Tag Archive: warehouse

Automation or Autonomous?

August 16th, 2020

While leading a panel “Building Resiliency in the Supply Chain” with gurus from Georgia Tech, the leading experts in global logistics and associated research, several intriguing concepts arose.

My Association for Supply Chain Management group led a series of webinars on “Navigating through Volatility” including discussions with several logistics experts from distribution, the ports, transportation, technology and more. Many strategies for success arose during these sessions.

And, last but not least, both my top-notch trusted advisor network, ProVisors and our clients have brought strategies to light. A a result, it seemed prudent to share a few highlights.

Automation vs. Autonomy
Automation is definitely on the rise as organizations determine how to thrive post COVID-19. Statistics show that the automation market is expected to almost double in the next 5 years, and experts show that plans to automate are being accelerated. For example, the automation expected in the Inland Empire in the next 10-15 years will likely be compressed into the next five. On the other hand, automation isn’t all its cracked up to be! For example, when one part of the production line breaks down, you could end up with a pile up of product and waste at the bottleneck. On the other hand, will you be the last person typing on a typewriter? What are your automation plans?

The Georgia Tech experts made the case that automation is analogous to the typewriter. The new concept is autonomous so that machines and vehicles can operate independently of human control or supervision. Could these autonomous vehicles take on roles not previously possible, practical or cost effective? Almost all modes of transportation are candidates for autonomous vehicles. We typically think about trucking convoys, cars, drones and sometimes aircraft but are you also considering the impact of autonomous fork lifts, container ships, high speed trains, cranes, last mile delivery, cargo resupply and more? With the dramatic rise in e-commerce, autonomous drone resupply could be quite the win.

What are the Impacts?
Client examples abound. A small aerospace manufacturer automated a critical production process. Prior to automating this process, the area was a constant bottleneck. Work-in-process was stockpiled in front of the work station as high-skilled workers tried to keep up with the incoming flow of material. They ran as much overtime as feasible to try to keep product flowing to the next process step so that they could meet the customers’ ship date, but it was a never-ending battle with no end in sight. After automating the manufacturing process, the high-skilled resources set up the machines to run throughout the night autonomously. Suddenly, our client was running a three shift operation with the same resources, and customers didn’t experience delays. There was upfront investment in machinery and equipment as well as setup and education.  However, it paid back almost immediately with increased output and sales.

From a logistics point-of-view, WMS systems are gaining traction in the current environment. There are countless options for automation, as well as autonomous capabilities within the warehouse. For example, clients have installed conveyor systems which connect directly to the WMS systems and shipping systems which connects to ERP systems to manage order fulfillment processes. With the rise in e-commerce (and the number of small packages and associated labor requirements), automation can be even more relevant to the bottom line. In fact, there are several options to replace pickers with automated processes. The future will look to automation and autonomy. Will a drone resupply trucks that delivering e-commerce orders?

What Should We Do?
Get up to speed on the possibilities and potential of automation, as well as autonomous machinery and vehicles. As you hear about additional examples, think through the concepts, look for additional applications and brainstorm with colleagues on how these concepts could help your company and/or industry. The best ideas come from those who are willing to voice their ideas, test them under controlled conditions and move forward no matter the obstacles. Create this type of environment at your company, and soon suggestions for automation and autonomous processes will rise to the surface.

We discuss these types of strategies in our eBook on Future-Proofing Manufacturing & Supply Chain Post COVID-19. Additionally, follow IEEP, APICS Inland Empire and LMA Consulting as we communicate progress on the consortium for logistics and advanced manufacturing success Check out our articles and webinars, and contact us if you’d like to brainstorm these concepts further.

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The Rise of E-commerce & WMS Popularity During the Pandemic

August 4th, 2020

According to Forbes, COVID-19 accelerated e-commerce growth by 4-6 years. Smart players are taking advantage of the opportunity. Only Amazon takes in more money than Shopify’s websites, and analysts are predicting a 75% annual rise in the next five years.

The ONLY item in common across all clients and colleagues across the board is the rise in e-commerce during COVID-19. In fact, it has been the only bright spot in many cases. As a result, there is an increasing interest in B2C AND B2B software to support improved customer satisfaction and efficient order processing and fulfillment. You do NOT have to sell to consumers to be interested in providing increased value to customers and increasing internal efficiencies!

On a related topic, warehouse management software (WMS) is also gaining in popularity. Not surprisingly, as e-commerce increases, smaller, more frequent shipments become commonplace. So, executives and supply chain leaders are thinking about how to effectively and efficiently handle this increased volume in the warehouse. It is a completely different model than pallet and case shipping in the traditional warehouse. Additionally, unrelated to e-commerce, as manufacturers and distributors work to manage costs to offset the negative impacts of COVID-19, they want to further utilize WMS systems to increase their efficiency and cost effectiveness.

