Interest in autonomous vehicles continues to grow, but so do safety and practicality concerns. There have been stories of autonomous vehicles crashing which seems to set the industry back every time. But this week, there was an unlikely culprit to slow down autonomous vehicles: Karl. To clarify, Karl is the name given to San Francisco’s frequent fog. On Tuesday morning, as the fog rolled into the city, it shut down a small fleet of self-driving Waymo taxis, briefly tying up traffic in the city’s Balboa Terrace neighborhood. “Around 0600 Pacific Time Tuesday morning, multiple Waymo vehicles in San Francisco encountered very dense fog and determined they should pull over temporarily,” a company spokesperson said. “After a brief stop, the vehicles cleared the area as the fog began to clear. We have software updates planned to improve our fog and parking performance to address such situations in the future.” Human drivers had to find a way to bypass the traffic jam as the idled AI-controlled cars had no human operators fix the issue. And now on to this week’s logistics news.
Amazon institutes new returns fee to reduce shipping costs
Yum Brands adopts a new packaging policy to streamline sustainability efforts
Toyota assembly in Alabama powered by Sun
GE Appliances folds EV and AV tech into fleet operations
Forecast: demand for picking robots to jump by 2030
Warehouse jobs drop to lowest level in 15 months
Lawmakers call for more transparency on Xinjiang imports
Just two weeks ago, Amazon began displaying a warning about frequently returned items in a move to tighten its belt in response to shaky finances and an uncertain economy. And now, as the company continues to look at ways to cut costs, it has instituted a new fee for some returns when using a UPS Store. According to a report from The Information, the company is imposing this fee on returns when return options at Whole Foods, Kohl’s, or Amazon Fresh locations are closer or at the same distance as a UPS Store return location. Previously, customers could drop off non-defective or undamaged items at UPS Stores without any cost. But, per the report, Amazon has now initiated a charge of $1.50 per return for items that are being returned for reasons such as a “change of mind” or “accidental order.” This fee will be deducted from the refund amount. The new returns fee is aimed at “deterring customers from using UPS when they have lots of other choices, presumably as a way of reducing the cost of returns for Amazon.”
Yum Brands – parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill – recently announced a new packaging policy prioritizing more sustainable options. In a blog post, Yum noted it is transitioning away from plastics and developing new packaging solutions as part of that policy. Yum said it is working to move away from unrecoverable plastics, which are often found in wrappers, lids, cutlery and bags, and which can’t be recycled. Pizza Hut has already eliminated these plastics – switching to primarily corrugated cardboard – in its India and Brunei markets, and that Pizza Hut New Zealand and Australia are now 95 percent and 90 percent plastic-free, respectively. KFC has moved from expanded polystyrene plastic, or Styrofoam, to more recyclable plastic and fiber-based containers for its side items. The chain has also purchased most of its paper-based packaging with fiber from responsibly managed forests and recycled sources.
“It’s our responsibility as the world’s largest restaurant company to help solve for the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. And for years, we’ve been diligently working on this challenge, and it’s now been unified across the 150-plus countries and territories in which we operate, so that’s what’s really exciting.”
More than 70 percent of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama’s power will soon be generated by the sun. Today, Huntsville Utilities, Toyota Alabama and Toyota Tsusho America, Inc. (TAI) announced a power purchase agreement (PPA) to support a 168-acre, $49 million solar project. The 30-megawatt solar-generated system will be located in the North Huntsville Industrial Park, surrounding the Toyota engine plant. It is expected to generate 62,000 megawatt hours annually – reducing approximately 22,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. That’s enough solar energy to power more than 5,600 U.S. homes. This project is another step towards accomplishing the automaker’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality in its operations by 2035. TAI’s Energy Infrastructure Solutions team led the project’s development and will manage the construction, scheduled to begin this spring. As the owner of the solar facility, they will be responsible for long-term operations.
GE Appliances is one of the first companies in the U.S. to make two emerging technologies part of its transportation operations: battery-electric and autonomous vehicles. In some locations, it’s both technologies on the same truck. The manufacturer’s private fleet has deployed a fleet of Einride EVs to haul freight between GE Appliances’ inbound warehouses and manufacturing facilities in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee. In Tennessee, some of the EVs are also humanless Pods that use Einride’s artificial intelligence technology to haul goods. Last year, Einride and GE Appliances worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other state and local officials in Tennessee to allow the cab-less freight transporters to operate on public roads without a safety driver on board. The Einride Pods are monitored remotely. Today, the EV trucks move appliance parts and components on routes between the appliance company’s inbound warehouses and manufacturing facilities in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Market demand for inventory picking robots in warehouses is poised to leap from less than 2,000 annual shipments in 2022 to just above 50,000 per year by the end of the decade, according to a report from Interact Analysis. That trend will be driven by rising labor costs and a dropping cost of robots, motivating companies to have installed just over 150,000 picking robots by 2030, the UK-based firm forecasted. More specifically, the uptake will be driven by rising wage costs in warehouses, labor shortages, and the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision technology. According to Interact Analysis, picking tasks in the warehouses are extremely repetitive, and companies across the world have struggled to recruit and retain warehouse operators for several years, contributing to a higher cost of labor. At the same time, the firm expects the price of robotic picking to come down significantly over the coming years, largely driven by pricing pressures for robotic arms and machine vision software.
Warehousing employment fell to the lowest level in more than a year as companies slashed payrolls amid a downturn in the goods-moving economy. U.S. employers cut 11,800 warehouse and storage jobs from February to March, according to the seasonally adjusted Labor Department preliminary jobs report released Friday. Warehousing companies have reduced employment by nearly 50,000 jobs since June, when overstocked retailers started paring inventories because of wavering consumer demand. Employment at U.S. warehouses surged by nearly 700,000 jobs from April 2020 to June 2022, as widespread lockdowns early in the Covid-19 pandemic sent homebound consumers rushing online to buy goods. Companies from e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. to smaller logistics operators scrambled to fill jobs at fulfillment centers. Warehousing and storage employment fell to 1.91 million jobs in March, the fewest number of jobs in the sector since January 2022, when companies employed 1.88 million workers.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide more information to Congress about why many products made in Xinjiang are still reaching U.S. shores. Media reports last year found that China’s Xinjiang region was still exporting tens of millions of dollars of products, despite a new U.S. law banning imports from the region unless importers can prove that the goods are not made with forced labor. Leading members of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, including Chair Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), sent a letter addressed to Robert Silver, the chair of the Department of Homeland Security’s Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, stating that Congress “lacks sufficient information and transparency to accurately assess” whether implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) “comports with congressional intent.” The lawmakers have “learned that nearly 300 cargo shipments were stopped and later released because the importer claimed — and CBP accepted — that the UFLPA didn’t apply. The goods released included items from high-risk sectors with significant ties to the XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] and labor transfer programs.”
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend, and the song of the week, Fake Tales of San Francisco by the Arctic Monkeys.