Saturday, December 27, 2008

A stabbing pain

German neo-Nazis

A stabbing pain

Dec 18th 2008 | BERLIN
From The Economist print edition

An attack on a police chief revives fears of the far right

EPA Where to put neo-Nazi rubbish

ALOIS MANNICHL, police chief of Passau, in Bavaria, pursues neo-Nazis to great lengths. A group recently buried a leader in a coffin draped with the swastika. Mr Mannichl had it dug up. On December 13th they took their revenge. Crying “you will not trample the graves of our comrades any more, you leftist pig,” somebody stabbed and almost killed Mr Mannichl at the door of his house in Fürstenzell, near Passau. This brazen attack on a senior policeman brings a “completely new dimension” to violence by right-wing extremists, declared Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.

Germany’s far right is a variegated but worrying fringe that pursues its xenophobic aims through electoral politics and sometimes murderous violence, fuelled by self-glorifying demonstrations and “hatecore” music. It is stronger in the east than in the west. The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) has seats in two east German state legislatures (another far right party has deputies in Brandenburg) and does well in local elections. It won 5% of the vote in Saxony’s local election in June, getting 25% in one town. The far right got 2.5% of the vote in Bavaria’s election in September.

The Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, reckons that some 31,000 people belong to 180 far-right organisations around the country. But many more are thought to share some of their attitudes. A fifth of Germans—and nearly 40% of Bavarians—dislike foreigners, down from a quarter two years ago.

Far-right violence in Bavaria is mostly low-level thuggery by young skinheads. They and others were responsible for 82 violent crimes in 2007, nearly twice as many as in 2006; but the rate subsided in the first half of 2008. The police have so far been spared. Now some wonder if the far right may produce its version of the Baader-Meinhof gang, which conducted a reign of terror against prominent Germans in the 1970s. This seems far-fetched. But the stabbing of Mr Mannichl has renewed calls for the banning of the NPD, which has ties to a number of even less savoury groups.

Thanks largely to Mr Mannichl, the neo-Nazi scene in Passau, a town of 50,000 at the confluence of the Danube and two other rivers, is a weedy affair. There are no cells in Passau itself, says Karl Synek, a Green member of the town council. Two or three meet in the neighbourhood in the few bars and cafés whose owners tolerate them, including a café in Fürstenzell. But Passau is a “white spot” on the map where far-right groups are trying to gain a foothold with help from allies on the other side of the border with Austria, says Mr Synek. With luck, a recovered Mr Mannichl will soon return to Passau’s defences.

The way the brain buys

The science of shopping

The way the brain buys

From The Economist print edition

Retailers are making breakthroughs in understanding their customers’ minds. Here is what they know about you

IT MAY have occurred to you, during the course of a dismal trawl round a supermarket indistinguishable from every other supermarket you have ever been into, to wonder why they are all the same. The answer is more sinister than depressing. It is not because the companies that operate them lack imagination. It is because they are all versed in the science of persuading people to buy things—a science that, thanks to technological advances, is beginning to unlock the innermost secrets of the consumer’s mind.

In the Sainsbury’s in Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, south-west of London, it takes a while for the mind to get into a shopping mode. This is why the area immediately inside the entrance of a supermarket is known as the “decompression zone”. People need to slow down and take stock of the surroundings, even if they are regulars. In sales terms this area is a bit of a loss, so it tends to be used more for promotion. Even the multi-packs of beer piled up here are designed more to hint at bargains within than to be lugged round the aisles. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, famously employs “greeters” at the entrance to its stores. Whether or not they boost sales, a friendly welcome is said to cut shoplifting. It is harder to steal from nice people.

Immediately to the left in Sainsbury’s is another familiar sight: a “chill zone” for browsing magazines, books and DVDs, tempting impromptu purchases and slowing customers down. But those on a serious mission will keep walking ahead—and the first thing they come to is the fresh fruit and vegetables section.

For shoppers, this makes no sense. Fruit and vegetables can be easily damaged, so they should be bought at the end, not the beginning, of a shopping trip. But psychology is at work here: selecting good wholesome fresh food is an uplifting way to start shopping, and it makes people feel less guilty about reaching for the stodgy stuff later on.

Shoppers already know that everyday items, like milk, are invariably placed towards the back of a store to provide more opportunity to tempt customers. This is why pharmacies are generally at the rear, even in “convenience” stores. But supermarkets know shoppers know this, so they use other tricks, like placing popular items halfway along a section so that people have to walk all along the aisle looking for them. The idea is to boost “dwell time”: the length of time people spend in a store.

Traditionally retailers measure “footfall”, as the number of people entering a store is known, but those numbers say nothing about where people go and how long they spend there. But nowadays, a ubiquitous piece of technology can fill the gap: the mobile phone. Path Intelligence, a British company working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tracked people’s phones at Gunwharf Quays, a large retail and leisure centre in Portsmouth—not by monitoring calls, but by plotting the positions of handsets as they transmit automatically to cellular networks. It found that when dwell time rose 1% sales rose 1.3%.

Having walked to the end of the fruit and vegetable aisle, Basingstoke’s hard-core shoppers arrive at counters of prepared food, the fishmonger, the butcher and the deli. Then there is the in-store bakery, which can be smelt before it is seen. Even small supermarkets now use in-store bakeries. Mostly these bake pre-prepared items and frozen dough, and they have boomed even though central bakeries that deliver to a number of stores are much more efficient. They do it for the smell of freshly baked bread, which makes people hungry and thus encourages people to buy not just bread but also other food, including frozen stuff.

Most of the information that shoppers are bombarded with is visual: labels, price stickers and advertising. But the wafting bread aroma shows smell can usefully be stimulated too, says Simon Harrop, chief executive of BRAND sense agency, a British specialist in multi-sensory marketing. In the aisle by the laundry section he suggests introducing the smell of freshly laundered sheets. Even the sound of sheets being folded could be reproduced here and contained within the area using the latest audio technology. The Aroma Company, which Mr Harrop founded, has put the smell of coconut into the shops of Thompson, a British travel agent. Some suntan oils smell of coconut, so the scent is supposed to remind people of past holidays. The company even infuses the fresh smell of citrus into a range of clothing made by Odeur, a Swedish company. It can waft for up to 13 washes.

