Tag Archives: logistics technology

IIoT: Tomorrow Thinking for Supply Chain

The Internet of Things (IoT) is designed to make our data more useable. What opportunities and concerns does it present within logistics, where it is referred to as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) ?

The trends of Supply Chain technology are shaping the future of logistics management.

The common thread is the push toward hyper-interoperability, where technology, people and process collaborate to create true visibility, accurate orders, and happy customers.

It is impossible to ignore the pressure on retailers and distribution centre (DC) to re-engineer operations to meet the Omni-channel fulfilment mandate. The evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT), designed to make data more usable, is quickly becoming a reality across global supply chains.

The Industrial lnternet of Things

Definitions of IoT spin around connecting sensors, programmable logic controllers, and RFID data with the internet so that other systems or analytical software can respond to or make sense of the data. An RF gun, voice recognition, and RFID in the warehouse all provide IoT–style sensor data; it is called the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) to differentiate from consumer applications.

The order management system needs to orchestrate the fulfilment by interacting with inventory allocation, warehouse, management, transportation, and workforce scheduling systems using user-configurable business rule. The overall goal for Omni-channel is to satisfy more consumer demand with acceptable profit margins.

Logistics management in the warehouse

Many opportunities for improvement through smart forklifts, diagnostics of the equipment, speed controls, anti-slip technology, collision detection, fork speed optimisation, promoting new process flows, autonomously trip to a shipping dock for unloading, etc., are some of the applications and possibility a multi-channel system provides for the improvement of the overall process.

Transportation management

Tracking trucks based on RFID, GPS, RF scans, temperature, sensors embedded in the freight -all of these fit the definition of IIoT, the benefits being: improving network-based routing, the use of a smart phone for routing to determine congestion and better alternative routes.

Security

Security is the number one concern around IIoT, working hand in hand with public cloud solutions. It helps to detect Cyber attackers’ techniques quickly and avoid being tricked by them.

Inventory Management

This is a  hidden key to success. A major application of Omni-channel is a customer ordering a product and the retailer fulfilling the order from within their store network versus a distribution center. This introduces the requirement of advanced information systems to provide awareness of inventory throughout the store network. The omnichannel system would identify the stores with the right inventory and determine the most cost-effective location to fulfill from to provide the promised service level. Retailers challenge is the implementation of new order of management systems, to build a single view of inventory availability – foundation of Omni-channel fulfillment – and to recognize the new consumer’s expectation, the goal being to optimize inventory deployment so that the required inventory is where it should be to satisfy consumer demand at a lower cost.

Ordering

The first step is for the retailer to understand the Omni-channel strategies and how the customer’ buying patterns have changed (ordering an item online, by a mobile, from a store and picking it later, the item being shipped to the customer’s home, the customer calling to a call centre, etc. A fully-functional technology Omni-channel fulfilment operation has to be integrated according to the various selling systems.

Shipment and Delivery

Omni-channel technology, as the one IIoT provides,  plays a vital role in this environment by enabling store employees to efficiently navigate the store floor to find the ordered inventory. Once the item is retrieved, store employees utilize packaging stations to prepare order for shipment and utilize small parcel carriers to pick-up and deliver the orders. Using the same trailers scheduled for normal store delivery, however, separating these pre-ordered items on the trailer is the critical piece in this strategy. Loading these items at the front of the trailer, labeling them with special tags utilizing barcode-scanning technology, and using colored totes are a few ways to flag the inventory.

Returns processing

Returns processing is still an improvement opportunity for many Omni-channel retailers. The goal is to allow a consumer to return purchases to either stores or a central returns facility regardless of where the sale originates.

The top three priorities identified are inventory planning, fulfillment capabilities and returns processing. Retailers have to keep working on the enterprise-wide visibility of available inventory. Inventory must be deployed differently in an Omni-channel world; many retailers are beginning to address that challenge, developing flexible fulfillment capabilities that leverage stores, DCs, and vendors to fulfill consumer demand. However, store fulfillment processes are not as efficient as they are in a DC where conditions are more controlled. Omni- channel is having a profound impact on supply chain organizations-especially logistics across all levels of maturity, being better equipped to embrace Omni-channel from a people, process and technology perspective.

