Supply chain automation promises to transform how we store, transport, and deliver a myriad of products and materials. This rapidly evolving practice involves the targeted application of advanced digital technologies, which limit the extent to which manual processes are required. This can be accomplished through a variety of tactics, including the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Because automation can take so many forms within the realm of supply chain management, it’s increasingly difficult for business leaders to know when and under what circumstances it should be applied — and what the return on investment might be. To help, we’ve compiled an easy-to-understand guide that outlines the many benefits and applications of modern supply chain automation.
Benefits of Automation Technology
Supply chain automation can offer a vast range of benefits, including, most notably, increased profits and reduced safety concerns. The specific advantages conferred by automation will depend largely on how solutions are selected and implemented. The following are a few of the most compelling opportunities that automation can provide:
Manual tasks can be incredibly time-consuming, but automation addresses this by dramatically improving efficiency. This can lead to significant cost savings over time, especially in regards to labor. Additional savings may result from reduced operational costs related to transportation and freight, particularly as routes and shipments are optimized.
Reduced Human Error
Even the most efficient manual operations hold the potential for human error. In fact, the faster manual operations run, the more likely employees are to make mistakes. Automated supply chain solutions limit common errors such as double entries and miscalculations.
Even the most reliable workers are prone to mistakes at times — particularly if they feel rushed or stressed due to sudden changes in staffing or warehouse operations. Human errors are among the most common causes of supply chain disruption, so their elimination may ultimately lead to major improvements in efficiency.
Improve Productivity in Workflows
Optimized workflows can enable impressive productivity in every process imaginable — even essentials that often waste considerable time. When these procedures fall into automated workflows, employees can instead handle high-level tasks such as analyzing information to create data-driven forecasts. Time savings enabled by automated workflows also allow workers to focus more on improving customer experience.
Visibility Across Operations
For decades, enterprises have struggled with a general lack of insight into inventory progression. Unfortunately, this problem has actually accelerated since the early introduction of certain digital devices. Often, limited connectivity has produced silos, making it all but impossible to pass along key information.
An automated supply chain can fix this by ensuring that data can be followed every step of the way. Such impressive transparency means that enterprises can finally make full use of all digital tools, while removing the unpredictability of lead times or the potential for shortages.
Today’s automated solutions provide a wealth of data. This can instantly be compiled and analyzed to help business leaders understand how efficiently and effectively their operations are running at any given point in time. Insights gleaned from this abundant data can be used to make targeted changes. This, in turn, further improves already efficient supply chain operations.
As consumers become even more demanding, enterprises must take advantage of every opportunity to pick up the pace. While inefficiencies related to manual processes can sometimes get in the way, a lack of flexibility is often just as problematic. Supply chain operations need to be capable of shifting at a moment’s notice to account for sudden changes in demand. Hence, the value of automated systems, which are far easier to adjust on short notice.
Ensure Regulation Compliance
Many of the concerns outlined above stand in the way of regulatory compliance. A lack of transparency, for example, can make it difficult to catch seemingly minor problems before they lead to major compliance issues.
Automated systems help by providing real-time insights while also limiting risks inherent to manual processes. Meanwhile, automation provides a standardized approach that makes it easier to abide by various regulations within a global supply chain.
More Accurate Planning & Forecasting
Supply chain forecasting involves data-driven predictions that determine everything from consumer demand to labor needs. This analytical approach limits the potential for costly surprises, instead ensuring that businesses are prepared for both short and long-term changes.
More data can lead to accurate demand forecasting — if that information is properly gathered and analyzed. With the wrong approach, the process of obtaining and examining data can be incredibly time-consuming.
Today’s automated supply chain solutions don’t simply produce a high volume of relevant data; they ensure that this information can actually be used to make meaningful changes.
Automation Systems in Logistics & More
The scope of automation is far greater than many business leaders realize. Increasingly, success is not a matter of applying new technologies in general, but rather, using the right solutions for the issue at hand. The following are among the most promising supply chain options that can take automation to the next level:
Fixed Industrial Scanning & Machine Vision
Machine vision represents one of the most exciting and potentially impactful developments in the supply chain sector. Designed to operate much like human sight, machine vision brings targeted hardware and software together to automate various aspects of the fulfillment process. In many situations, machine vision systems are relied on for inspecting products and pinpointing defects.
Fixed industrial scanners can serve a similar function but are primarily used for track and trace applications. These cost-effective solutions are ideal for capturing barcodes from various distances. Fixed industrial scanners produce exceptional efficiency, particularly for high-volume processes.
Employee productivity is set to take a big step forward as voice solutions play a greater role in warehouse management. These allow workers to carry out key tasks “head up, hands free.” Unburdened by visual scanning, voice-enabled employees can get more done in less time. The combination of this and machine vision can be especially valuable in the modern warehouse environment.
RFID & RTLS
Radio frequency identification (RFID) has a long history but has come especially far during the past few years. This solution involves tags and readers, which are used to store and capture high volumes of data. RFID systems help enterprises monitor the movement of goods throughout the warehouse environment and in other areas of the supply chain.
In addition to RFID, many supply chain operations now take advantage of real-time locating solutions (RTLS). Sometimes referred to as real-time tracking systems, this advanced tech makes it possible to automatically locate personnel or assets. It’s a key solution for enterprises that require real-time visibility.
Autonomous robots bring a world of opportunity to the supply chain. These vary significantly in terms of size and dexterity, but, in general, are great for boosting both efficiency and accuracy.
Depending on what form they take and how advanced they are, warehouse robots may be used side-by-side with workers to boost productivity — or in place of humans to limit dangerous maneuvers. A strategic setup will ensure these systems are both safe and effective. This begins with a WiFi survey and an in-depth wireless system assessment.
The concept of robotics goes far further than many business leaders realize. A promising solution for streamlining tedious tasks? Robotic process automation (RPA), in which metaphorical software bots automate manual, rule-based activities. This is a great solution for data entry or for processing simple transactions.
Finding the Right Solution For Your Business
Supply chain automation can make a world of difference for your enterprise, but it’s crucial that you select the right solutions based on your unique needs. After all, not just any system will produce the advantages outlined above.
At Peak Technologies, we understand the complex interplay between today’s various automated solutions. We’ll work closely with you to determine which options will prove most effective for your operation. We can then implement these solutions strategically to produce an impressive return on investment.
Ready to take the next step? Contact our team at Peak Technologies to learn more about our enterprise services and the role we can play in boosting your automation initiatives.