Give Your Business an Edge with New Warehouse Technology

Upgrading technology produces benefits immediately for your business

Why Upgrade Your Mobile Computers and WMS?

Today supply chain businesses need to operate faster, more accurately and more reliably than ever before, largely to meet the expectations of consumers for accurate order fulfillment and speedy delivery with a variety of options.  Legacy warehouse operations primarily handled, stored and shipped by the pallet.  Now the pressure to ship directly to consumers is intense.

Manufacturers, warehouses and distribution centers, 3PLs and retailers need detailed, accurate real time information to run their supply chain businesses effectively.  Add to this, the pressure by consumers.  Today, consumers want to be able to shop online and see brick and mortar store inventory with 100% accuracy. Consumers want to be able to see data regarding where goods are manufactured, processed, produced and even stored.  More consumers today are concerned about the companies that provide these goods and consider this when making buying decisions.

Having leading edge mobile computing and printing solutions as well as an advanced WMS softwaresolution that can handle the complex needs of fulfillment and manufacturing is essential to ensuring consumer and customer satisfaction and competitiveness within your industry.

Manufacturing

There are three major reasons why manufacturers are investing in technology systems and tools in 2017:

  • Growth in e-commerce and omnichannel sales and pressures that order fulfillment exerts on operations
  • Need to reduce manufacturing costs and keep inventory and operations under control
  • Need for quality assurance is driving innovation and cultivating competition
What has been going on in the manufacturing industry in 2017?  According to industry experts PwC, industrial manufacturers are challenged by an uneasy, complex and ever-changing world.  In this type of economic climate, manufacturers are continually searching for ways to improve efficiency and performance and to drive down manufacturing costs.
Manufacturers are investing in technology platforms and tools in order to integrate with their customers’ operations, to improve productivity and to provide visibility across the supply chain.  This visibility includes information about

  • Inventory
  • Quality of goods produced
  • Order status
  • Production capacity levels and much more

Approximately 30% of U.S-based manufacturers surveyed indicated that their companies were planning to increase the level of spending on technology within the following 12 month period.

According to the Peerless Research Group 2017 study conducted for Modern Materials Handling Magazine, respondents identified business challenges which they were working to resolve during the past two years including:

  • Barcoding, barcode scanner technology and truck mounted hardware
  • Improved inventory control, lot tracking and multi-warehouse fulfillment
  • Efficiency and need to reduce production times
  • Fleet management
  • Recruiting and retaining workers
  • Accuracy and effectiveness of inventory management
  • Warehouse management operations
Many industry experts proclaim the value of having operational data.  By analyzing this data, companies can find ways to become more efficient in their operations, compete more effectively and operation manufacturing plants more effectively.  Manufacturers and other supply chain companies are collecting information and using “Big Data” to search for clues on how their manufacturing processes and operations can be optimized.  The term “Big Data” refers to the enormous amount of data collected by businesses that is then analyzed using computer systems to uncover trends, patterns and associations.  This information is key to making changes in operations in terms of human behavior, operational processes, etc.

How are companies getting this data?  It starts with barcode labeling or RFID.  By using cutting edge industrial mobile computing devices including wearables, data can be captured, monitored then analyzed without additional effort on the part of workers.  With every scan, information is collected and sent into systems where the information can be utilized for processes, shared with other supply chain partners, analyzed and used to improve operations.  Today, having and using leading edge technology can be a game changer and result in cost savings, improved compliance with regulations and trading partner guidelines and more.

