Dialogues

Thriving 3D Printing Wave in Asia

Interview with Chris Buono, Vice President of Information Technology, UPS Asia Pacific

UPS and partner Fast Radius will launch an on-demand 3D printing facility in Singapore by the end of 2016, the first such initiative by the logistics player outside of the US.

“I think 3D printing is a pretty remarkable technology. It is similar to how e-commerce has digitised and transformed the retail industry. 3D printing is revolutionising the manufacturing supply chains and the logistics industry with what we call on-demand manufacturing,” says Mr Chris Buono, Vice-President of Information Technology, UPS Asia Pacific.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia magazine, Mr Buono shares his views on the changing technological changes in the supply chain industry and his excitement in being a part of this revolution.

Can you share with us more about your background prior to your current role at UPS?

I have always had a keen interest in technology and the way it shapes businesses. In the early years of my career, I worked in the warehousing software space, taking on various roles including project manager, business analyst, developer and even operations support. It gave me a first-hand look into the world of logistics and the importance of technology in powering day-to-day operations in the warehouse.

I began working with UPS in 2003 as an IT Solutions Manager for Asia Pacific. Since then, I’ve worked closely with customers to improve their supply chain systems, gain operational efficiencies and achieve business goals— something which I have found hugely rewarding. I spent most of my 20 years of international career in Singapore and today at UPS, I manage a 70-person team across Asia who oversee UPS’s IT applications development, infrastructure, procurement, telecommunications, as well as IT governance, which encompasses compliance, Information Security and data privacy in Asia Pacific.

With more than 20 years’ of industry experience under your belt, what would you say is the single most significant technology advancement that you have seen in the market?

The logistics industry has changed so much over the last 20 years and to me, the most significant technology that has powered logistics is the internet. With the internet, the world is smaller today, e-commerce is changing the way consumers shop and how logistics providers deliver, while supply chain networks are now hooked onto data centres that analyse huge amounts of data to make informed decisions.

More recent technological advances are just as significant. For example, I think 3D printing is a pretty remarkable technology. It is similar to how e-commerce has digitised and transformed the retail industry. 3D printing is revolutionising the manufacturing supply chains and the logistics industry with what we call ondemand manufacturing.

That is why UPS has worked with Fast Radius to launch a 3D printing factory in Asia. This allows our customers to virtualise their inventories and adopt a distributed supply chain model. Multinational companies (MNCs) can now produce smaller quantities closer to the point of consumption to minimise waste and reduce warehousing costs. For SMEs 3D printing enables businesses to do quick prototyping and produce short production runs. This allows them to move away from “minimum quantity orders” and give them the opportunity to undertake production with lower capital.

Can you paint for us a picture of big data in logistics in Asia Pacific?

Today, logistics is about harnessing the massive amounts of data available that allow us to make intelligent decisions so that logistics become more efficient, secure and sustainable. UPS has been mining big data before it became “big”. In Asia, we launched our vehicle-performance monitoring system, Telematics, in Singapore last year, and implemented the fifth generation of our Delivery Information Acquisition Device (or DIAD V) in Malaysia this year.

Every day, these tools are collecting huge amounts of data on driver behaviour and vehicle performance, which is being analysed and transformed into insights that will improve our overall bottom line and operational enhancements. For example, Telematics uses energy informatics sensors installed in UPS vehicles that track and transmit more than 200 vehicle-related elements — ranging from a driver’s speed, number of reverses made, time spent idling or stopping, to how often the brakes are applied, and other data — to data warehouse computers for analysis using an in-house developed software programme.

What are your thoughts on big data disrupting traditional logistics and supply chain? Is it necessary to stay relevant? Is this trend set for the long-term?

Obviously, big data is already changing the way we perform traditional logistics and supply chain – and it will continue to do so. It is absolutely necessary to stay relevant in order to satisfy changing consumer behaviour as well as the way businesses are conducted. Take e-commerce for example. The massive transfer of power to consumers means that companies have to contend with satisfying the fast-changing demands of online consumers. Today, customers want their packages delivered to the right place, at the right time – not earlier; not later.

