Artificial Intelligence Swarms Silicon Valley on Wings and Wheels (NYT)

The new era in Silicon Valley centers on artificial intelligence and robots, a transformation that many believe will have a payoff on the scale of the personal computing industry or the commercial internet, two previous generations that spread computing globally. Computers have begun to speak, listen and see, as well as sprout legs, wings and wheels to move unfettered in the world. The shift was evident in a Lowe’s home improvement store here this month, when a prototype inventory checker developed by Bossa Nova Robotics silently glided through the aisles using computer vision to automatically perform a task that humans have done manually for centuries.

China Sees a Manufacturing Future—in America (WSJ)

Beset by high taxes, slow shipping, one Dongguan shoe maker looks to the U.S. But the real key is technology: Advanced manufacturing is leveling the playing field.

Zara’s New Focus: Bigger Bricks, More Clicks (WSJ)

The Fashion retailer signaled it will speed up closures of smaller stores to open bigger ones. Analysts say Inditex’s new strategy leaves plenty of space for the online platform to expand without cannibalizing the brick-and-mortar shops. By closing smaller stores and focusing on flagship stores, customers who aren’t close to these stores could be prodded into shopping online.

Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter? (NYT)

The blockchain — the buzzy, bewildering technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin — is starting to be applied to real-world problems like tracking pork chops, shipping containers and footwear with a speed and security not currently possible. The IBM-Walmart partnership is one of the biggest practical tests to date.

Hasbro to Make Play-Doh in the U.S. (WSJ)

Play-Doh will soon be squeezed out of a factory in the U.S. again, as Hasbro Inc. brings manufacturing back to the U.S. for the first time in years. Although the preschool clay was invented in Cincinnati in the 1950s, it hasn’t been made in the U.S. since 2004. “We’re not replacing volume, we’re adding volume,” Hasbro Chief Executive Brian Goldner said in an interview this week. “While some costs may be higher for Play-Doh made in the U.S. than overseas, the difference will likely be evened out by a lower shipping rate.”

How Manufacturing has changed (Economist)

Manufacturing has not really gone away. But nor has it held still. Some processes that used to be tightly held together are now strung out across the world; some processes that used to be quite separate are now as close as the workers and designers who share the shop floor in some factories. Assembling parts into cars, washing machines or aircraft adds less value than once it did; design, supply-chain management, aftercare, servicing and the like add much more.

Adidas’s high-tech factory brings production back to Germany (Economist)

Behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany, which has maintained its manufacturing base through innovative engineering. What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers and other sports shoes—an $80B-a-year industry that has been off-shored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Speedfactory, as this plant is called, belongs to Adidas, a giant German sports-goods firm. Production is due to begin in mid-2017, slowly at first and then ramping up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. Adidas is constructing a second Speedfactory near Atlanta for the American market.

Kellogg Revises Distribution Method (WSJ)

Kellogg Co. is abandoning its traditional way of delivering some snacks to stores in an effort to cut costs, though it risks hurting sales of some products. The maker of Cheez-Its and Keebler cookies, which reported fourth-quarter earnings Thursday, will begin delivering its U.S. crackers and cookies to grocery stores’ warehouses, rather than directly to the individual stores.

World’s biggest shippers don’t grasp supply chain impact on climate change

The world’s largest corporations are failing to work with supply chain partners on climate change, according to a survey of 4,000 suppliers to the world’s leading shippers. The Carbon Disclosure Project polled suppliers to 89 of the world’s largest firms – including Walmart, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola – to assess how the multinationals were responding to and tackling climate change. While the report found that 68% of major shippers recognized the benefit of taking action, only 22% had engaged with suppliers and just 4% had actually actioned supply chain emissions targets.


In its tireless struggle to innovate, fashion is turning to mass customization. This trend is both very new and very old.

An iPhone’s Journey, From the Factory Floor to the Retail Store (NYT)

After the iPhone leaves the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, it takes two days, on average, to get to a store in Shanghai, a 590-mile trip. It takes three days, on average, to get a store in San Francisco, some 6,300 miles away. Chinese customers can pay much higher prices, because of currency fluctuations and the country’s hefty value-added tax. A 32-gigabyte iPhone 7 sells for about $776 at the Apple Store in Shanghai. In New York, it goes for $649.

Merck Deploys AI For ‘Self-Driving’ Supply Chain (WSJ)

Company is in a multi-year project to improve demand forecasts, plans to deploy sensors and algorithms throughout its supply chains for pharmaceuticals and health-care products. The goal is to create an autonomous supply operation where computers make more decisions about allocating materials and distributing products,

Siemens and General Electric gear up for the internet of things (Economist)

The two firms are taking very different paths towards digitization. GE is completely reinventing itself, whereas Siemens is staying close to its roots. Siemens tends to be organised in vertical, industry-specific silos, such as machine tools and medical equipment. GE typically comes in horizontal, widely used layers, such as computer operating systems.

Amazon Moves to Cut Checkout Line, Promoting a Grab-and-Go Experience (NYT)

In the latest in its expanding set of experiments involving bricks-and-mortar retail stores, Amazon has created a small grocery store in Seattle that will allow customers to pluck drinks, prepared meals and other items off shelves and walk out without having to wait in a checkout line, the company said.

As Gap Struggles, Its Analytical CEO Prizes Data Over Design (WSJ)

Under Mr. Peck, a former partner at Boston Consulting Group who arrived at the company in 2005, Gap Inc. has put operational executives in control of its major brands, including Old Navy. It has also expanded the role of outside vendors—some of which have their own design teams. Mr. Peck favors a model in which things are more decentralized. Brand merchants, who serve as collection editors, are no longer involved in every product category. Some items, like men’s dress shirts, can be stamped out by a foreign supplier without approval from a head designer. He is also pushing executives to pay more attention to Google analytics and market-research data to monitor consumer tastes.

Choke Point of a Nation: The High Cost of an Aging River Lock (NYT)

Lock No. 52 is a serious bottleneck in innumerable supply chains nationwide. It is emblematic of the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure coast to coast — including locks, ports, highways and railroads. The average delay at No. 52 in October and November was 15 to 20 hours. At the moment, No. 52’s sister dam downriver, No. 53, is adding 48 more hours to the wait.

Zara’s Recipe for Success: More Data, Fewer Bosses (BusinessWeek)

Zara has unique practices that may account for its success
– Unlike rivals such as Gap, H&M, and Primark, Zara has no chief designer, and there’s little discernible hierarchy. Its 350 designers are given unparalleled independence in approving products and campaigns, shipping fresh styles to stores twice a week. Guided by daily data feeds showing what’s selling and what’s stalling, the teams develop fashions for the coming weeks.
– It “pulls” ideas from consumers, rather than designing collections months in advance and “pushing” goods on shoppers with ads.
– Its supply chain which consists of a network of factories in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco that produces 60 percent of its merchandise. With production nearby, it can quickly switch gears if weather or fashion trends change, getting designs into stores in as little as two or three weeks, while rivals’ orders slowly make their way across the ocean on container ships.