Such techniques are increasingly popular because of a deepening understanding about how shoppers make choices. People tell market researchers and “focus groups” that they make rational decisions about what to buy, considering things like price, selection or convenience. But subconscious forces, involving emotion and memories, are clearly also at work.

Scientists used to assume that emotion and rationality were opposed to each other, but Antonio Damasio, now professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, has found that people who lose the ability to perceive or experience emotions as the result of a brain injury find it hard or impossible to make any decisions at all. They can’t shop.

Oh, that’s what I want

Researchers are now exploring these mechanisms by observing the brain at work. One of the most promising techniques is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which uses a large scanner to detect changes in the blood flow in parts of the brain that correspond to increases or decreases in mental activity. People lying inside the scanners are shown different products or brands and then asked questions about them. What they say is compared with what they are thinking by looking at cognitive or emotional activity. The idea is that if, say, a part of the brain that is associated with pleasure lights up, then the product could be a winner. This is immensely valuable information because eight out of ten new consumer products usually fail, despite test marketing on people who say they would buy the item—but whose subconscious may have been thinking something different.

“We are just at the frontier of the subconscious,” says Eric Spangenberg, dean of the College of Business at Washington State University and an expert on the subtleties of marketing. “We know it’s there, we know there are responses and we know it is significant.” But companies commissioning such studies keep the results secret for commercial reasons. This makes Dr Spangenberg sure of one thing: “What I think I know, they probably know way more.”

We are just at the frontier of the subconscious

Retailers and producers talk a lot about the “moment of truth”. This is not a philosophical notion, but the point when people standing in the aisle decide what to buy and reach to get it. The Basingstoke store illustrates some of the ways used to get shoppers’ hands to wobble in the direction of a particular product. At the instant coffee selection, for example, branded products from the big producers are arranged at eye-level while cheaper ones are lower down, along with the supermarket’s own-label products.

Often head offices will send out elaborate plans of where everything has to be placed; Albertsons, a big American supermarket chain, calls these a “plan-a-gram”. Spot-checks are carried out to make sure instructions are followed to the letter. The reason for this strictness is that big retailers demand “slotting fees” to put suppliers’ goods on their shelves, and these vary according to which positions are considered to be prime space.

But shelf-positioning is fiercely fought over, not just by those trying to sell goods, but also by those arguing over how best to manipulate shoppers. Never mind all the academic papers written on how best to stack shelves, retailers have their own views. While many stores reckon eye-level is the top spot, some think a little higher is better. Others charge more for goods placed on “end caps”—displays at the end of the aisles which they reckon to have the greatest visibility (although some experts say it all depends on the direction in which people gyrate around a store—and opinion on that is also divided). To be on the right-hand-side of an eye-level selection is often considered the very best place, because most people are right-handed and most people’s eyes drift rightwards. Some supermarkets reserve that for their own-label “premium” goods. And supermarkets may categorise things in different ways, so chapatis may not be with breads, but with ready-meals of the Indian variety. So, even though some suppliers could be paying around $50,000 per store a year for a few feet of shelf space, many customers still can’t find what they are looking for.

Technology is making the process of monitoring shopper behaviour easier—which is why the security cameras in a store may be doing a lot more than simply watching out for theft. Rajeev Sharma, of Pennsylvania State University, founded a company called VideoMining to automate the process. It uses image-recognition software to scan the pictures from security cameras of shoppers while they are making their selections. It is capable of looking at the actions of hundreds of thousands of people. It can measure how many went straight to one brand, the number that dithered and those that compared several, at the same time as sorting shoppers by age, gender and ethnicity.

VideoMining analysed people in convenience stores buying beer. Typically it would take them two minutes, with the majority going straight to one brand. “This shows their mind was already made up; they were on autopilot,” says Dr Sharma. So brewers should spend their marketing money outside, not inside, the store. The analysis can also help establish the return on investment to a new advertising campaign by showing what proportion of beer-buyers can be persuaded to consider rival brands. Another study in a supermarket some 12% of people spent 90 seconds looking at juices, studying the labels but not selecting any. In supermarket decision-making time, that is forever. This implies that shoppers are very interested in juices as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks, but are not sure which to buy. So there is a lot of scope for persuasion.

Reducing the selection on offer might help too. Cassie Mogilner of Stanford University and her colleagues found in a study that consumers like unfamiliar products to be categorised—even if the categories are meaningless. In a study of different coffees they found people were more satisfied with their choice if it came from a categorised selection, although it did not matter if the categories were marked simply A, B and C, or “mild”, “dark roast” and “nutty”.

Despite all the new technology, simply talking to consumers remains one of the most effective ways to improve the “customer experience”. Scott Bearse, a retail expert with Deloitte Consulting in Boston, Massachusetts, has led projects observing and quizzing tens of thousands of customers about how they feel about shopping. It began when a client complained that he had mountains of data on the one in four people that entered his store and bought something, but knew hardly anything about the vast majority who left without making a purchase. The “customer conversion” rate varies between types of store: it could be around 20% in some department stores but reach almost 100% in a grocery. And within the same store the conversion rate will vary in different sections.

People say they leave shops empty-handed more often because they are “unable to decide” than because prices are too high, says Mr Bearse. Working out what turns customers off is not difficult, yet stores still struggle with these issues: goods out of stock, long queues at the checkouts and poor levels of service. Getting customers to try something is one of the best ways of getting them to buy, adds Mr Bearse. Deloitte found that customers using fitting rooms convert at a rate of 85% compared with 58% for those that do not do so.

Often a customer struggling to decide which of two items is best ends up not buying either. A third “decoy” item, which is not quite as good as the other two, can make the choice easier and more pleasurable, according to a new study using fMRI carried out by Akshay Rao, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. Happier customers are more likely to buy. Dr Rao believes the deliberate use of irrelevant alternatives should work in selling all sorts of goods and services, from cable TV to holidays.

