Robots to Make Adidas Running Shoes in 2016


adidas2A German factory operated largely by robots is making its debut this year as the sportswear company seeks to cut labor costs and speed up delivery to fashion-conscious consumers. Adidas had shifted most of its production from Europe to Asia and now relies on more than 1 million workers in contract factories, particularly in China and Vietnam. But Adidas now wants to bring production back closer to its major markets to meet demands for faster delivery of new styles and to counter rising wages in Asia and higher shipping costs, reports (Dec.19, 2015). Continue reading

Chipotle’s Toxic Supply Chain

December 29, 2015

chipotleThe implication: If you eat Chipotle, you’re doing the right thing, and maybe you’re better, too. But fewer people associate Chipotle with “healthy” today, reports BusinessWeek (Dec. 28, 2015-Jan.10, 2016). Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from their food since July. And food-safety experts say they believe the total number affected is at least 10 times the reported number. Continue reading

Warehouse Robots Chasing Amazon


The Fetch warehouse robot can carry as much as 150 pounds at a time

In Fetch Robotic’s mock warehouse, stocked with granola bars, breakfast cereal, sponges, and other household goods, a worker plucks items from shelves and places them in a plastic bin. The bin is set atop a small wheeled robot that follows the employee’s every step like a puppy. When the container is full, the robot darts off with it to a packing area; a second robot with an empty bin then picks up where the first left off, allowing the worker to keep gathering items without pausing or having to push around a heavy cart. Fetch Robotics, reports BusinessWeek (Oct.26-Nov. 1, 2015), is one of a handful of startups working on warehouse robots aimed specifically at e-commerce companies. Continue reading

Redesigning the Overhead Baggage Bin

October 16, 2015

airplane bins 

Frustrated at having his own carry-on bag taken from him when overhead bins filled, Boeing engineer Brent Walton asked the question many travelers ask: “Why don’t planes have enough bin space for all passengers?” Then he figured out a solution—make bins tall enough so you can turn bags on their side, like standing up books on a shelf rather than laying them flat.
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Hello Robot Restaurant

September 14, 2015

There’s a new quinoa restaurant in San Francisco, one where customers order, pay and receive their food and never interact with a person, writes The New York Times (Sept. 9, 2015). The restaurant, Eatsa, the first outlet in a company with national ambitions, is almost fully automated. There are no waiters or even an order taker behind a counter. There is no counter. There are unseen people helping to prepare the food, but there are plans to fully automate that process, too, if it can be done less expensively than employing people. Whether a restaurant that employs few people is good for the economy is another question. Restaurants have traditionally been a place where low-skilled workers can find employment. Continue reading

Airlines Pass More Work to Customers

July 9, 2015

Airlines are adding new technology to improve and automate how they handle and track bags

“For decades, fliers have checked their bags the same way: hand them to an airline employee and trust that they will reappear at the destination,” writes The Wall Street Journal (July 6, 2015). Now big changes to that model are coming as airlines look to streamline the airport experience—and pass more work to customers and machines.

Their latest ideas including letting fliers tag their own bags, print luggage tags at home and track their bags on smartphones. Later this year, some fliers in Europe likely will begin using what could be the future of flying luggage: permanent bag tags that digitally update if flight plans change. Improved technology and loosened security rules are accelerating changes to baggage handling. More than 1/3 of global airlines now ask fliers to tag their own bags, compared with 13% in 2009. By 2018, 3/4 of carriers intend to offer the service.

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Wal-Mart to Increase Charges on Suppliers

June 24, 2015


 A Wal-Mart Stores company distribution center in Bentonville

Wal-Mart Stores will begin charging fees to almost all vendors for stocking their items in new stores and for warehousing inventory, raising pressure on suppliers as the world’s largest retailer battles higher costs from wage hikes, reports (June 24, 2015). The company  just started informing suppliers about the fees and other changes to supplier agreements. The changes will affect 10,000 suppliers to its U.S. stores. Continue reading