This is Patent Pending. Supply chain-related patent applications are published every week and this is where we'll talk about the ones that could have the biggest impact on the supply chain and the ones that challenge the norm. We want to give you an idea of where supply chains are heading and what the industry is thinking. Read the last issue here. This is the last issue of Patent Pending for 2019, we'll see you next year.
A modular approach to storing more
Amazon is always looking to improve operations in its fulfillment process and a patent application published this week tackles a main issue: density.
Inventory takes up space and space costs money. Getting as many products into the smallest space possible is an important consideration.
The modular storage system envisioned by Amazon can be configured in a variety of ways, but consists of multiple conveyor belts that can assist with moving items across a warehouse.
- Robotic arms can be used to load storage containers onto and off of the module.
- Storage containers would be outfitted with machine-readable tags like RFID, QR or bar codes that could provide information on the container and its contents.
- An item movement management system would keep track of the items in the storage module.
- Items quickly transition from storage to the packing process. Some vehicle types might not be eligible to platoon and some companies might not have platoon sharing agreements, the patent says.
Freight train (well ... truck) on the blockchain
The idea is fairly straight forward: have trucks follow closely together on the highway so the trucks behind the leader use less fuel due to the reduced drag. Communication is important, and in a patent application IBM makes the case that blockchain is one option.
Trucks would use vehicle-to-vehicle communication to share information stored in the blockchain. Trucks would share their make, model, engine details, dates of travel, name of the organization operating the truck, aerodynamics data and agreements on being a leader/follower within a platoon.
All information would be considered by the platoon when a new truck asks to join on the highway and it will tell the truck where to place itself within the line to achieve the best fuel efficiency for the entire fleet. Since the leader doesn't benefit from the platoon effect, this position is determined by a "rank" score based on the amount of time spent in that position, the leader will be allowed to switch into a follower role after reaching a certain rank.
The considerations and calculations to determine whether a truck can join the platoon will take place on the blockchain and can include a smart contract to ensure the vehicle asking to join is eligible.
Measuring the efficiency of unloading
In this column, I've written about patents from Amazon and Zebra Technology that attempt to tackle loading and unloading trucks. And in a patent application published this week, Walmart presents its idea for improving the operation. The system would:
- Use a group of sensors at the door of a trailer to measure the volume of the unloaded space.
- A processor in communication with the sensors would measure the volume change over time to determine how efficiently the truck was unloaded.
- This efficiency information could be used to create unloading instructions for subsequent loads.
By grading unpacking as efficient or inefficient Walmart could generate information to make the process more productive, but it could create a stressful workplace for warehouse employees if the metrics are tied to their personal performance.