So what new approaches are you applying to your Supply Chain? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was first published on LinkedIn

Why Agile Business Models Help in a Changing Ecosystem

Whether global giant or SME, the supply chain ecosystem provides opportunities for all organisations. Particularly those agile enough to adapt to the changing environment.

ecosystem

In our previous article, we looked at how the future of logistics may look from a technological perspective. Today, we’ll look at the potential changes in business models that will define the industry.

Many believe success relies simply on investing in new tech. However, the reality is that these changes are only the tip of the iceberg. The fluidity of working the online revolution has created means that blindly applying pre-Internet age business models is a recipe for stagnation and, ultimately, failure.

Big Data

By using Big Data, logistics providers can identify where to improve, what to invest in and how to grow. This allows them to improve processes and maximise customer service, through faster, cheaper and error-free supply chains.

With the massive potential for useful data offered by IoT, algorithms can predict customer demand and opportunities with increasing accuracy. Used in conjunction with traditional business modelling, they can enable faster and more effective strategic business decisions.

Using information from past transportation activities, can help develop better scheduling, load sequences and ETA predictions, all enhancing customer experience. Further to this, one can use customer segmentation to provide tailored customer service levels, maximising customer retention.

However, there is increasingly an acceptance that Big Data is no good on its own. The key challenge is in ensuring data is fit for purpose by merging all the information in a meaningful and statistically relevant way.

With Big Data, this has always been the biggest danger. And with the proliferation of data sources promised by IoT and further digital integration, it will only become more challenging.

Furthermore, not everyone in the industry will be able to compete with the global giants. Particularly not in terms of data analysis and process efficiency.

There will always be room for smaller operations. Their success will rely on being able to identify specific needs at an individual level, and respond quickly to them. These players will, increasingly, look to collaborative models to enhance their business propositions.

Collaboration

The existence of middle-men is not a new phenomenon. However, it is fair to say that the internet has provided a platform for an unprecedented growth in businesses that own no assets at all.

As an illustration of this, logistics services that add value through the aggregation of information are proliferating. There have always been brokers or consultants, but the ability to harness Big Data means that companies such as Freightex, Flexe and Zupplychain can accelerate competition by becoming market makers.

These market makers are evident in many verticals. AirB&B, Uber and MoneySupermarket are all aggregators of services that add value for customers by using their platform to leverage value from providers.

It’s this capacity for one stop solutions, facilitated by the immediacy of online communication and comparison, that is at the heart of collaborative models.

As the demands for speed and cost-efficiency grow, transparent and flexible logistics services ensure supply adapts to meet demand through increased variety and competition. Centralised marketplaces allow comparison of services and prices, allowing customers to build a bespoke supply chain. Moreover, they arm customers with the ability to switch elements of their supply chain without compromising the whole.

Streamlining Processes

In addition to driving up competition, this collaborative approach highlights how shared digital systems can lead to streamlining of processes.

With, for example, a website that matches available lorries to shipper needs, based on prices and location coverage, one would expect integration on delivery information. And with the future offering the same level of detail and control across each step in the supply chain, real-time information will be visible from initial supplier right through to customer delivery.

The potential for savings all along the logistics chain is frankly massive. From empty miles and storage capacity underuse/excess, to re-arranged courier delivery scheduling, huge opportunities exist.

This model allows niche companies to continue to compete against full-solution supply chain providers. In addition, with greater transparency, each player can manage their own credibility without being undermined by partners who may under-deliver. Just as end-customers can expect to move more easily, niche providers will be able to change partners with greater flexibility.

The challenges of the collaborative models are bound up in compliance and in consistency of approach across different providers. Trust – whether it’s implicit through brand management or gained explicitly through insurance – is a vital component for these models.

And as with all new technologies, industry standards will need to evolve and become entrenched. While this is already occurring, there may be inter-operability challenges.

Adapting to the Ecosystem

To succeed, logistics companies will need to react quickly (or, indeed, proactively) to ensure service levels and pricing match increasing customer expectations.

The reality is that the drive for greater efficiency cannot be achieved without companies embracing change. Alongside this will be adopting tools required to get there – be they technology, workplace management, planning, systems or mindset.

The bigger companies in the industry will look to achieve greater traction through the diverse data harvesting potential of IoT and the forecasting it can fuel through big data analysis. However, SMEs will always have the advantage of greater agility in the marketplace.

