Day 11: Land of the Boxes

We visited DAMCO, Ocean East International Logistics, and its warehouse as well as Yangshan Port today, but first, we were greeted by Mac Sullivan at the hotel. Mac is the Greater China Trade Lane Manager for Toll Global Forwarding, a logistics provider of international freight forwarding and supply chain management services. I learned that a freight forwarder is essentially a travel agent for freight; they handle both import and export shipments for a fee. I’m very grateful that Mac took the time to come over to our hotel and be our guide for the day.

At Ocean East International Logistics, Lin Sen gave us a presentation regarding China Warehousing and Distribution. The value of warehousing is to optimize clients’ inventory cost against supply effectiveness, but it’s interesting that inventory is a type of waste, but it’s necessary for supply to market. For the next five years, they plan to focus on aspects, such as using automation and robots and shifting towards digitalization. At Ocean East International Logistics, they want to continue innovation to improve the “cost to serve” and reduce the “risk to serve.” I was most interested in their Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV). They hope to improve productivity, reduce labor dependency and risk, and streamline the workflows by utilizing AGVs.

After the presentation, we were able to visit one of their warehouses. Immediately, I noticed that the only people there and working were at the front of the warehouse. I would think people would be working inside managing inventory in the warehouse. Instead, we got a glimpse of three AGVs going about, moving boxes that the workers placed on the mounts in the front of the warehouse. It was amazing to see the AGVs lift boxes from the mount, transport boxes to its indicated location in the warehouse, and place the boxes all with ease. There was even a moment when all three AGVs were in the same vicinity, and it seemed like they could crash into each other. Instead, two of the AGVs waited for one to finish its job and moved out of the way. Then, one of the two AGVs would follow suit and move out of the way. Finally, the last AGV performed its task. I believe there were sensors inside the prongs of the AGV that helps it locate where it can mount to any platform holding boxes. I would’ve liked to know more about how the AGVs were programmed. After taking ENGR 0716: The Art of Making, I know how difficult it was for me to program a Redbot, a small and much more simple automation than the AGVs.

After the warehouse visit, we had to cross Donghai Bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge since December 2005, to reach Yangshan Port. Yangshan Port is a deep-water port for today’s largest container ships. With Phase 4 just opened, Yangshan Port is China’s biggest automated container port, which at least 130 AGVs are working at. This port is yet another example of how fast Shanghai has developed. It’s hard to imagine how quickly these sites were constructed, continually breaking records. I really enjoyed learning about warehousing and distribution; it made me appreciate Amazon’s two-day shipping much more.

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