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Check out the technological future of supply chains


Facial recognition for payment and loyalty is here, and it’s nice about your age.

Supply chains aren’t the most exciting aspect of the franchise world, but without a strong supply backbone, concepts simply cannot efficiently scale. That’s why you see so many chains take one of two paths: link up with a national distributor or grow concentrically to keep the supply chain as efficient as possible.

This was a big topic at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show where, in a series of panels, experts discussed the opportunity of autonomous trucks, drones, robotic warehouses, the potential for 5G and other technology. With all that in mind, the supply chain may warrant a complete overhaul in the coming years.

One panel in particular, Keeping Supply Chains Resilient, touched on a lot of issues such as getting supplies to disaster areas. That’s a key concern for any franchise brand, but restaurants especially want to be open as soon as possible after a disaster.

In one instance, UPS couldn’t get to a key Jacksonville, Florida, hub because of damage from Hurricane Michael in 2018. In response, the company essentially cloned the hub in another facility, something easy to do because both hubs were automated facilities. It took just a line of code or two to replicate the entire operation.

That might sound like a lot of effort to ensure a QSR chain gets its needed buns or the home décor franchise its blinds, but redundant, automated infrastructure or “dynamic networks” mean these kinds of hubs could switch on and off for more minor things than a Category 5 hurricane.

“There’s a disaster every day,” said Robin Hensley, manager of the Global Smart Logistics Network for UPS. “It’s called weather.”

In another panel focused on the tricky last mile of delivery there were more supply chain innovations to think about, such as what Brie Carere, EVP and chief marketing officer at FedEx, called a “chicklet.” The roughly 1-inch device didn’t look like much, but it and devices like it could radically change the supply chain. Basically, it’s a device with GPS, temperature and humidity, and other sensors that gets slipped into a shipment that allows for incredible granular data along the supply chain.

Dominos training

A projector and computer vision makes training fully interactive. Dominos has piloted this very technology that gives visual cues to people as they assemble anything from pizza to auto parts.

“In the future, we’ll be able to attach this node to any package. It will provide real-time tracking, in addition it will allow us to extend that visibility and control,” said Carere.

The device is initially aimed at reducing the $15 million in supply chain waste in the healthcare industry, but for every medical shipment that gets too warm, there are probably 500 heads of lettuce that go bad. The ability to see exactly when a shipment will arrive is nice, but reducing what Boston Consulting Group estimates is $210 billion in supply chain food waste each year could drive food costs down for everyone.

And then there’s the robots. The last mile is getting lots of attention, from little rover bots on campuses to bike lane bots on the roads and groceries being delivered by autonomous cars. But the next phase gets especially interesting.

During a presentation, FedEx unveiled Roxo, a delivery robot. The landbound robot maneuvers on small wheels, but because it’s built on a high-tech wheelchair base, it can climb stairs, navigate rough terrain and make deliveries like a human would.

Roxo’s potential is massive. Does it handle entire deliveries in a small radius, or does it piggyback on an autonomous vehicle before going solo for the final few blocks? Does it bring a box of lettuce right into the cooler? Either could radically change how businesses get their goods.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, will be 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that will serve as the backbone of a much more connected world, empowering all these devices with ample amounts of connectivity so we can get our second-by-second updates from those delivery robots.

When is all this coming? That’s the thing about CES. There are a lot of big promises and radical ideas without a clear timeline. But it is time to think about what this kind of technology will do when it does arrive.

Pizza machine

The Picnic pizza assembly bot is designed for high-volume pizza franchises or conference concessions; it just requires someone to pop the assembled pie into an oven and refill the cheese and veggies.

Three foodservice faves at CES

The Consumer Electronics Show is absolute nerdy chaos. Some 180,000 or more attendees are there to see thousands of exhibitors all promising the next big thing in technology.

Here are three favorites:

1. First, of course, the pizza robot! Built by the automation company Picnic, its new bot is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more of a pizza assembly bot, as CEO Clayton Wood said.

Essentially, someone prepares the dough or uses frozen dough in the case of event operations like CES or the Seattle baseball stadium, where Picnic has a bot making pizzas every game day. Then, the bot gets to work using AI vision.

Beyond ease of production, Wood said the device is the answer to the high-turnover, fast-moving world of pizza.

2. While electric bikes are still illegal in New York City, a huge percentage of delivery is done by scofflaws on their electric bicycles. While the mega city figures out a sensible way to approve the greener, faster mode of delivery, new technology is coming online.

Cake showcased a modular electric bike during CES with hundreds of potential set-ups. It also has modular batteries.

For a delivery driver or delivery entity, it seems like an ideal vehicle for small orders or larger catering orders via a bike trailer. Once the battery gets low, it’s an easy swap for a fresh one to get back on the road.

3. There were many, many versions of AR glasses at CES. And honestly, they all kind of sucked. But the concept of augmented reality glasses has incredible promise, and as CES made very clear, there are a lot of companies working on the devices.

Why is it so exciting? Well, there’s all sorts of efficiency gained when folks don’t have to look down at their phones or at the screen of a point of sale. For restaurant folks, it could replace the ticket printer altogether.

That said, like a lot of CES gizmos, we’re pretty far from the AR future, but when something like AR glasses come to fruition, it could be transformative.

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