INNOVATION IS GOING TO BE A KEY FORCE IN THE GROWTH OF INTERNATIONAL COMMERCE
By Jill Sloand
t is truer today, more than ever, that innovation is necessary for businesses to survive. Traditionally, companies would plan for growth based on past performance, utilizing historical data to influence future forecasting. While there used to be some reasonable level of accuracy with these growth projections in the past, the pandemic has now shown us how growth can drastically change, ranging from stifled demand on one extreme to a rapid escalation of demand on the other extreme. Not only can the magnitude of growth change, but customers’ buying behaviors can also change, either transitioning order profiles from a higher volume of smaller orders to a lower volume of large orders or vice versa. The level of uncertainty in today’s world requires companies to embrace innovation to meet these constantly changing demands.
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Innovation Within the “Four Walls” The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what solutions are commonly implemented in facility expansions and retrofits. For example, constructing a mezzanine with extended operations on the upper level used to be a popular solution to maximize space utilization. However, with the currently high price of steel today, constructing a mezzanine is much more expensive than it was a few years ago. Therefore, companies must be creative and innovative and explore alternative solutions that are financially practical. Considering how it is also difficult to attract and retain employees today, companies are turning to automation as a form of innovation. Solutions like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are great for increasing efficiency, productivity, and quality, while decreasing labor costs, but the right automation must also be flexible and scalable to adapt with changing needs of the company. Coping with Additional Capacity and Multiple Carriers Another direct result of the pandemic is the accelerated growth of e-commerce. As a result, parcel shipment volumes have grown much more than other modes, while the capacity of current carriers has not been able to increase at the same rate as these volumes. Carriers today simply can’t keep up. Labor can only increase capacity up until the point of maxed out truck inventory — either way, it is not enough. Companies can explore working with multiple different carriers to obtain the capacity they need, but this comes with its own set of challenges — one of the biggest being how to manage these carriers from a systems standpoint. In order to successfully manage multiple carriers, the company’s ware-