Another reason why manufacturers are upgrading their mobile technology is connected to the trend, Industry 4.0.  The term Industry 4.0 refers to the trend related to the automation and exchange of data in manufacturing technologies, in other words, “the smart factory”.  This includes the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, cyber-physical systems and cognitive computing.
Today, the efficiency and speed of manufacturing operations is prominent.  Manufacturing operations go far beyond the mere physical manufacturing of goods.  Here is how it works:

  • Within manufacturing facilities, information is captured regarding manufacturing operations and the supply chain network and digital records are created.
  • Technology systems “talk to each other”, sharing information and enabling sophisticated analysis and visualization of the real-time data that is received via multiple sources.
  • Leading edge technology systems apply algorithms as well as automation.  Rules-based systems translate the decisions and actions from the digital world into action within the physical world, in manufacturing facilities and across the supply chain.

While 2017 has been plagued by slow growth, the pace of consumer expectations for fast delivery of goods and increase in the consumer class continues to put pressure on supply chain partners across the globe.  The supply chain and manufacturing operations rely on accurate real time visibility.

Using rugged mobile computing devices enables that the tracking of raw materials and finished goods can be done continually, enabling accurate forecasts.  Data can be used in order to streamline operations for maximum efficiency and eliminate bottlenecks. Some manufacturing facilities now do just-in-time manufacturing (JIT).  This can be especially important for new products, for revision of existing products and for meeting seasonal demand.  Having visibility across the supply chain with communication and connectivity to suppliers and partners is essential to having raw materials in the right locations at the right time.

Many manufacturing facilities now use RFID to have a more connected plant floor.  Using RFID can aid in streamlining processes, improving the tracking of goods and inventory throughout the manufacturing plant, asset tracking and in ensuring quality processes are performed with pinpoint accuracy.
Manufacturers understand that substandard quality has a real cost to their operation.  With poor quality, the cost of scrap, reworks, returns, defects and dissatisfied customers is too high.  Poor quality products inevitably lead to damage of the brand reputation and loss of consumer brand loyalty.

According to the Zebra 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study, manufacturers have increased their focus on producing quality goods.  Manufacturers are relying on technologies to connect the plant floor, increase overall production and throughput and deal with the increased number of product variants.  Today, manufacturing facilities are investing in the latest technologies including RFID, wearables, automated systems and other tools.  By introducing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) into facilities, manufacturers are able to achieve real time visibility into goods, assets, processes and locations.

Connecting the dots in manufacturing processes and facilities helps to accelerate the pace of manufacturing, shipping and receiving, identify points-of-failure in processes and provide greater insight into the way manufacturing, quality and other processes are performed.

According to the 2017 Zebra Manufacturing Vision Study 34% of those surveyed anticipate supporting a connected factory by 2022.  Currently 27% of respondents reported collecting the data from production, the workforce and supply chain.

As manufacturing facilities adopt IIOT, benefits become apparent quickly.  Savings, increased productivity and improvements in quality  from having a fully connected factory that communicates in real time with the supply chain far outweigh the cost of the technology investment.

 

Warehouse Operations, Transportation, 3PL and Last Mile Logistics Providers

 

Industry expert Forrester projects that U.S. online retail sales will exceed $500 billion by 2020, up from $373 billion in 2016.  Having the technology that is necessary to facilitate the orders, inventory tracking and shipping has become essential to warehouse operators, distribution centers and 3PLs.

Because of the way supply chain networks were originally designed, the system is projected to undergo a major makeover within the next few years.  As this happens, supply chain companies are investing in technologies like rugged mobile devices to increase the speed and accuracy of order picking, RFID for real time inventory visibility, mobile printers to increase workforce productivity, wearable devices and IoT.  Legacy warehouse management systems are being replaced with sophisticated rules-based workflow driven WMS to enable more mechanized, automated operations.  This helps to reduce costs, enable more throughput and speed and increase the level of responsiveness to customers.

According to the 2017 Warehouse DC Equipment Survey, respondents are “more bullish on future spending” on technology and material handling solutions.  The rate of spend for mobile and wireless equipment and RFID is anticipated to increase by 10% over the next twelve months.  30% of respondents reported that they intended to invest in enterprise operating systems such as ERP, WMS, WCS and supply chain management within 18 months, an increase from 25% in 2016.
As labor availability remains a consistent problem in the warehousing and 3PL industries, it is critical to maximize the productivity of every warehouse worker.  Use of mobile computers, wearables, mobile printers and other related technologies helps reduce warehouse staff transit time and ensures focus on inventory management, order fulfillment, shipping and other critical tasks.

