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LVEDC Hosts Expert Panel Discussion About The ‘Future of Logistics’

By Colin McEvoy on May 25, 2017

It’s a unique time in the supply chain and logistics industry, and with the Lehigh Valley’s available land, available workers, strong infrastructure, and central location within a day’s drive of one-third of all U.S. consumers, the region is in a prime position to take advantage of it.

“The future continues to look bright,” said Michael Landsburg, Vice President of Real Estate at NFI Industries. “There’s been a paradigm shift in how we consume in this country, and in the world, and the Lehigh Valley is a really good spot for all of us to be in. I think there’s only room for tremendous growth.”

Landsburg was one of three panelists in an expert discussion about the “Future of Logistics” during an event hosted by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) on May 25 at the NFI facility in Upper Macungie Township.

Moderated by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, the panel also included Zach G. Zacharia, Director of the Center for Supply Chain Research at Lehigh University, and Peter Christian, President of Enterprise Systems Partners (espi).

About 50 people attended the event, which began with an overview by Cunningham of the Lehigh Valley industrial market.

Since 2014, about 10 million square-feet of industrial space has been added to Lehigh and Northampton counties, with 6.1 million square-feet more currently under development, Cunningham said. There are about 26,000 jobs in the Lehigh Valley’s e-commerce sector today, more than existed at Bethlehem Steel for most of its existence, and it is growing rapidly.

“We’ve quickly become what is commonly referred to in the trade publications as an inland empire off the New Jersey/New York ports, much like Texas and California,” he said.

Speed and Technology

Christian said speed of delivery is becoming increasingly important for companies. As a result, they are scaling down the size of their distribution centers, and locating more centers throughout the country that are closer to their markets, so they can deliver more quickly.

“Speed is of the essence,” Christian said.

Much of the discussion centered around technology and how it will change the logistics and supply chain industry in the near future, including how quickly robotics will replace many of the jobs currently performed by people.

All the panelists agreed the technology is available, but Landsburg said it takes a strong level of commitment for companies to move in that direction, and some are skeptical about investing so much money in technology that could quickly become obsolete.

“You see it in certain circumstances but it’s not pervasive yet, except in some of these e-commerce facilities,” he said. “Robotics are still a little ways out in terms of warehousing and distribution.”

Self-Driving Vehicles

Likewise, Landsburg said the technology for autonomous vehicles will likely be ready well before regulatory and societal measures are put in place, but he expects self-driving vehicles to be implemented into the trucking industry within 10 to 15 years, because there are high costs currently associated with that industry.

“While we don’t think there will be totally autonomous trucks, you may have convoys with one tractor pulling 10 trailers,” he said. “Or you may have tractor trailers separated by five feet instead of 150 feet. It’ll almost be like a train of trucks going down the highway in a truck lane.”

Christian noted companies are looking for ways to implement more effective packaging for the products they ship, and that FedEx has even considered utilizing 3-D printing in their trucks to they can produce a part right in their vehicle, making packaging unnecessary altogether.

“Technology is here, and it’s growing rapidly,” Christian said. “Some of the older companies are having a tough time getting their hands around it because they’re used to the old ways. The new companies are embracing it, and the ones that survive are the ones that will adapt.”

Academia’s Role

Zacharia also discussed Lehigh University’s Center for Supply Chain Research, which serves as a preeminent platform for sharing the latest supply chain research and industry innovations.

The center provides member companies with dedicated research meetings, industry-led conferences, recruiting opportunities and customized research projects, as well as providing an umbrella under which researchers and practitioners can both understand and advance the cutting edge of knowledge in supply chain management.

The “Future of Logistics” discussion was LVEDC’s first Brokers & Developers Council event of the year. These events offer an opportunity to learn about a timely topic and discuss issues affecting real estate brokers, site selectors, developers, bankers, and other professions.

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