One Tip to Implement This Week:
Although e-commerce and WMS are hot topics in supply chain management, they may or may not be relevant to your situation. The key is to be thinking about what is integral to creating a superior customer experience with increased profitability and cash flow. Does technology support your objective? If so, which technology?

If you have the opportunity to serve customers directly or the opportunity to encourage your B2B customers to place orders through a customer portal (giving them better visibility and accessibility), now is the time to launch a B2B/B2C software. Do a quick review of your situation so you have the facts to assess the best path forward but do not delay. Invest quickly and reallocate/expand resources to take advantage of the opportunity while the iron is hot.

An an example, check out the story of what e-commerce did for the Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Similarly, the proactive ERP partners are pursuing WMS and related business analytics to provide extra value to their clients during these turbulent times.

If you are interested in a rapid assessment of your situation and/or an e-commerce, WMS, BI or ERP-related selection to support your growth plans, contact us.

If you are interested in learning more about these types of trends and impacts for manufacturing and supply chain, read my free eBook Future-Proofing Manufacturing & Supply Chain Post COVID-19.



Technologies of Disruption & E-Commerce

March 19th, 2018

I participated on the Amazon Effect: Play or Pass Panel at the Manufacturers’ Council of the Inland Empire’s Manufacturing Summit.  B.J. Patterson, Dan Vest and I had an interesting discussion about the technologies of disruption.  Certainly Amazon has led the way with several of these….

For example, e-commerce directly correlates to Amazon.  Who doesn’t want to order 1 toothbrush or 1 can of carpet cleaner at a time and expects it to arrive within 24-48 hours?  It appears as though we all do! Yet we don’t think about what it takes behind the scenes to make this happen.

For example, the panel mentioned several challenges:

  1.  Short manufacturing lead times – since we need whatever the customer needs within a short period of time after the customer thinks of it, manufacturers are also impacted.  We must have quick lead times, customize on the fly and be on the lookout for changing customer expectations and perceptions.
  2.  Warehouses and 3PL’s – It is definitely different to ship 1 each instead of 1 pallet or even 1 case.  In fact, it is so different that warehouses that support both types of business typically need to set up two separate warehousing operations, whether in separate buildings or segregated in the same building.  There is also quite a bit of technology and automation needed to operate successfully.
  3.  Transportation cost – A tough one!  If a truck, train or plane delivers 1 each or 1 pallet, it still costs the same amount of gas, drivers, maintenance etc.  Since you cannot ship 1 each by itself, it takes up far more space per each when boxed up individually than that same each does in a pack, case or pallet.  Further, if you have enough freight going in the same direction, of course you can combine freight but with last-minute needs, it can prove quite the challenge outside of the metro areas.  
  4.  Last mile – Even in a metro area, how do you get to the last mile (to each consumer)?  This is where Amazon has partnered with people like the US postal service since they are “in the business of delivering the last mile”.
  5.  E-commerce systems – Customers expect to be able to receive 24/7 service via interactive websites customized to them.  Sometimes, they also expect personal service to accompany the on-line tools. What’s involved in getting your catalog on-line, pricing loaded and systems in place is far from a no-brainer.
  6.  Cost impacts – there was quite a bit of discussion on the panel about the margin pressures created by this Amazon Effect.  What can we do to counteract these margin pressures? Dare we say we circle right back to innovation?

And the list could go on and on…..  

Are you thinking about what seemingly unrelated topics like the Amazon Effect might mean for your business even if you don’t supply consumers?  The impacts can be far-reaching and significant.

 



Why Customer Service Trumps All

September 13th, 2016
customer service

Start with building a customer service culture with your employees to give your clients reason to come back and refer you to others.

Although we work on many topics impacting manufacturers and distributors, we have found that the most popular — and vital — is customer service. Prior to the recession, most companies called for our inventory management expertise and how to understand and manage costs (and therefore strategically price); however, since the recession, almost everyone that calls has some element of the customer in their conversation.

As our passion surrounds customer service which must start with your customers (your employees), we love this development. From a financial point-of-view, the customer has a profound impact on business performance. Clients call for every one of these reasons:

