Mike Pitt, Regional Manager at Zebra Technologies ANZ
Today, rapidly changing technology trends have rendered the world flat and made the business landscape, particularly in Australia, more complex and competitive than ever before.
With endless array of customer choices, fierce competitors, pervasive use of the internet, and a complex global economy, manufacturers need to focus on finding ways to sustain and grow their business. Companies today are expected to find ways to do more with fewer resources, such as responding swiftly and efficiently to unexpected changes to their supply chain.
The logistics & retail sector is becoming increasingly customer centric, with expectation of free and same day delivery and 24 hour stock and price updates becoming the norm. More businesses are moving online, requiring better back-stock managements, and a more globalised market means that local manufacturers are now competing with overseas business. While technology presents new opportunities and challenges, manufacturers are still encountering more familiar problems such as efficiencies in supply chain. It is becoming imperative that local manufacturers and retailers need to become more agile and responsive to the needs of customers and global demands – this means creating a more visible supply chain, from warehouse to points of sales.
Creating a visible value chain
Fortunately, there is now a whole gamut of technologies that make it possible for businesses to monitor in real time, where goods may be transported from one point to another seamlessly, without needing constant involvement from employees.
IoT solutions are considered to be smart, interconnected devices that provide more visibility into an organisation’s supply chain through sensors that are able to communicate and report on the various events taking place across the supply chain – in the warehouse, on distribution channels, and even at the point of sale.
These solutions help to convert the physical assets and inventories into the digital information that enable companies to know the location, condition, timing, and accuracy of the events occurring throughout the value chain in almost real-time. This also enables new and more efficient business models to be created that are far more efficient in delivering greater returns to investment.
The proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, among others, make accessing the digital data generated by IoT solutions very easy from anywhere across the world. This allows decision makers to instantly react when a crisis hits the company, by giving them specific insights to identify and solve the problem. The data can further be used to fuel innovation by showing new ways to operate more efficiently and improve on existing customer service.
Having visibility over one’s supply chain can produce the following benefits:
1) Asset tracking – With asset tracking capabilities, not only will suppliers know where their products are in real time, they will also be able to know what condition their products are in. It will enable them to move their products, particularly perishable goods, through the supply chain quickly and efficiently. This will result in these goods reaching the points of sale destinations in time while retaining their freshness. RFID tagging can ensure accurate record keeping of assets and eliminate the hidden costs associated with searching for lost or misplaced products.
2) Targeted product recall – When an enterprise does not have clear visibility over which batches of their products are defective, they will be forced to recall their entire line, resulting in high operational cost and loss of revenue. With RFID tracking, companies can easily narrow down the affected batches, trace their sources, and do a lean, targeted recall with minimum disruption, revenue loss, and cost.
3) Increased productivity – RFID tagging ensures employees do not have to spend unnecessary time and effort in manually storing and retrieving records and data repeatedly. With a one-time manual input, information related to a specific RFID tagged product can be computerised and easily available on request. This enables employees to focus more on tasks that generate value for their companies.
Reducing operational cost and wastage in the retail back end
With greater Internet connectivity across households and the emergence of dedicated online retail stores, many manufacturers are setting up digital shops to supplement their bricks-and-mortar stores on the ground. Among the challenges manufacturers are facing as a result of this is to bridge their online presence with traditional bricks-and-mortar stores through cross-channel selling and ensuring a coordinated approach to logistics.
IoT solutions like barcode labelling and RFID tagging help retail companies better manage their back end processes in several ways. By tagging products with RFID labels and barcodes before they leave the warehouse, manufacturers can track the time taken and the routes of their final destination from a centralised location. If there are any unexpected delays or hold-ups in the delivery of shipment, manufacturers are able to notify their front end stores – whether online or bricks-and-mortars – in advance. Additionally, by tracking the movements of their goods from the warehouse, manufacturers can reduce their number of late orders as well as orders delivered to the wrong destination.
IoT solutions also help manufacturers to better manage their resources allocated to logistics – in terms of number of warehouses used to house assets, delivery trucks to deliver them to retail outlets, and reducing the amount of labour dedicated to non-value added jobs like manual stock taking. This adds to a retailer’s competitiveness on the ground and against emerging online stores.
Better visibility of the supply chain means that manufacturers can save time and money and can plan more effectivity for the future.