All beginnings need not be difficult

Small steps in automation leverage potential savings

The efficiency of supply chain management benefits from a higher degree of digitization. It is not only at the threshold between transport movements and warehouse logistics that transparency represents a high asset for smoothly flowing goods. In logistics centers, for example, the various applications of auto-ID help to optimize processes. We take a look at the use of this technology in warehousing for you.

It is not uncommon for the term "bird's eye view" to be used when referring to an all-encompassing overview, such as that provided by birds of prey hunting their prey on the ground from the air. As a rule, a higher-level perception of things does no harm at all in supply chain management (SCM) either. After all, there are competitive advantages to be gained if an excellent view of the situation allows decisive adjustments to be made.

To make this possible ever more efficiently, the achievements of the digital revolution support all participants along an SCM process in their respective roles. Individually tailored software for individual tasks has been available in many areas for more than just yesterday and the day before. However, for the success of a company in the future, it will be increasingly important to network the individual links in the supply chain even better with each other - in other words, to take up the image of the bird's eye view again, to determine by means of a holistic view "from above" where there is still potential for savings in the use of resources.

Not just the approach for the big players on the market
"Even the longest journey begins with a first step", this saying is attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius. On the one hand, it applies to any transport, no matter how long the distance to be covered, and in some cases across countries or continents, as is by no means unusual in a globalized world economy with its division of labor in product manufacturing. On the other hand, the saying is also justified for the step-by-step conversion of previously analog activities to their digitally controlled implementation.

Not every small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) in the logistics sector needs its own IT forge for this. Many companies have taken it upon themselves to develop innovative hardware and software that can be easily implemented at SMEs and is not beyond the scope of their acquisition costs, be it for a data glove in the warehouse here or a TMS app there. With the emergence of the platform economy, some providers are also bundling offerings in one segment or offering the IT interfaces necessary for further networking of the entire SCM.

Increasing transparency as a goal
While the data collected for shipment tracking or arrival time forecasts has exploded in recent years on the road, in the air, on sea and inland waterways, and on the railways, the degree of digitization has also grown in those warehouses and manufacturing facilities that are upstream or downstream of transportation. The main goal of this effort: to collect more data through greater transparency in the processes, which, after their precise analysis, reveal exciting opportunities for increasing efficiency.

One aspect of this is the Automatic Identification and Data Capture (Auto-ID) solutions used in warehousing in particular. These solutions link information and material flows in intralogistics without the need for humans to engage in manual methods of data collection, which are often very time-consuming and all too often prone to error.

Different auto-ID technologies (selection):

  • Barcode
  • Identification by means of electromagnetic waves (Radio-Frequency Identification | RFID)
  • Mobile data capture
  • Text recognition (Optical Character Recognition | OCR)
  • Speech recognition
  • Smart cards

Pallet inventory from the forklift truck
If it is known which raw materials, semi-finished materials or finished products are stored where and in what quantity in a logistics center, reordering, production supply or picking for outgoing goods, including the corresponding route planning within the warehouse, can be designed more efficiently. Everything runs more smoothly and where time is saved in logistics, money is always saved as well.

Most recently, for example, a mobile ImageID reader was presented in this context that travels through the aisles of a warehouse at up to ten kilometers per hour, as it is itself mounted on a forklift truck, and can carry out a complete pallet inventory from there. These and many more innovations to follow will further advance intralogistics and thus make their contribution in one sub-discipline to even more efficient supply chain management in the future.

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