This is possible with technology-based services, such as UPS My ChoiceTM, an industry-first delivery service that allows consumers to dictate when and where they want their packages delivered. With this technology, customers who are receiving packages can, through their mobile phones, set delivery alerts, authorise the release of packages, get approximate delivery times, and even reroute to any other addresses.

Evidently, big data plays a huge role in harnessing data to make not just our operations but also the delivery of our services to the end-customers so much more efficient.

In your opinion, which technology trend will make the most impact by the year 2020? Why?

Other than 3D printing, one other technology trend with great potential in the logistics industry is the use of drones and autonomous vehicles. We believe there are promising uses for drones, and UPS has been using them inside our warehouses to check high storage racks to confirm stock, or available space, among other tasks.

However, drones cannot ever replace our uniformed service providers, who can make thoughtful judgments about whether a package can be left securely, receive a confirmation of delivery signature, move heavy items, or enter a multi-tenant building to leave packages with the mailroom attendant. UPS service providers offer a level of customer service and human interaction that consumers value, respect and trust. While UPS is no stranger to automation and believes it has a place in our business, we also celebrate the exceptional service provided by our delivery personnel and believe a human touch is a key differentiator in many situations.

What is your take on the current supply chain landscape in Asia in terms of technology adoption? Is technology adoption growing at an acceptable pace?

Asia is at the beginning stage of adopting technology and it is growing fast here. I’m proud to say that UPS is certainly leading the charge when it comes to technology innovation. Aside from the use of drones and the launch of UPS’s first 3D printing facility outside of US here in Asia, we have also been implementing various technology in the past few years. Take customs clearance as an example. Asia is fragmented on this front, with each country having different customs requirements. However, we are seeing some really positive moves across the region in the area of customs harmonisation through electronic means, which is a step in the right direction to help facilitate trade through greater efficiency and cost reduction.

I touched on the fact that we’d deployed our Telematics system in Singapore. Telematics effectively turns our vehicles into ‘rolling laboratories’ that collect data to improve safety, efficiency and performance, allowing us to operate in a smarter manner. The resulting insights we gather enable us to make small adjustments with big payoffs. In Asia, we are always looking into ways to continue collecting and analysing big data in order to make far-reaching changes. Technological advances, such as this, position us as leaders in our field, and particularly, sets a benchmark within the region.

In your opinion, is there sufficient supply chain talent in the region? Why or why not?

I think what we are seeing is an environment in Asia that is becoming increasingly conducive to the development of good talent. Asia is now firmly entrenched in the world as a manufacturing centre, and this entrenchment is only going to deepen with increasingly free and open trade, both within the region and globally. We are seeing greater moves towards specialist courses and education being provided here in the region, and I believe the explosion of trade agreements and free trade areas has helped to underscore the importance of the industry we are in. But is talent in the region where it needs to be? Maybe not yet. But yes, I am optimistic about how things are developing.

You hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Transportation and Logistics from Penn State University. What was it about the logistics industry that first caught your interest?

In fact, I first enrolled as a Finance major at University. In a few short weeks, I realised that even though I enjoyed Mathematics as I was growing up, this was not an area I could see myself having a career in. I used to move furniture during my high school and college days to pay for my tuition fees, and as I considered a change in my Major, the logistics industry called out to me. It was an industry where I saw huge opportunities for change and transformation, and which played such a critical role in enabling trade and the movement of goods every day. I wanted to be a part of it, and as the saying goes: “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.”

After being in the industry for a number of years, has the industry been what you’ve expected?

It has been so much more than I expected! To be able to witness the transformation of the industry over the last 20 years firsthand, has been truly amazing. From the moment I stepped off a plane in Singapore only three months after graduating from university, my work in logistics has brought me to Hong Kong, China, Netherlands and so many other places.

I’ve realised that there is an army of innovators constantly leveraging data and technology to devise new and unexpected ways to send products around the world. That provides me with plenty of motivation as a logistics provider, to think about what logistics can do. We are living in a time of global revolution in innovation and possibility, and I am just as excited as I was 20 years ago, about creating logistics solutions to lead us through the next 25 years, and beyond.

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