The notion of shoppers wearing brain-scanning hats would be ridiculous

A lack of price tags is another turn-off, although getting that right will become crucial with the increasing use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. These contain far more information than bar codes and can be scanned remotely. People have been predicting for years that they would shortly become ubiquitous; but, with costs continuing to fall, they eventually will. Tills will then become redundant, because everything shoppers put in their trolleys will be automatically detected and charged to their credit cards.

The basic mechanisms to do this are already in place. A store or loyalty card can be fitted with an RFID tag to identify customers on arrival. A device on the trolley could monitor everything placed in it, check with past spending patterns and nudge customers: “You have just passed the Oriels, which you usually buy here.”

Mind over matter

Technology will also begin to identify customers’ emotions. Dr Sharma’s software has the potential to analyse expressions, like smiles and grimaces, which are hard to fake. And although fMRI scanners presently need a crane to move, something that provides a similar result might one day be worn on your head. Researchers believe it is possible to correlate brain patterns with changes in electrical activity in the brain, which can be measured with electroencephalography (EEG) using electrodes placed on the scalp. Small EEG machines are already available, especially for computer gamers, which fit on the head.

The notion of shoppers wearing brain-scanning hats would be ridiculous if it were not so alarming. Privacy groups are already concerned about the rise of electronic surveillance that records what people do, let alone what they might be thinking. The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned that because RFID tags can be read at a distance by anyone with the necessary equipment they could create “privacy pollution”; being used to discover what is in not only someone’s shopping trolley, but also their cupboards.

To some degree shoppers would have to “buy in” to the process: a bit like having an account with an online retailer which comes with the explicit knowledge that your past purchases and browsing history will be monitored and used to pitch purchase suggestions. And if that makes shopping easier—especially if sweetened with discounts—then consumers might sign up to it. When Dr Sharma asks shoppers what they think about his video-monitoring he says most people do not mind.

But what if psychological selling is done stealthily? That way lies grave perils. It is the anger not of privacy groups that retailers should fear, but of customers at being manipulated from behind the scenes.

There have been backlashes before: “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard, an American journalist, caused a sensation when it was first published in 1957 by revealing physiological techniques used by advertisers, including subliminal messages. It is what got Dr Spangenberg interested in the subject. He thinks shopping science has limits. “I don’t think you are going to be able to make someone buy a car or a computer that they don’t need,” he says. “But you might persuade them to choose one model instead of another. And importantly, they wouldn’t know it.” But if they did realise psychological methods were being used to influence their choice, “the counteraction can be so huge it can put someone off buying anything at all,” he adds.

Which is probably why at the end of this shopping trip there is not much in the trolley. At least the temptations at the checkout are easy to avoid: a few celebrity magazines and bags of sweets at the eye-level of children. But that will change too.

Barry Salzman, the chief executive of YCD Multimedia in New York, has big plans for the area around a cash till. He is using digital video screens displaying ads that relate to what someone is buying and which can also be linked with facial-recognition software to refine the displays according to the customer’s age or sex. His system is already being used in Aroma Espresso Bars in America to present, say, an advert for a chocolate croissant to someone buying only a cappuccino.

But the checkout in this Sainsbury’s comes to a halt because the teenager at the till is not old enough to sell alcohol and can’t attract the attention of a supervisor for permission to ring up a multi-pack of beer, which is therefore left behind on the counter. The science of shopping is a marvellously sophisticated business; the practice is still a little more primitive.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Year Online

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Year Online

The business of social networking, cloud computing, and a flaw in the fabric of the Internet top the most notable stories of 2008.

By Erica Naone

Socializing Networks
Our collective obsession with social-networking sites continued in 2008, as did their search for a viable business model. (See "Social Networking Is Not a Business.") Although economic conditions have been grim for the industry in the past few months (see "Are Social Networks Sinking?"), enthusiasm for the sites continues to run high. Twitter, a popular but non-money-making poster child for the whole Web 2.0 industry, spawned an ecosystem of competitors, knockoffs, plug-ins, and add-ons (see "A Brief History of Microblogging"), some of which struggled to stay afloat as the site strained under the ever-increasing amount of data produced and requested by its users. (See "Twitter's Growing Pains.") Users themselves struggled to manage information overload from multiple social-networking services, prompting some companies to come up with ways to streamline by sharing data. (See "Who Owns Your Friends?") However, one of the biggest networks, Facebook, took a different approach: it carved out a position apart from its competitors. (See "A New Divide in Social Networks.")

Sharing data: Joseph Smarr, chief platform architect at Plaxo.
Credit: Toby Burditt

Into the Cloud
Amid the economic turmoil, some good news was that Web companies became cheaper to start than ever before: they could simply lease access to computer power from a growing list of "cloud computing" providers. (See "Cheap Infrastructure.") On the other hand, since many infrastructure services are offered by large companies such as Amazon and Google, this raised questions about smaller companies' increasing dependence on these giants. (See "Web App Writers: Rejoice, Beware.") Amazon's popular storage service also began functioning as a way to draw companies into relying on more and more of Amazon's offerings. (See "Amazon Aims at Content Delivery.") And a variety of open-source solutions jumped into the mix, hoping to make it easier for companies to understand how these infrastructure services work, while, in some cases, also grabbing a bit of market share for themselves. (See "Reaching for the Clouds" and "Opening Up the Cloud.") Meanwhile, the old guard rushed to catch up. Apple's MobileMe stumbled initially, and few people seem to understand what Microsoft's LiveMesh was supposed to do. (See "Lost in the Clouds.") But Microsoft is pushing hard to realize a plan in which cloud computing augments software rather than replaces it. (See "Craig Mundie's Cloud Vision.")

Patching the Internet
The core protocols that keep the Internet running were never designed for the kind of use that the Web gets today, and in 2008, the strain began to show. In particular, one system that showed its age was the domain name system (DNS), which translates the Web addresses typed into a browser into a numerical address that connects that browser to a server. It was designed in a more trusting era, and security researcher Dan Kaminsky discovered a major flaw in the system that had the potential to throw Web security into disarray. (See "The Flaw at the Heart of the Internet.") Companies scrambled to come up with a fix for DNS, but it wasn't the only protocol that needed an update. The border gateway protocol, which handles routing, has struggled under growing traffic. (See "The Social Life of Routers.") And experts are working to update the cryptographic algorithm that secures many online transactions, hoping to have a solution in place before the current system gets out of date. (See "An Algorithm with No Secrets.")