It may well be that the potential of the sharing economy, empowered by the immediacy of online tools, can give a disproportionate strength to smaller providers who act collaboratively to access a wide market whilst maintaining the flexibility inherent in their size.

Furthermore, quick thinking, and quick-acting, organisations can succeed through fresh workplace management (such as in recruitment and training), as well as accurate identification of what technological advances (such as 3D printing, augmented reality tools or automated last mile delivery) will work for them.

Lions will always be at the top of the food chain. But the ecosystem is constantly evolving to ensure every animal, if agile or crafty enough, has its niche.

Zupplychain employs algorithmic matching of customer’s search requirements to warehouse availability to show warehouse pricing, along with an automated and structured process to progress enquiries and a cloud based system to manage customer stock in provider’s warehouses.

Faster, Cheaper, Better – The Future of Logistics

As technology drives change in logistics, companies must meet increasing consumer demand. But what does it mean for traditional labour roles?

logistics

Logistics has never felt more fluid and subject to change. In this article, we’re going to look at the key factors driving all this change and then consider how technology will develop in the next 10-20 years. Then, in our second piece, we’ll consider how new business models will evolve before trying to draw some conclusions.

Faster, Cheaper, Better

Commercial interests have always demanded logistics move stock quickly, cheaply and in large quantities. Historically, transport improvements – from horses through to planes – answered this demand. But in the future, it will be the digital world that provides these answers.

The 21st Century customer is an unforgiving beast. However, while new shopping patterns are placing extra demand on logistics providers, they are also generating fresh opportunity. As end customers become more focused on flexible, fast and cheap solutions, logistics companies that optimise their digital usage are well-set to take advantage of weak competition at every stage of the supply chain, including retailers.

Technological advances, forecasting and new business models all offer glimpses of how these demands can be answered. There is even the possibility that much of the future supply chain will be autonomous and self-organised.

One thing for sure is that it will faster, cheaper and better – the customer won’t accept anything less.

Interconnected World, Interconnected Supply Chain

3D Printing

3D printing makes it possible to print exact working replicas of parts and products using metals, plastic, composite materials, and even human tissue. This can be done quickly, on demand and to a customer’s specification. This makes it a central technology in the development towards “batch size one” production.

It also means it will no longer be necessary to store large amounts of stock. Though it is possible there may be a counter-balancing increase in raw material storage.

In markets in which 3D printing is relevant (for example, spare parts), this has the potential to heavily disrupt logistics. And the best 3PLs will provide 3D printing services at the point of delivery to dovetail with other services.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is the developing ability for digital devices to communicate directly with each other across the internet. It’s estimated that by 2020, more than 50 billion objects will be “web-enabled”. And, if you consider that they will be able to “talk” to one another, the potential becomes clear.

Immediacy of communication can lead to many direct benefits. Creation of automated orders for domestic resources, lorry sensors informing maintenance schedules – all focused on improved speed, efficiency and cost.

From a customer perspective, the ability to track items through their RFID chips and via GPS will mean 100 per cent visibility across the whole delivery cycle. From a logistics perspective, one can also envisage other variables – such as location, temperature, pressure, humidity, etc. – being monitored throughout the supply chain for improved transportation efficiency.

However, the biggest single opportunity arguably comes from the unrivalled quantities of consumer data that will arise, feeding into forecasting and automated processing. For those who can embrace and take advantage of it, this goldmine of information is a very exciting prospect.

Automated Systems

Whilst the idea of automation can seem like something from science fiction, there’s no denying the groundswell of development this area has seen in the last 2-3 years.

Labour costs are always a critical element in any operating model. In logistics, the trade-off between quality of service and cost is central to success. Automation could re-write this equation by providing a faster and better service for less money.

Relatively simple loading and unloading systems are already available. But these will become more sophisticated as advances in optics and data processing mean forklifts can navigate autonomously in dynamic environments, and with less error than human drivers.

In addition, autonomous delivery is on the horizon. DHL and Amazon both plan to launch drones for last-mile deliveries. And the appetite for them is strong amongst manufacturers, retailers and customers.

Autonomous lorries are also a real possibility using the same optical and AI developments that underpin driverless forklifts.

