Interview with Fred Gilbert, VP – Strategy & Marketing, Performance Team LLC

  • What new innovation in the supply chain world excites you the most?
Near-term I think robots in the warehouse are going to be a game changer.  With low unemployment rates and rising minimum wages, robots present a solution that quickly scales and increases productivity in a revolutionary way.  With e-commerce’s continued pace of growth particularly during November and December, distribution centers that handle direct to customer and drop-ship orders need to be able to ramp-up extremely quickly. During cyber week, we had customers that exceeded their forecast by more than 200%.  Robots provide the capability to mitigate this challenge by being readily available and easy to program.  Not to mention robots can operate 24/7 if needed. As such, we’ll see more and more robots in warehouses very soon, facilitating receiving, put away, picking, and shipping.  
  • What was your most valuable logistics observation as it relates to the 2017 hurricane season?
Plan for the unforeseen.  Our customers that had a robust plan in place to deal with supply chain disruptions, such as hurricanes, saw little to no impact from these events.  Being able to quickly assess the situation, adjust plans that are already in motion, and ensure new solutions are in place for others, mitigates the impact of getting products to customers in a timely fashion.  
  • The Panama Canal expansion was completed approximately 18 months ago. In your opinion, what has been the supply chain impact of the expansion?
Most analysts predicted the projected impact of the Panama Canal expansion was that it would cause 5 – 10% of the freight going into west coast ports to shift to east coast ports due to larger vessels being able to sail through the canal and shippers looking to optimize their landed costs.  In speaking with our customers, I don’t believe we’ve seen that shift take place quite yet as most of the east coast ports still need further modifications to accommodate these larger vessels.  On top of this, west coast ports continue to be the closest and thus the cheapest ports of call for Asia and with the ILWU agreeing to a 3-year contract extension this past July, labor peace won’t be an issue until at least July 1, 2022.  
  • What role will blockchain have in the supply chain space in the next three to five years?
I’m no expert on blockchain, but I attended a conference recently and one of the speakers on the subject said he expected blockchain to impact the world to the same extent as the internet did back in the day.  Needless to say, this woke me up a bit!  According to Wikipedia, blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.  It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible to break this chain and if it is broken, or hacked, it’s easily identifiable thereby providing one source of the truth.  Blockchain can be used within the supply chain to provide greater visibility and traceability of products and transactions thereby reducing fraud, minimizing costs, and increasing trust across all aspects of the supply chain. I think we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more about blockchain in 2018 and look forward to the positive impact it will have on business in general.