Data Equality
The debate over network neutrality heated up this year, made more urgent by skyrocketing video and multimedia traffic. (See "Internet Gridlock.") Even as Internet service providers and file-sharing networks struggle toward uneasy peace (see "Supercharged File Sharing"), the Beijing Olympics made it clear that the debate isn't just about money. Internet censorship continues, and free-speech advocates reported that the Chinese rules for censorship seem not to be uniform, leaving major search engines to set their own guidelines. (See "Search Engines' Chinese Self-Censorship.") An embarrassing incident involving the Chinese version of Skype showed that U.S. companies need to take care when forming partnerships within countries subject to censorship. (See "China's Eye on Web Chatter.")

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Logistiksoftware steuert riesiges IT-Lager

Nachrichten : Best Practice

Logistiksoftware steuert riesiges IT-Lager

19.12.2008 ---

Distributionszentrum von Ingram Micro in Straubing (Ostbayern) (Foto: Viastore)

Im Straubinger Distributionszentrum des IT-Großhändlers Ingram Micro geht es hoch her. Rund 60.000 Packstücke verlassen täglich das ostbayerische Lager. Sie werden aus 25.000 verschiedenen Artikeln wie Computern, Speicherkarten, Monitoren und Druckern bereitgestellt, die Ingram Micro auf einer Fläche von 80.000 Quadratmetern vorhält. Außerdem nimmt Ingram Micro pro Tag rund 200 neue Artikel ins Sortiment auf. Um solche Anforderungen möglichst flexibel zu bewältigen, lagert und kommissioniert der Großhändler größtenteils manuell mit Datenfunkunterstützung. Das Intralogistikunternehmen Viastore unterstützt den IT-Riesen dabei mit dem Warehouse-Management-System „Viadat“, das seit Sommer 2008 alle Lagerprozesse in Straubing steuert.

„IT-Distribution ist eine echte 24-Stunden-Distribution“

Als einer der führenden IT-Großhändler Europas bietet Ingram Micro ein umfassendes Produktspektrum. Mehr als 350 namhafte Lieferanten versorgen das Unternehmen. Auch Dienstleistungen für mehr als 30.000 Fachhandelskunden gehören zum Portfolio. „Die IT-Distribution ist eine echte 24-Stunden-Distribution. 80 bis 90 Prozent des Tagesgeschäfts sind von Bestellungen geprägt, die heute eingehen und morgen beim Kunden sein müssen“, schildert Axel Markus Koch, Managing Director im Bereich Operations & Service bei Ingram Micro. Die Auswirkungen des E-Commerce greifen auch hier: Die Bestellmengen gehen zurück, die Bestellhäufigkeit dagegen wächst. „Der Fachhändler hat heute kein Lager mehr, er platziert seine Aufträge über unsere Shop-Lösung so, wie sie bei ihm reinkommen. Manche Händler bestellen zwanzigmal am Tag bei uns“, sagt Koch.

Sieben Außenlager ersetzt

Zusammen mit dem Zentrallager in Straubing waren in der Vergangenheit sieben Außenlager zu bewirtschaften – ein Zustand, der die Prozesse ineffizient, langsam und störanfällig machte. Deshalb entschied Ingram Micro, durch einen Neubau in Straubing die Logistik zu bündeln. Mitte Dezember 2007 legte man den Grundstein des „Regional Distribution Center II“, kurz RDC II, direkt neben dem bereits 1999 gebauten Zentrallager RDC I. Von hier aus werden heute der gesamte deutsche Markt, Österreich, die Schweiz und weitere Länder beliefert. „Straubing hat mit Abstand das größte Warenportfolio innerhalb des Ingram-Micro-Konzerns vorrätig – mehr als jedes andere Lager in Europa“, hebt Koch hervor. Damit ist Straubing gleichzeitig das Vorratslager für die Ingram-Micro-Lager in anderen Ländern.

Hohe Anforderungen an WMS

Der Langerkomplex verfügt über 98 Tore

Mit dem neuen Lagerkomplex verdoppelte sich die Lagerfläche auf 80.000 Quadratmeter. Insgesamt verfügen RDC I und RDC II zusammen über 60.000 Palettenplätze. Rund 100 LKW entladen täglich an 98 Toren ihre Fracht – das bedeutet an die 2700 Wareneingangspositionen. Etwa 25.000 Kundenaufträge pro Tag – das heißt bis zu 60.000 Packstücke – verlassen das Distributionszentrum. Um solche Aufgaben zu bewältigen, sind 130 Flurförderzeuge im Einsatz. Insgesamt 6,5 Kilometer Förderstrecke transportieren die Waren zu sieben Kommissionier-Loops mit je vier Kommissionier-Bahnhöfen sowie zu zwei Kommissioniermodulen mit 1600 Durchlaufkanälen. In der Versandabwicklung durchlaufen die Produkte Pack-, Versand- und Konsolidierungs-Sorter.

Das RDC II fungiert mit seinen 40.000 Paletten-Stellplätzen vor allem als Versorgungslager für die Kommissionierung im RDC I. Beide Lager verbindet eine Brücke. In diese sind eine Förderstrecke für Paletten, eine Paketförderanlage und ein Fahrweg für Staplertransporte integriert. Darüber laufen alle Produkte zur Versorgung der Stammfächer an den Kommissionier-Stationen im RDC I – vor allem B- und C-Produkte. Große und schwere Waren werden nur dann direkt im RDC II kommissioniert, wenn sie für die Fördertechnik zu groß sind. Dazu zählen etwa Plotter und Plasma-Fernseher. A-Produkte werden in einem eigenen Lagerteil im RDC I bevorratet, soweit dies möglich ist. Dort ist auch ein 7000 Quadratmeter großer Lagerteil mit Fachbodenregalen für Kleinteile untergebracht.

