Freight is changing.

Routes are changing. East-West global trade is on the decline, being replaced by more complicated trade networks that merge seamlessly between developing and developed countries.

Technology is changing. Beyond expanding trade, which grew at 2.1% in 2013,  rising costs are pushing for more efficiency, whether by cutting operating costs with improved technology.

Supply chains are changing. Shorter product lifecycles, fluid sourcing (a’la Aliababa) and more transparency means agile supply chains that change often.

But there are still key supply chain innovations that remain eternal. We dug through historical records to find five patents that changed (or will change) the supply chain forever. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Logistic and Supply Chain Patent Short List:

  1. 3D Printing
  2. Ford Automobiles
  3. The Shipping Container
  4. Universal Product Codes
  5. Amazon Anticipatory Shipping

3D Printing3D Printing, 1986

Patent #EP0171069 by Robert Hull


Sick of the how long it took to prototype plastic objects, Charles Hull came up with 3D printing in the earlier 80s. At the time it was called a much less sexy “stereolithography.” Today, almost 20% of manufacturers and retailers use 3D printing in some way, shape or form. And we don’t expect that to change anytime soon. While more specialized industries have taken to it faster, like the aerospace industry, which loves being able to print hollow metal pieces they pay for themselves with reduced fuel usage, many agree that more widespread usage is not far away.

FordFord Motor Carriage, 1901

Patent #686046 by Henry Ford


Henry Ford is widely credited as the person who shot the automobile to greatness after building the car in 1983. His motor carriage was patented in 1901 but it was really the Ford Assembly Line that changed everything. Incidentally, George Selden, a patent attorney, tried to file a patent for the gasoline automobile that he held above the entire US automobile industry. Ford refused to honor it and the patent was eventually significantly limited in scope by a judge. Either way, the result played a huge role in the rise of the truck. Today, trucks in the US travel almost 3,000 miles every second.

ContainersThe Shipping Container, 1958

Patent #2853968 by Malcolm McLean

The shipping container changed shipping forever. Malcolm McLean’s idea of creating an intermodal container took off, as global trade expanded. Prior to the container, general cargo was a general mess, requiring a veritable Tetris game every time a ship was loaded. By 2013, over 33.7 million TEUs were moved per year (TI). The brilliantly simple idea is the great enabler for truly global trade (although it will be tough to find a drone that can pick up a 40′).


UPCUniversal Product Codes , 1976

Patent #3961164 by George T. Reed and Laura Seidler-Gordon


At 8:10 on June 26, 1974, Clyde Dawson bought a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, which was scanned with the first ever UPC code. UPC’s meant that everything could be measured and tracked. This set the stage for Lean Manufacturing and the Just-In-Time supply chain. Everything at the right time and in the right place. The UPC is also the precursor for M2M communication, particularly when combined with electronic tracking that allows the Internet of Things to revolutionize the Internet of Freight.

Anticipatory Package Shipping , 2013

Patent #8615473 by Joel R. Spiegel, Michael T. McKenna, Girish S. Lakshman, Paul G. Nordstrom


Much more modern but, oh, the potential. Amazon changed the world with its drop-shipping and online E-Commerce sales but the combination of online sales, big data and personal information they store put them in a position to come up with an incredible idea – anticipatory shipping. Basically, Amazon tracks order patterns and can ships goods to nearby distribution centers…before you even order them. It’s the future of consumption.

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