.

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