Konzern-WMS hat ausgedient

Axel Markus Koch, Managing Director im Bereich Operations & Services bei Ingram Micro

Das WMS „Viadat“ von Viastore steuert alle Prozesse zwischen Wareneingang und Versandrampe. Ursprünglich verwaltete eine speziell für Ingram Micro entwickelte und konzernweit eingesetzte Software alle Lager des Konzerns. Doch das Straubinger Distributionszentrum wollte schon 2004 davon unabhängig werden. „Die Konzern-Software wird bei der Mutter in den USA gehostet. Gibt es dort Störungen, stehen alle Lager still, die darauf zugreifen“, erklärt Koch. Zudem war die vorhandene Software ungeeignet, ein Distributionszentrum in dieser Größe zu unterstützen. „Das System war zu unflexibel. Mit Viadat haben wir jetzt eine Software, die in der Lage ist, völlig unabhängig den Lagerraum effizient zu nutzen“, schildert Koch. Bei einem Lagerbestand mit einem Warenwert von mehr als 200 Millionen Euro darf es keine Bestandsunsicherheiten geben. Als Realtime-System kann Viadat deshalb Abläufe integrieren, die den Benutzer genauestens über Warenbestände informieren.

Produktivität um 20 Prozent gesteigert

„Wir suchten eine Software, die uns auch in Zukunft bei dem infrastrukturellen Ausbau des Logistikzentrums unterstützt“, erläutert Ingram-Micro-Experte Koch. Gemeint ist eine mögliche Teilautomatisierung einiger Prozesse in der Kommissionierung.

Seit Mitte Juli 2008 steuert und managt Viadat alle Prozesse in beiden Straubinger Lagerteilen. Die Produktivität des Lagers sei um rund 20 Prozent gestiegen“, sagt Walter Reiter, Senior Manager und Projektleiter Viadat bei Ingram Micro.

Optimierung ab Wareneingang

Die LKW werden bei der Anlieferung so gesteuert, dass die Produkte bei Ingram Micro vor dem richtigen Lagerbereich eintreffen

Das ERP-System, über das die Bestellungen eingehen, ist keine Standard-Software, sondern eine individuell für Ingram Micro entwickelte Lösung. Ebenso individuell musste auch die Schnittstelle zu Viadat sein. Zudem wurde die Supply-Chain-Software „I-LogX“ von Euro-Log für diese Anwendung in Viadat integriert. Schon bei der Anlieferung werden die LKW so gesteuert, dass ein Produkt gleich vor dem richtigen Lagerbereich ankommt. Die dafür erforderlichen Daten liefert I-LogX. Darüber werden sämtliche mit der Lieferung in Zusammenhang stehende Daten vom Hersteller, dem Speditionsunternehmen und dem Logistikcenter in Straubing ausgetauscht.

Dringende Aufträge kommen zuerst dran

Die Bearbeitung eines Kundenauftrags beginnt damit, dass Viadat einer Ladung einen Frachtführer zuordnet. Dazu greift es auf ein Frachtmodul von Euro-Log zu. Der Frachtführer wird dann auf Basis einer Frachtkostenoptimierung ermittelt. Jeder Frachtführer hat feste Abfahrtszeiten. Danach terminiert das WMS alle Kommissionier-Vorgänge. Entsprechend werden die Aufträge auch priorisiert. Liegt der Abfahrtszeitpunkt dicht beim Auftragseingang, erhält dieser Auftrag eine hohe Priorität. Teilweise bleibt für die Kommissionierung nur eine Stunde Zeit. Zudem ändern sich die Prioritäten ständig. Eine papiergebundene Logistik wäre hier überfordert.

Zwei Kommissionierprinzipien – über 70.000 Picks pro Tag

Kommissionierung von Repack-Waren bei Ingram Micro

Die Produkte im Ingram-Micro-Logistikzentrum sind in Repack- und Fullcase-Waren unterteilt: Repacks erhalten eine Versandverpackung, Fullcase-Waren werden in Originalkartons verschickt. Dazu zählen zum Beispiel Fernseher oder Drucker. Diese Information ist auch im Artikelstamm hinterlegt und entscheidet über den weiteren Weg der Ware durch das Logistikzentrum. Die Fullcase-Produkte werden im Pick-to-belt-Bereich mit einem kombinierten Versand- und Kommissionier-Label versehen. Die Waren sind in einem Durchlaufregal gepuffert. Der Kommissionierer sucht anhand der Versandlabel die Waren aus dem Regal. Anschließend klebt er das Label auf und setzt die Waren auf die Fördertechnik. Anschließend folgt der Transport in den Versand.

Für die Repacks beginnt die Kommissionierung am Kartonaufrichter. Die Viadat-Software berechnet die passende Kartongröße und ermittelt gemäß Durchlaufzeit und Verladeende den Kundenauftrag, der die höchste Priorität hat. Nachdem ein Transportlabel auf den Karton geklebt wurde, läuft dieser über die Fördertechnik zur Kommissionierung. Mit einem am Finger befestigten Scanner lesen die Mitarbeiter diesen Auftrag ein. Das am Arm befestigte Funkterminal zeigt die Pickaufträge an. Insgesamt verfügen die Mitarbeiter über rund 250 Handheld-Computer.

In den Stammfächern der Kommissionierzone lagert der erwartete Bedarf für die nächsten zehn Tage. Sinkt der Bestand unter diese Grenze, löst Viadat einen Auftrag zur Nachschub-Steuerung aus. Die Stammfachversorgung sowie die Ermittlung der A-, B-, C-Sortierung innerhalb dieser Stammfächer waren eine besondere Herausforderung bei der Anpassung von Viadat.

Überhaupt ist das ganze Lager auf maximalen Durchsatz „programmiert“. Um diese Leistung zu erreichen, passte Viastore unter anderem die Bedieneroberfläche der Terminals in Viadat an. Heute managt das WMS über 70.000 Picks pro Tag.

