In today’s world, the consumer controls the economy. With the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce businesses and platforms — especially during COVID — investment in automated supply chain technologies continues to grow as companies aim to meet high customer expectations. Customers want rapid shipping, personalized customer service, real-time order status updates, last-minute order changes, and easy returns… all on-demand.
But supply chain managers all over the world are seeing the benefits of automation extend to other areas of their business as well. In making supply chains more dynamic, automation technologies are able to streamline orders coming in from multiple channels, reduce resource consumption, aid in supply chain risk management, help global supply chains stay updated with international trade regulations, provide more billing transparency for customers and, best of all, help supply chains remain competitive.
We’ll explain some of the most common supply chain automation technologies, how they’re currently being used in global supply chains, and why you might want to consider incorporating them into your own supply chain.
WHERE DOES AUTOMATION FIT INTO THE SUPPLY CHAIN?
We often associate automation with robots, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and all the other sci-fi tech seen in movies. While some supply chains are indeed incorporating robotics and AI automation, supply chain automation technologies come in many forms, including things like predictive analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), voice picking, radio frequency identification (RFID) and blockchain.
Automation can be useful at any stage and any tier of the supply chain, from receiving, picking, packing and shipping tasks, to the documentation of orders and the handling of invoices. Automated chatbots can be used to improve the customer experience on your website; analytics can be used to track your production and financial goals year-over-year; automated reports can be sent to warehouse managers to help them see which members of their team could use additional training.
What else does supply chain automation look like?
- Automation is being used to transport products throughout the supply chain using self-driving trucks, cars, and even autonomous drones.
- Robotics is used in warehouses for inventory control, demand forecasting, and automated storage and retrieval of products.
- Picking processes are being optimized with voice-based technology, augmented reality goggles and other wearables to guide workers on the most efficient route through the warehouse.
- Conveyor systems are incredibly effective at keeping products flowing throughout the warehouse without interruptions to picking, packing or shipping operations.
POPULAR SUPPLY CHAIN AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGIES
In addition to robotics and self-driving trucks, there are currently 2 other automation solutions companies in the logistics industry are already using in their supply chains.
RFID makes use of radio frequency waves to transfer data from unique item tags to your organization’s ERP. Unique IDs encoded in the RFID tags allow businesses to avoid duplicate item scans and track inventory more accurately without needing to scan every item or open every box. Other benefits include automating data collection and storage, reducing the occurrence of human errors, verifying identification information quickly, and giving real-time shipping status and order fulfillment updates. RFID also performs better than barcodes in environments where dust, dirt or weather could interrupt scanning.
One of the most widely-used automation technologies, voice-based picking relies on voice prompts delivered via headset to guide warehouse operators throughout their daily picking tasks. The hands-free, eyes-free mechanism of voice picking technology can improve warehouse safety outcomes by keeping pickers more engaged. When combined with Bluetooth or barcode scanning, it greatly expedites tedious manual picking processes.
ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES TO AUTOMATION?
As useful as supply chain automation is, it has its limitations and some organizations are hesitant to adopt these technologies for economic or social reasons. For example, there may be concerns about the overall safety of automated guided vehicles and fully autonomous vehicles. There is also a fear that robotics will eventually replace human labor and result in widespread job loss.
While the replacement of human labor may be inevitable for certain processes like simple picking and packing tasks and other repetitive, error-prone or time-consuming jobs, the lack of dexterity and high cost of implementing industrial robotics seem to outweigh the potential benefits for most businesses…at least for now.
There are some things the machines just can’t do. Humans are still the ones developing supplier relationships, setting goals, doing high-level planning, and analyzing all of that data the machines collect to make more accurate predictions and more informed decisions.
HOW DATASCOPE WMS IS OPTIMIZING SUPPLY CHAINS WITH AUTOMATION
Fully automated supply chains with autonomous robots and self-driving cars might not be realistic for every supply chain at the moment, but it is coming. For now, the human component and the software component of supply chains remain critical and automation can enhance the work already being done by both.
DATASCOPE WMS allows you to add your own VB scripts to a whole host of fields, buttons and triggers within the software for additional functionality and automation of different order processes. Users are able to automate label printing, provide pop-up warnings to users, additional data entry screen pop-ups, send automated emails, write logs to log tables or run external projects, among many other features.
In addition to the VB scripting functionality, our customizable Transportation Management System (TMS) module creates the interface layer between the DATASCOPE WMS and any third-party software solutions you’re using on the warehouse floor. Shipping and labeling processes are easily automated in the background so you can be doing other things in the system. The TMS module is especially useful for supply chains that outsource their shipping, as the software will determine the cheapest shipping options and ensure you have all required documentation.
From manufacturing and production to warehousing and shipping, a supply chain optimized with automation technology can be further augmented with strong network design, analytics, and a reliable WMS software like DATASCOPE WMS. Schedule your free software demo today to see how you can use DATASCOPE to start automating parts of your supply chain.