Not only would driverless vehicles be cheaper – both in labour and fuel costs – they will also be safer and more predictable making them ideal tools for efficient supply chain management. Add to this the fact the whole transport industry is suffering from dramatic driver shortages, and it’s not a surprise this technology is very appealing to most industry segments.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR), overlays relevant information (such as sound, vision or tactile data) onto a user’s normal sensory input, generally via body suits/gloves, goggles or headphones.

Wearable devices are already available that offer a glimpse into the potential future of this technology. Smart phones, smart watches, and VR goggles all give indications of how additional relevant data can be communicated.

For example, stock control data (SKUs, pallet contents, BBEs, etc.) could be accessed without leaving the warehouse floor, displaying data for on-the-spot planning and organisation. And when incorporated into transport, it could offer intelligent last mile assistance (navigation, traffic information, etc.)

Essentially, AR enables greater collaboration between systems and workers. As such, all logistics companies need to consider how AR can ensure all the elements work well together.

Whither the Worker?

With more automation, traditional labour roles will diminish. As such, redefining the place of the human worker within a more technologically advanced environment, will be vital.

In some areas, we will see happy confluence, such as a diminishing driver workforce being superseded by automated delivery solutions. But elsewhere there will be less need for human skills, and an increased need for other skill sets that, historically, have not been required.

For example, automated pick and pack solutions make warehouse operatives less relevant. However, at the same time air and sea transport are both chronically understaffed, with no expectation that the industry demands will drop.

The onus will be on logistics companies to identify future HR needs and pay close attention to their recruitment. In addition to recruitment, the whole sector will need to become more proactive in training, encouraging transferable and future-proofed skills to ensure an engaged and productive work force.

Central will be the development of technically proficient workers. Low-skilled roles will diminish markedly and ICT-related knowledge will be vital.

Zupplychain employs algorithmic matching of customer’s search requirements to warehouse availability to show warehouse pricing, along with an automated and structured process to progress enquiries and a cloud based system to manage customer stock in provider’s warehouses.

When Logistics Tracking Apps Become Cyber Stalkers

Where should we be drawing the line between a logistics tracking app and cyber stalking? Turns out, the difference might be hard to pinpoint.

Cyber Stalker Logistics Tracking

To watch the video version of this article, click here.

Here’s what a Logistics Manager needs to be aware of, and the boundary lines that he/she really shouldn’t be crossing.

Logistics tracking devices or Apps are nothing new these days, and anyone that has a smart phone and uses one of the various map apps is constantly satellite tracked. The stark reality is that both Google and Facebook know you better than your parents, partners, friends and loved ones!

Logistics Assets

As this technology has grown, many companies are now using it as part of their logistics tracking and customer service. Even small businesses, like your local plumbers, have them in their little white vans, so Cheryl the office manager can tell irate customers that Bob the toilet un-blocker is on his way.

But this usually works better when they’re less than 4-8 hours away!

However, one company in California took this all a step further and had a ‘staff tracking app’ installed on employees’ work phones. Nothing sinister about that you might think…

The apps are great for:

  • productivity,
  • time management,
  • personal security,
  • and a myriad other reasons.

However, the issue arose with a travelling female sales executive, whose movements were being tracked 24 hours a day. That’s right, 24 hours – covering both work and personal time.

The device had been set so that it was unable to be turned off during non working or “private time”. I mean who wants your boss to know that every Thursday night you attend Knitters Anonymous, or involve yourself in over 50s Morris dancing on Sunday mornings!

Disappearing Privacy

Anyway, the female executive decided to uninstall the app due to ‘privacy’ reasons. And got herself fired for doing so. This was even after her boss boasted about the ability to know how fast she was driving down the highway.

So what’s happening now?

She is taking him to court for alleged unfair dismissal and invasion/breach of privacy to the sum of $500,000 USD.

That’s scary.

And the moral of the story? Staff tracking apps should only for work time management and security, not be used for following each and every move an employee makes. And also, organisations need to be very careful about employee/employer gender and power dynamics, and how they could be interpreted.

It might just make you think again when an app on your phone asks to access your location!

Now where’s my phone…

Productive Minds work with Managers and Supervisors of Supply Chain Companies, providing people management training and mentoring to help leaders manage change, manage work stress and inspire creative problem solving in their teams.