Mehrfach-Kontrollen erhöhen Qualität

Die Ermittlung und Auswertung von Kennzahlen ist ein wichtiges Tool, um die Auslastung zu steuern

Ist die Kommissionierung abgeschlossen, wird das letzte Paket einer Lieferung zum Packsorter befördert und der Lieferschein beigelegt. Die anderen Pakete gehen direkt auf den LKW. Dabei erfolgen gleich an mehreren Stellen Qualitätskontrollen: Beim Kommissionieren der Repacks sorgt das WMS mit Hilfe eines Barcodes dafür, dass die richtigen Waren in die Pakete kommen. Am Ende jedes Repack-Loops wird über das Gewicht kontrolliert, ob der Inhalt stimmt. Und bevor das Paket schließlich auf den LKW kommt, wird es nochmals gewogen.

Zudem werden alle Pakete beim Beladen des LKW gefilmt. Dadurch kann nachgewiesen werden, dass das Paket auch tatsächlich das Lager verlassen hat. Bevor die Pakete an den Carrier gehen, werden sie automatisch gescannt. Die so generierten Truck-Scan-Daten erhält, der sie wiederum mit den Daten der Eingangs-Scannung in seinem ersten Depot vergleichen kann. So können Abweichungen an vielen verschiedenen Stationen erkannt und behoben werden.

Zur Bildergalerie IT-Logistik bei Ingram Micro: bitte folgenden Link anklicken:

Mehr zum Thema

UPS eröffnet Air Hub in Shanghai

UPS eröffnet Air Hub in Shanghai

Shanghai (China). Der Paketdienst UPS hat kürzlich sein neues internationales Luftfahrt-Drehkreuz in Shanghai in Betrieb genommen. Durch die hohe Sortierkapazität verbessert das neue Hub laut UPS die Laufzeiten für Kunden in Ostchina um bis zu einem Tag. Außerdem werden die Abholzeiten für UPS Express- und Cargolieferungen aus Shanghai um eine beziehungsweise vier Stunden nach hinten verschoben, so UPS.

Das neue Air-Hub befindet sich am Pudong International Airport. Die Anlage verfügt über 117 Transportbänder, 47 Ladestationen und eine Umschlagkapazität von 17.000 Paketen pro Stunde. Zusätzlich kann auch schwere Fracht schnell abgewickelt werden.

In der neuen Anlage befindet sich laut UPS auch Shanghais größte Zollkontrollstelle, die an sieben Tagen der Woche rund um die Uhr in Betrieb ist. Um die Bearbeitung von Paketen und schweren Frachtgütern zu beschleunigen, hat UPS in dem Hub in Zusammenarbeit mit den Zollbehörden von Shanghai ein neuartiges Risikomanagementsystem für die Zollabfertigung eingerichtet. Durch die Verknüpfung von UPS Daten mit dem Zoll zur Identifizierung von Gütern, die inspiziert werden müssen, verringert das System laut UPS die Zahl unnötiger Überprüfungen und sorgt für eine insgesamt schnellere Zollabfertigung. Per Knopfdruck können bestimmte Pakete vom primären Transportband zur Kontrolle weitergeleitet werden, und zwar ohne den gesamten Paketfluss zu stören.

Ein weiteres Novum in der Branche ist laut UPS die „Shipper Build Area“, die sich in der General Cargo Handling Area befindet. Sie ermögliche es Kunden, ihre Ware vor Ort zu verpacken, bevor diese in Flugzeuge verladen wird. Dadurch werde Zeit gewonnen, weil die Bearbeitung der Pakete nicht an einer separaten Anlage durchgeführt werden müsse. (ak)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trefferkönig Google

 Trefferkönig Google


Google leitet sich ab von dem Kunstwort "Googol", mit dem der amerikanische Mathematiker Edward Kasner die unvorstellbar große Zahl 10 hoch 100 (eine 1 mit 100 Nullen) bezeichnet hat. Sind Macht und Reichtum des Unternehmens inzwischen genauso unvorstellbar groß?

Google ist eines der erfolgreichsten Unternehmen unserer Zeit. Die Einnahmen der 1998 von Larry Page und Sergey Brin gegründeten Konzerns stammen zumeist von Portalen, welche die Google-Suchtechnik für ihre eigenen Dienste übernehmen. Eine zweite Einnahmequelle ist die Werbung. Gezahlt wird für die optisch hervorgehobene Platzierung in den Google-Trefferlisten.

Das DW-WORLD-Dossier gibt einen Überblick über die wirtschaftlichen und multimedialen Aspekte des Phänomens Google.


China Closes the Clean-Coal Gap

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

China Closes the Clean-Coal Gap

The United States and China are both focusing on technologies to clean up coal power.

By Peter Fairley ---

China looks set to overtake the United States in the application of technologies to clean up coal-fired power generation, if several proposed projects come to fruition. GreenGen--a joint venture established by Chinese utilities--has broken ground on China's first integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant and signed agreements to build two more.

At the same time IGCC is stalled in the US. In February, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) canceled an advanced IGCC technology demonstration project called FutureGen, and climate concerns have paralyzed all but one of 30-plus IGCC projects proposed by U.S. utilities since 2000.

Future power: An artist’s concept of China’s first integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant, which is being constructed in LinGang Industrial Park in the Tianjin Binhai New Development Zone. 
Credit: GreenGen

GreenGen is now the most advanced project of its kind in the world, according to Ming Sung, Beijing-based Asia/Pacific representative for the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit environmental consulting firm based in Boston. "They are ahead because they have completed engineering [and] design, major equipment is selected and on order, and site preparation and foundation [work] has begun," says Ming.

The oil and gas giant BP reinforced China's position as a clean-coal technology leader last month, by establishing a $73 million research center in Shanghai with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to help commercialize technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and gasification. In another sign of the country's suddenly bold role in green technology, China's battery giant BYD launched the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle yesterday.

Underpinning China's potential leadership in carbon-neutral coal power is broad expertise with gasification. By 2010, China will have installed 29 gasification projects since 2004, compared with zero in the United States, according to the Gasification Technologies Council, a trade group based in Arlington, VA. Most of these Chinese projects turn coal into synthesis gas (or syngas)--a blend of carbon monoxide and hydrogen--to feed catalysts that synthesize chemicals and fuels. IGCC technology uses the same syngas to drive turbines and generate electricity with far less pollution than conventional coal plants. For example, mercury and soot levels are close to those seen at natural gas-fired plants, while carbon dioxide comes out in a pure stream that should be easier to capture and sequester.

