Supply Chain and Warehouse Visibility and Asset Tracking

3 Simple (But Effective) Ways to Modernize Your Supply Chain

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Supply chains have evolved, but so has the technology to manage them. Time to take advantage…

The modern supply chain has advanced rapidly in just the past few years. Supply chain managers need to be vigilant and constantly assess new strategies and technologies to stay on top of the game. But that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated and expensive.

Order to delivery times have been drastically reduced, complex processes have become streamlined, and competition is at an all-time high. The big players like Target and Amazon are gunning for one-day shipping as the new standard. (And it’s not going to stop anytime soon).

These quick strides in tech advancement coupled with the availability and adoption of e-commerce for consumer spending has spiraled into increasingly higher and higher expectations. Unsurprisingly, effective management of inventories and warehouses has become even more crucial in meeting these demands.

Inventory Management

Inventory management is a key component of maintaining a successful warehouse. With the sophistication of current inventory tracking software, access to a wealth of information is at your fingertips.

With the simple scan of a barcode or QR code, items are traceable as they travel throughout the supply chain. If your warehouse is not already incorporating some form of scanning at this point, you are already behind the curve.

Maintaining accurate inventory levels that support current demand without overstocking the warehouse is critical to running an efficient supply chain. -John Corbin @MetalMarkerMfg Click To Tweet

In addition, accessing real-time stock levels makes re-ordering inventory a breeze. A key element to keeping a warehouse operating smoothly is ordering new inventory at the right times. With data on real-time demand and current stock levels, getting inventory right is much easier.

Keep in mind, decisions are only as effective as the data they are based on. Relying on obsolete or inaccurate information can be disastrous for managing and monitoring warehouse inventory. Anyone who has spent time working in a warehouse setting knows what these disastrous bad decisions look like.

Having accurate, real-time data about not only inventory, but also accurate forecasts and insight into current demand, enables decision-makers to manage inventory much more efficiently. It also helps them identify potential bottlenecks and other problems before they become too serious.

Quality Control Systems

As with many industries, supply chains face a never ending struggle between quality and efficiency. It doesn’t matter if you have the quickest shipping operation in the world if you do not maintain quality standards.

Implementing a quality control (QC) system can be as simple or as in-depth as your organization needs. A simple QC might involve a basic reference check of an item against a purchase order. While a more complex system might be a more thorough process with multiple QC points throughout. It could even incorporate additional processes and technologies, such as Statistical Process Control (SPC), and supplier scorecards and audits.

A robust quality control system is a necessary, but care must be taken not to introduce overhead that slows down production and drains resources unnecessarily. -John Corbin @MetalMarkerMfg Click To Tweet

Start by assessing your organization. At the very minimum, a base quality control is necessary. But how much more work is necessary? Build a system which suits your specific organization best.

If adding a 15-step quality check slows down your order processing by three weeks, it probably doesn’t make sense. At the same time, if the product you are sending out the door either gets returned or leads to unhappy customers who will not re-order, then you have an even bigger problem. The exact sophistication of each company’s QC process will vary, based on the product and the company’s needs; you have to ensure quality, but with a minimum of delay and additional overhead.

Even after implementing a control system, things will change and the system will need to be modified occasionally. The organization may expand, new products and new customer expectations may emerge, and new equipment or machinery may mean higher quality production is possible.

Reassessing your quality standards on an annual or semi-annual basis is important. This not only helps to ensure the quality program you are currently implementing is working effectively and providing value, it also helps provide a pulse of the organization as a whole.

While adding additional steps to your process may seem like a time-killer, a correctly implemented QC system is crucial. In the long run it will save time, reduce resources wasted on fixing mistakes, and protect your organization’s reputation.

Asset Traceability

Another valuable practice is asset traceability. While most organizations have transitioned to labeling their inventory, identifying other assets can be equally beneficial. Marking equipment, machines, and other tools can provide an added layer of useful information as well as added security.

Take forklifts for example. Let’s say a large size warehouse uses around 10-12 forklifts on a regular basis, depending on how busy things may get.

As with all of the equipment we rely on, forklifts tend to breakdown, require maintenance, and eventually replacement (usually at the worst times). How much time, frustration and problems would you avoid, if you knew at any moment exactly which forklifts where were available for use, and their condition, e.g. how long it’s been since they’ve had maintenance, and their performance history, etc.?

All of those questions can be answered by implementing the same type of system used for inventory tracking. Affixing a durable barcode tag to your forklift instantly turns it into a traceable asset. If you need to know exactly where an item is at any given point, GPS and RFID tracking can provide that solution as well. While fairly simple and easy to implement, the benefits from asset identification and tracking are enormous, and can improve operations throughout the supply chain, as well as improve safety and security.

With the rise of blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), big data, and increasing demands for transparency, asset traceability and an auditable chain of custody is becoming more important. Tangible items, parts and products, will be traceable from origin to final delivery with the simple scan of a barcode or QR code. And many innovative companies are already doing this, in industries like pharmaceuticals and food, where the stakes are high. Supply chains are becoming more transparent, with both producers and suppliers being held more accountable for any lapses in quality or issues with products and materials.

Keeping Your Supply Chain Technology Current and Agile

As we enter the next decade of supply chain and warehousing, staying abreast of new technologies and trends is going to be increasingly difficult. With access to more data and automation (in both hardware and software), decision-makers will have more information at their disposal, and will rely on the insights they gain about their sales, inventory, equipment, and operations to improve processes and operate more efficiently and securely.

Recommended: Supply Chain Apps Made Simple

Implementing foundational systems now, enables your organization to perform better now, and prepare for what’s next. Inventory management and asset traceability ensure you have all the necessary data at your fingertips to make effective decisions. Quality control systems enable your organization to maintain high standards for your customers, without creating too much additional overhead.

Keep in mind, the goal for these items is to improve the efficiency of your supply chain. While new technology and systems may seem foolproof, a solution isn’t the right solution if it just creates new problems. You need solutions and supply chain systems that are tailored to your organization’s specific needs to ensure they fit seamlessly into your existing processes, and can be easily adapted to future needs.

Recommended: Understanding Supply Chain Network Technology

John Corbin
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