  • Business growth – certainly, you have no hope of growing your business unless you serve your customers well. Specifically, in today’s Amazon-impacted world, it must be an assumption.
  • Delivery performance – unfortunately, there are a vast number of ways companies can get into trouble with delivery performance. There has to be at least 20 different processes that impact whether product and services will be delivered in a timely basis. And, that is before you talk about people and culture…. If you cannot deliver on time, not only will you incur extra costs in expediting but you’ll lose orders (perhaps even ones you don’t know about).
  • Lead Times – every client talks about lead times. Customers are demanding a 50% reduction in lead times. Shortening the cycle translates to money and cash flow.
  • Value-added service – we must stand out from the crowd with exceptional service — forget about growing the business, this is essential to MAINTAIN the business (and to have a decent work life). How are you adding value for your customers? It is not all about price! Do you provide service options? Do you provide value add ideas and options? When my laptop crashed, I was very interested in those companies that would expedite, no matter the fee.
  • Margins & profit – do you look at service with a win-win eye? You better start! No one can afford win-lose propositions any longer. Find a way to increase your customers’ profits while increasing yours.
  • Cash flow – an area tied directly to service is inventory positioning and levels. If you can count on high levels of service, you won’t need to carry as much inventory. Every dollar not tied up in your warehouse is a dollar you can invest into the business, your people and your life.
  • Controlling overhead costs – This might sound strange but it frequently arises. If you need to upgrade your infrastructure as business grows and/or complexity increases, a compelling reason not to ignore this need is customer service. For example, if you have an ERP system that is highly customized and no longer will expand with your business, it will result in customer service challenges. Of course, most clients will attempt to address these issues without impacting customers. Since their business isn’t scalable, they will have to employ people to fill the gap. And, instead of automating these tasks, the manual workload increases errors — impacting service levels.

Clearly, customer service should rise to the top of your list in terms of priorities — assuming you want to maintain and grow your business and/or would like to enjoy your work life. What programs are you pursuing to take your service to an entirely new level? What ideas do you have to take a leap forward?

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System Strategies to Kick Off a New Year

January 19th, 2016
system strategies

Kick start your new year with business strategies that are more focused, faster and improve overall relationships. The 5P Accelerator is a new way to take a critical step toward success.

Since I work with clients ranging in size from small, family-owned businesses to multi-billion dollar corporations, industries ranging from aerospace to building products to value-add distribution and on topics ranging from growth to service level improvement to increasing business performance, I have the opportunity to see countless businesses — and what works and what doesn’t work.

It seems like a great time to share what is important as we head into a new year, new quarter or even new day. There is always opportunity to take that critical step towards success.

From a systems standpoint, here a few of the top strategies/areas to consider as a next step in driving business success:

  1. Leverage what you have – Even though I dedicate a portion of my practice to selecting the “right” system to best meet business objectives, I find that 80% of the time, the current system (almost no matter how bad it seems) can be further leveraged to drive results. There are two situations I can think of where the client was extremely system challenged but we found a few ways to improve upon processes, even in the worst of cases. Start by thinking about what is most important to your business. Then dig into the areas of the system that could support that critical business process. It can be as simple as that.
  2. Upgrade when it makes sense – As I said earlier, every business can be improved with its current system; however, there is a limit. If you are in a high-growth mode and leveraging a system geared to small business, you’ll begin to run into the wall in terms of capabilities. It might be time to upgrade. If you have gone through a merger or acquisition, it is likely you’ll need to consider upgrading to have a common platform. If you have a highly customized system to support your business with limited growth potential without continuing down the customization path, it is likely time to consider upgrading. If you want to make a leap forward with your technology and are using an outdated system that has weak support and might be bought up by the next software giant to come along, it might be time to consider an upgrade.
  3. Select the “right” system to drive business results – I have helped many clients select the best system to meet their business objectives the last several years. It can be a dog-eat-dog world with radically different estimates and smooth-talking salespeople; however, there are also great suppliers selling highly functional and flexible systems to bring your business to the next level of performance. The bottom line is that it boils down to how well the software options support your critical business factors (which should be a short list; not 100 items) and how well the software suppliers will partner with you for success. Implementation will cost more than software and it will cost more than you expect to do it well, yet it will deliver substantial results after things smooth out.
  4. CRM – In today’s Amazon-impacted marketplace, service is of critical importance. My clients are expected to deliver faster, provide more options, suggest value-additions, be available 24/7 — and the list goes on. CRM software can help you keep track of your relationships, potential business and provide extra value to your customers.
  5. Warehouse automation – As e-commerce continues to grow in importance around the globe, many manufacturers and distributors must rise to the occasion. It isn’t as easy as using the same processes that work effectively for your regular business. E-commerce drives significant differences to warehouse operations if you want to be able to provide the level of service consumers have become accustomed to at the price they are willing to pay. These changes are driving significant investments in different equipment and technology for those companies with heavy e-commerce business. Bring in experts. Do your research. It will make or break success.
  6. SIOP functionality – More and more of my clients are further leveraging their planning, capacity planning, demand planning/forecasting, MPS/MRP and advanced planning systems to better align demand and supply for improved service levels, reduced lead times, improved margins, accelerated cash flow and to support growth.

Think about which of these might benefit your business. Leveraging systems is one way to grow without adding overhead and it will improve your business performance by utilizing an already-existing asset in most cases. Give it a try. Contact me for support with these strategies and/or to let me know how it goes. Sharing success stories and even failures can propel you to success.

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