Until recently, Chinese power firms ignored IGCC technology because conventional coal plants are cheaper to build and operate. But Guodong Sun, a technology policy expert at New York's Stony Brook University, says that GreenGen and a few other IGCC projects are gathering momentum thanks to a blend of government incentives, tighter environmental regulation, and emerging concern for corporate self-image among China's leading power producers. Sun says that GreenGen, for example, is important to the national government as a symbol of homegrown Chinese technology.

The project plans to start up a 250-megawatt IGCC plant in Tianjin in 2010 using a novel gasifier designed by the Thermal Power Research Institute in Xi'an; the plant will also supply some syngas and heat to local chemical plants. GreenGen plans to catapult the output of the gasifier design, from a 36-tons-per-day pilot plant, directly to commercial scale of 2,000 tons per day.

And GreenGen is already preparing to scale up further: in April, GreenGen and Tianjin officials signed an agreement for two 400-megawatt IGCC units. Meanwhile, Chinese utility firm Huaneng, GreenGen's majority stakeholder, started up a CCS pilot project at its Beijing coal power plant this summer.

While municipal air-quality concerns support GreenGen's plans, Sun says that they are central to another IGCC project that he believes will be built: a 200-megawatt IGCC plant in Hangzhou proposed by Chinese utility company Huadian Power International. "For the Huadian project, the most important factor is sulfur dioxide and acid-rain regulations," says Sun. "SO2emissions are capped in Hangzhou, and . . . IGCC is an excellent solution."

Both GreenGen and the Huadian project receive a small amount of financial support from China's Ministry of Science and Technology, which Sun says carries important prestige for the utilities involved: "These government grants recognize their technology leadership, and mean much more [than cash] to Chinese companies."

Ming of the Clean Air Task Force explains how the utilities involved rationalize the investment in more expensive IGCC technology even with slim government funding. He says that, while China's electricity sector is technically deregulated, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) still has final say over the tariffs that new power plants will earn per megawatt-hour supplied. It can therefore adjust the tariffs to ensure a reasonable rate of return for projects that respond to local or national interests, enabling the utilities to experiment.

However, NDRC control also slow IGCC's progress if political will weakens. Ming acknowledges that NDRC may be less willing to approve projects that impose higher costs on consumers, in light of the current economic crisis.

James Childress, executive director of the Gasification Technologies Council, argues that projects like GreenGen are largely political. "They are doing it to put a better face on what is mostly just a 'Burn coal and don't worry about it' policy," he says. "In the current economic climate, I can't imagine there being a drive to do anything seriously on CO2."

As for IGCC's prospects in the United States, Duke Energy's 630-megawatt IGCC project at Edwardsport, IN, is the only one going forward nationwide. This is because it provides a means of using Indiana's high sulfur coal, which produces too much pollution to be used in conventional plants. All the other IGCC proposals are caught up in a moratorium on new coal power imposed by state environment and utility regulators wary of the climate change and the economic impact of carbon emissions.

Last year, for example, Tampa Electric postponed plans for a commercial IGCC unit in Florida adjacent to an already operating demonstration unit built with DOE support in the 1990s after the state announced a climate-change plan.

Right now, the coal and utility firms supporting the FutureGen project are looking to president-elect Obama to jumpstart their project and others; they reinforced their commitment to the project this week by purchasing a $6.5 million site for it in Illinois. Childress, however, expresses little hope for rapid action. "Wind, solar, biomass, and other renewables have a bigger seat at the table right now," he says.

Childress predicts that coal gasification will eventually flourish in the United States, but as "stealth coal" rather than as IGCC. He says that utilities will use gasification technology to generate synthetic natural gas to keep gas plants running. "I call it stealth coal because one way or another, we're going to need more gas," he says. "If you can't put coal into the front end of a plant making electricity, they're going to put it into the front end of a plant making natural gas."

RFID's Security Problem

January/February 2009

RFID's Security Problem

Are U.S. passport cards and new state driver's licenses with RFID truly secure?

By Erica Naone ---

Starting this summer, Americans will need passports to travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean--unless they have passport cards or one of the enhanced driver's licenses that the states of Washington and New York have begun to issue.

Valid only for trips by land and sea, these new forms of identification are a convenient, inexpensive option for people who don't need to travel by plane. U.S. passport cards, which were introduced in July, cost about half as much as a full passport, and the extra cost of getting an enhanced driver's license rather than a regular one is even lower. Enhanced licenses have been available in Washington since January 2008 and in New York since September; other border states, including Michi gan, Vermont, and Arizona, intend to offer them as well.

Credit: Harry Campbell
New York Enhanced Driver's License
$30 fee, added to the cost of a driver’s license

Washington State Enhanced Driver's License
$15 fee, added to the cost of a driver’s license

U.S. Passport Cards
$45 3926.html

But not everyone is convinced that the new IDs are a good idea. The passport card and the enhanced licenses contain radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which are microchips fitted with antennas. An RFID reader can radio a query to the tag, causing it to return the data it contains--in this case, an identification number that lets customs agents retrieve information about the cardholder from a government database. The idea is that instant access to biographical data, a photo, and the results of terrorist and criminal background checks will help agents move people through the border efficiently. RFID technology, however, has been raising privacy concerns since it was introduced in product labels in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, although experts say that some RFID technologies are quite secure, a University of Virginia security researcher's analysis of the NXP Mifare Classic (see Hack, November/December 2008), an RFID chip used in fare cards for the public- transit systems of Boston, London, and other cities, has shown that the security of smart cards can't be taken for granted. "I think we are in the growing-pains phase," says Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, a security and privacy researcher. "This happens with a lot of technologies when they are first developed."

Borderline Security
The first of the new ID cards to be introduced, the federal passport cards and the Washington driver's licenses use similar technology, which has been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The cards' RFID devices, called electronic product code (EPC) tags, are much like bar codes. The tags are inexpensive and can, in ideal conditions, be read from about 150 feet away--an unusually long range for RFID, says Ari Juels, director and chief scientist at RSA Laboratories in Bedford, MA, which collaborated with researchers from the University of Washington to evaluate both cards.

