Last week study trip mark my comeback to the RSM MBA program. Guided by Prof Finn and Jamie the program office, the trip to Hamburg with a mix of FTMBA2018, EMBA2017 & EMBA2018 cohorts. It was an interesting trip to say the least.

I figure out that I really enjoy the Airbus, Farmer's Cut, and Philips visit, but find the Port, Vopak, & Kuhne+Nagel visit lacking something.

The lecture by Prof. McKinnon enforced my believe that climate change is a global problem and need to be addressed not only by governments but also corporation. Corporation have an even bigger reason to act proactively to safeguard the earth. The visit to Vopak validate that thought, by seeing their "sea wall" being completed and a couple other initiatives that serve to safeguard their interests. To some extent, Airbus also try to contribute to reduce greenhouse gases with its NEO initiative, reducing its reliance to aluminum and other metal by substituting it with carbon fibers.

There are more that can and should be done by the industry to help mitigate and combat climate change, before it affects the way supply chain companies operate.

On Automations

One thing that surprises me in this visit is how low automation is used in the companies that we visit in Hamburg. With all the talk about it in class and the articles that paints automation as the big thing in supply chain. Especially in The Port, where when compared to the to automation in the port of Rotterdam, felt like the port of the early millennium. It could just be that the particular terminal that we visit hasn't been automated yet, but even the talk given by the port consultant doesn't signal much confidence(?) toward modernization and automation of the port operation. The only kind of automation that we witness at the cargo terminal is the sorting and loading of containers to truck. But from STS to storage yard seems to be reliant to the ATAT's operators.

The logistic operation in Kuhne+Nagel are not as automated as I expect either. One could argue its very much a manual operation assisted with heavy machinery. No robot in sight there either. Especially compared to what Amazon has accomplished in the last decade with regard to automating their warehouse. But then again, I also saw the case to keep the system that's employed by Kuhne+Nagel for Yamaha distribution. With the degree of variety of products being handled and a sort of treatment that each item need to be handled before being sent out to retailers and end customers, it make sense to keep the existing system.

The only glimpse of automation is at the Airbus factory where they automated the welding of the fuselages of the A380 and the automated pumping station at Vopak.

To be fair, one of the mantra that seems to be repeated a couple time during the week is "Logistic industry is traditionally slow to adapt new tech and often time than not will reinvent the wheels"

On Farmer's Cut

The visit to Farmer's Cut re-invigorates my interest to the problem in agriculture and the industry, as well as Rumah Kebon, my family owned urban farm school. Initially I felt a bit skeptical from their website, but after seeing their operation and the fully build cell, I'm more intrigued and curious on how well their business going to be in the next 6-9 month as they go into full scale production.

As an advocate of small/family farm that can be set up in an average family outdoor space, the idea of massive indoor farm fascinate me. Combined with the modularity of the cell system, the degree of automation, and machine learning employed on Farmer's Cut grow system, I could envision putting multi sized farm cells in buildings around the world where there is demand for round-the-year vegetables. The system could eliminate seasonality variance for vegetables. Not sure how would felt about not having seasonality in restaurant, but I would imagine consumer would benefit for it.

The idea of limiting the distribution range to 10-20km from the cell is baffling to me, where I've been grown accustom to the idea of having my food coming from all around the world. It's an interesting idea to say the least. But with the variety of vegetation that Farmer's Cut able to grow in their cell and their vision of delivering "live vegetable to the end consumer", the restriction starts to make sense.

On a personal note, the Farmer's Cut idea for climate controlled, industrial scale, automated farming facility, runs against my personal believe that urban farming should be more personal and much smaller scale, but I also see what Farmer's Cut trying to achieve.

The execution and marketing of the Farmer's Cut farm cell would be an interesting topic to track for the next crucial first few months after the completion of the full size cell. If they indeed can maintain that ~20 days cycle of the specified greens and supplied it to their customers consistently, I foresee a bright future for the endeavor. And if they can convince restaurant to prominently display their branding inside the restaurant and not obfuscate it with multiple branding (as I heard Daniel mention an existence of a second/consumer facing brand) that might serve as barrier for consumers and potential partners to find out more about Farmer's Cut.

On tea and other Hamburg oddities

It delights me of the variety of tea that's available in the hotel as well in the shops around town. Until I got reminded that Bremen, a city just a couple km from Hamburg, is basically the capital of modern tea trade and most of the tea that came there must've pass Hamburg in some way or another. I wish I had more opportunity to explore the rich history of the shipping route and old market of Hamburg.

The large park behind the hotel begs to be explored, which I did. In the first night upon arrival to the city, after foolishly going Apple Store on Sunday (why oh why do shops have to close on Sunday?), I venture around the park and enjoy the sights in it.

In my mind, the farewell dinner at Wasserschloss is the perfect end for this lovely trip. It represent the historic side of Hamburg that we see glimpses of during the week, and the meal was magnificent.