UPS founder James E. Casey keeps an eye on company strategist Alan Amling's proposed innovations.

Innovation at United Parcel Service Inc. stretches all the way back to its founding in 1907 when James E. Casey started the American Messenger Co. with two bicycles, a telephone and six messengers, according to Alan Amling, a UPS corporate strategist and panelist at the upcoming World Trade Day conference to be held at the Georgia International Conference Center on Tuesday, May 2.

During an interview with Global Atlanta, Mr. Amling described the mind set that he says has taken UPS to its current status as a global powerhouse with revenues of more than $51 billion annually, a service area that includes 220 countries and territories and more than 400,000 employees worldwide in 110 years.

‘Our mind’s eye is as distant as the mind’s eye wishes it to be,” James E. Casey, UPS’s founder.

To underscore his assertion, he points to Mr. Casey’s guiding principle – “Our horizon is as distant as the mind’s eye wishes it to be.” – which is etched  along with soaring birds on two large glass panels at the company’s entryway in Sandy Springs.

And the result has been a global presence that has evolved by being sensitive to the changes affecting its core business of taking “packages from A to B,” as he likes to say. “If you look at how we are structured,” he added, “we really have moved from being a U.S. company doing business internationally to becoming a global company.”

For those interested in learning more about opportunities provided by the global economy, he encourages them to attend the Gateway 17 conference to be held in Detroit June 20-21 featuring his CEO, David Abney, a determined promoter of free trade, and Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group of Chinese internet companies.

“We’re all aware of the big factories in Asia that are shipping to the U.S. But there is a huge opportunity the other way. We want greater awareness about the opportunities for not only the large but small- to medium-sized companies,” he said. “What it comes down to is how do you make global trade accessible to everybody.”

In his current position as a corporate strategist, Mr. Amling has moved away from being solely focused on UPS’s logistics and supply chain operations. But at heart he’s all about innovations affecting moving those goods “from A to B,” and these days is thinking a lot about drones and 3D printing.

“We don’t envision that this great global infrastructure that we have created is going to go away and that there is not going to be a need for it, but you start looking at pockets,” he said, “There’s been a lot of hype about drones, but now the reality is beginning to step in.”

To start off, UPS has focused, he said, on the use of drones in humanitarian crises. In countries where the transportation infrastructure is poor, drones can be useful in delivering critical medical supplies. In an area affected by a natural disaster, drones may be able to deliver necessary equipment where a truck can’t go.

But the case for using drones is expanding and UPS is beginning to think about attaching drones on top of their delivery trucks in rural areas. “Let’s say that you have two deliveries in rural Montana. The driver can take one and let the drone take the other. Then they both meet up at another point.” Drones even are becoming useful in UPS’s warehouses, he added, where they can monitor inventory.

Such a scenario is appealing, he said, because “You are taking time, cost and carbon out of the supply chain. It’s a material benefit.”

Warehouses are very much on his mind these days, especially since they provide an opportunity for UPS to make further use of its 3D printing capabilities. Since it acquired the Fritz Companies Inc. in 2001, UPS acquired many warehouses facilities where it closely monitors the inventory of its clients’ firms.

“We noticed that a big portion of that turns very slowly or not at all.” he said “It has to be there because if it wasn’t and a company needs a part, it has to be manufactured.”

The warehousing is profitable in itself , but it became obvious that as 3D printing capabilities became more sophisticated, the presence of UPS’s 3D printers could replace the inventory and replace their role when needed.

“Now we’re telling companies, don’t make this wild guess about how much inventory you will need in the future. Let’s store that inventory virtually and we’ll print it on demand.” Companies often like this option, he added, because “inventory is the devil. It adds to their losses and doesn’t produce anything.”

Mr. Amling also likes the 3D printer example because it reveals how UPS seeks to “create the future,” citing the old saw that the best way to predict the future is by creating it.

He says that today the old model of supply meeting demand has been reversed with demand meeting supply.

“We can’t control the market,” he said. “Whether we like it or not doesn’t matter. The only choice is how we respond to it.”

“With 3D printing we can make this part of our solution set, it gives us a new tool. The way we look at it, 3D printing is not so much a manufacturing solution as a supply chain solution,” he said. “It’s not economical to print everything. But the cost is down and the quality is up. If anyone gets disrupted, it will be UPS itself, which will have to develop new value streams to replace the old ones.”

Grounded in logistics and supply chain management, Mr. Amling keeps thinking about getting those goods from A to B. UPS’s neighbor in Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology also provides new insights into how the transportation business may develop.

For instance, Mr. Amling has taken a new interest in evolving materials and the role they will play in the future of 3D printing. He has met the students who are developing materials that can design a 3D product and then collapse it into a panel, which can be heated to become the original product. Already they are taking steps to develop this new capability known as 4D printing, which could present even more opportunities for UPS.

Having experienced the challenges of growing up in a family running a family-owned business, the ability to think long term and anticipate the demands of the future certainly suits him just fine.

As further proof of UPS’s desire to stay ahead of the curve in adapting disruptive technologies, he cited its success in its collaboration with the city of Hamburg, Germany, to develop a new and sustainable method of delivering goods in urban areas. UPS’s electronically-assisted tricycles called “Cargo Cruisers,” help ease traffic congestion, reduce emissions, and have been introduced in Portland, Ore., which like Hamburg seeks to reduce traffic congestion in its downtown.

UPS’s eBike that uses a combination of pedal and electric power, with no emissions resulting.

Mr. Amling particularly likes this innovation because it harkens back to Mr. Casey’s original innovation of launching a bike messenger company.

Attendees at World Trade Day will have the choice of attending one of three panels. Mr. Amling will be on a panel discussing “Digital Technologies: How Disruptions Lead to Opportunities.” Other panels will discuss “Emerging Markets: Still Driving Global Economic Growth?” and “Securing Imports and Exports.”

The panels are to follow a keynote address by Matthew T. McGuire, former United States executive director of  The World Bank Group, and the panel discussions are to be followed by a luncheon during which another panel will discuss the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the future of the economies of its partners the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Closing remarks will be made by Todd Harris of Hi-Rez Studios, who will discuss the burgeoning global gaming industry and its reflection of global trends.

To view the full program and speakers, click here. Mr. Amling may be reached by email at