Warehouse operations need to be able to communicate quickly, accurately and dependably.  Millions of orders are processed to consumers every day.  Consumers expect to get their orders processed and delivered quickly and accurately, but how does this happen?

Warehouse staff using rugged mobile computers scan barcodes (or utilize RFID) when receiving goods, handling and storing inventory and facilitating shipment of freight.  Scanning barcodes captures information in real time, as activity occurs.  The information is then fed into computerized systems such as warehouse management software (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This is essential for package tracking, asset management and other tasks.

At every step of receiving, inventory control, inventory management and other processes, rugged mobile computers provided real time accurate information across the enterprise.  Communication between warehouse workers, executives, customer service and trading partners ensured that goods were processed and reach their eventual destinations.

This information can also be used by consumers, especially when third party logistics providers (3PLs) handle e-commerce and fulfillment.  The data can help track the order process and eventually track the delivery to the consumer’s door or other selected location.

 

Other popular technology tools for warehouse operations include voice picking, also known as voice-directed warehousing.  This technology utilizes speech recognition in order to direct warehouse workers on where to go and how to find goods within the warehouse or distribution center.  Voice picking has become popular because it enables warehouse staff to use both hands, freeing them up to work more quickly and efficiently.  The use of voice picking has been related to gains in accuracy and workforce productivity.  Voice picking helps workers be more flexible.  This enables warehouse staff to condense tasks and can make working across multiple warehouses easier, ideal when dealing with seasonal conditions or merchandise.

For transportation and logistics providers, especially those that handle last mile delivery, mobile computers are especially important for tasks such as signature capture and package tracking.  Handheld computers store and retrieve documents and files and can be used for a variety of tasks in the field as well as in the warehouse.

The mobile computers include GPS tracking, cellular phone capabilities as well as a camera, ideal for capturing photos of damaged goods and other issues that require documentation.  Using only one device, especially one optimized with a rugged design, helps make it easier to handle deliveries and have information all in one easy to access location.  This centralized functionality keeps workers connected to the enterprise and supply chain and enables them to provide better service to consumers.

Conclusion

Today supply chain businesses need to meet challenges never dreamed of ten to twenty years ago.  Now consumers are driving change.  Between consumer expectations and their power to influence others and share information in real time through social media, the entire supply chain has been turned upside down.

In order to deal with the highly complex nature of manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and 3PL operations and challenges of online retail, companies are turning to technology for help.  Using leading edge mobile computers, mobile printers and sophisticated rules-based workflow-driven warehouse management systems enables companies to:

  • Increase throughput
  • Improve inventory management and inventory control
  • Provide information visibility across the supply chain
  • Optimize workforce productivity
  • Improve the accuracy of operations, processes and goods
  • Have access to real time data that can be analyzed to give insight into potential improvements for your business
  • Enable you to be more competitive with others in your industry

When was the last time you evaluated your technology?

Reviewing your technology tools and systems annually is an effective business practice.  When doing so, pull out your site survey and examine your wireless network for dead zones.  Having the necessary coverage and proper wireless connectivity is crucial to daily warehouse operations.  Consider whether device management makes sense for your operation.  Also review the cost to operate and maintain items such as:

  • Barcode printers and barcode scanning solutions
  • Tablet PCs
  • Vehicle mount computers
  • Handheld mobile computers
  • Rugged tablets
  • Other mobile solution devices used for data capture and printing.
Is it more costly to continue to use existing systems or to replace with newer, faster more effective solutions?  If so, contact an expert for advice.

To learn more about how mobile computers can be managed across your enterprise, read our blog on Mobile Device Management.

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