Although the cards don't store personal information, the researchers concluded that even storing a unique number raises some privacy concerns. "If you think about the Social Security number, at some point there could have been an argument that it's just a number, not personal information," says Tadayoshi Kohno, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Washington, who participated in the study. "But numbers evolve over time, and uses evolve over time, and eventually these things can reveal more information than we initially expect." What's more, relatively common RFID readers, such as those used for inventory control, could under some circumstances read the cards' numbers from quite a distance. The researchers felt there was a risk that the cards could be used to track people, the way a few shopping centers in Britain have used signals from cell phones to track customers' shopping habits and monitor how long they stay in stores. Although people carry other cards and devices that could also be used for tracking, the researchers note that the identification cards can be read at longer range than many other RFID tags and that people are likely to carry them at all times, while they might leave, say, their cell phones at home. And regular U.S. passports, which also contain RFID chips, use technology that makes privacy problems less likely. Passports, unlike passport cards, must be read from up close, and they have a security system that requires an official to optically scan characters from the document in order to gain access to the personal data stored in the chip.

Gigi Zenk, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Licensing, says that Washington has made it illegal for third parties to use data from RFID tags without the tag owners' consent. She and other officials add that anyone concerned about privacy can use the privacy sleeves provided with the cards, which are designed to block radio signals so that the cards are harder to read surreptitiously. But the Washington study showed that the sleeves didn't always work: they didn't block radio signals when crumpled, for instance. The researchers also argued that most people are unlikely to use the sleeves, anyway. Even some privacy researchers Juels consulted confessed to having lost them, he says.

And privacy isn't the only issue here: the researchers say that unauthorized reading would threaten border security as well. If it's easy to get the identification number out of the cards, then it's relatively easy to counterfeit them, simply by loading a stolen ID number onto a blank, off-the-shelf chip. If each RFID chip also had a unique, hardwired serial number, which had to correspond to the stored ID number, it would be harder to counterfeit. But neither the Washington licenses nor the passport cards have that extra security feature.

The Washington cards are open to one additional type of attack: EPC tags can be disabled when a reader issues a "kill" command. Although each tag is designed to be protected by a PIN that allows only authorized users to issue the command, the state never set the PIN on the cards it distributed, allowing anyone with an RFID reader to set it himself and commence killing cards. If a good number of Washingtonians with enhanced licenses were gathered at a border crossing, someone could cause a disruption by killing large numbers of cards. An attacker could also use this tactic to harass particular individuals, since a killed card is likely to draw suspicion.

Juels is quick to note that the cards won't be the only thing protecting the border. "If border agents do all that they're supposed to do [including, for example, comparing the photographs stored in the database with those printed on the ID], they should be able to detect counterfeits," he says. He adds, however, that it's human nature to become less vigilant when there's tech nology to lean on.

When I asked the Department of Homeland Security about these concerns, press secretary Laura Keehner responded with a statement that said, in part, "While the risks described in the University of Washington/RSA paper may be technically possible, we believe that many are ­improbable, and even if realized, would have little impact other than causing an individual traveler minor inconvenience at the border. ... As we identify additional mitigation strategies, we will continue to strengthen requirements for ... cross-border travel documents in order to both enhance border security and privacy of the document holder."

The New York License, and Beyond
No independent researcher has yet published an evaluation of New York's enhanced driver's license, but the card avoids some of the concerns raised about the federal and Washington cards. The chips in the New York licenses have serial numbers to protect them against counterfeiting, and their memory banks have been locked to protect them against unauthorized use of commands. It's admirable that Homeland Security and the states it's working with are willing to make use of better technologies than they chose at first. But it's not clear whether these efforts will go far enough.

The New York licenses present the same privacy issues that the other cards do, and as Keehner's comments suggest, officials have a tendency to dismiss such concerns--which could very well mean that nothing will be done about them. Yet surely it's possible to protect the privacy of cardholders without requiring them to keep track of privacy sleeves. For example, says Avi Rubin, each card could be fitted with a button that allows the user to control when to send information. Unless the button was pushed in, the ID wouldn't respond to queries. Such cards would cost a bit more, but they could offer more security as well as more privacy.

As long as the remaining problems are ignored, though, it's unlikely that the technology will become good enough to protect international borders without compromising the privacy of thousands or millions of people. Tadayoshi Kohno, for one, says that at this point, he is not convinced that RFID even offers security advantages over the old IDs. Technology used on this scale, and for purposes this important, should be clearly better than what it's replacing: the U.S. experience with electronic voting systems shows what can happen when it's not. If officials continue to advocate band-aids such as privacy sleeves rather than working to address the full extent of critics' concerns, they will ultimately undermine the very technology that they hope to promote. While new ID technology seems likely to stay, it could become a fiasco if officials don't pay attention to the work of hackers and security researchers. These people try to expose weaknesses before they can be exploited maliciously. It's much less painful to swallow the news from them than to wait until a problem becomes embarrassing--or devastating.

Erica Naone is a Technology Review assistant editor.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trefferkönig Google

NTERNET | 18.12.2008

Trefferkönig Google


Google leitet sich ab von dem Kunstwort "Googol", mit dem der amerikanische Mathematiker Edward Kasner die unvorstellbar große Zahl 10 hoch 100 (eine 1 mit 100 Nullen) bezeichnet hat. Sind Macht und Reichtum des Unternehmens inzwischen genauso unvorstellbar groß?

Google ist eines der erfolgreichsten Unternehmen unserer Zeit. Die Einnahmen der 1998 von Larry Page und Sergey Brin gegründeten Konzerns stammen zumeist von Portalen, welche die Google-Suchtechnik für ihre eigenen Dienste übernehmen. Eine zweite Einnahmequelle ist die Werbung. Gezahlt wird für die optisch hervorgehobene Platzierung in den Google-Trefferlisten.

Das DW-WORLD-Dossier gibt einen Überblick über die wirtschaftlichen und multimedialen Aspekte des Phänomens Google.