Between massive manufacturing delays and giant spikes in U.S. e-commerce demand, logistics operations have shouldered the brunt of global disruption caused by the pandemic.
Further exacerbating the issue, many supply chains were already in need of a facelift. A Gravity Supply Chain Solutions study found that even before COVID-19 struck, 85% of U.S. retailers were still in the process of digitizing their end-to-end supply chain.
COVID-19 is forcing a new wave of digitization in every aspect of business. For supply chain managers, it’s time to consider how introducing and expanding IoT technology – supported by the network – can accelerate transformation efforts to increase operational efficiency.
The idea of warehouse automation often connotes future-forward technology, such as exoskeleton suites, drones, and robots. Leading retailers and brands have made these visions a reality by deploying robotic carts and robust warehouse management systems in their distribution and fulfillment centers to expedite the movement of goods. However, other, less hyped technologies — such as RFID scanners, tablets, and IoT sensors — also play a critical role in warehouse automation to help operators pick, pack, and ship goods as quickly as possible.
These advancements in warehouse automation would not be possible without high-capacity Wi-Fi to ensure reliable, seamless connectivity throughout the warehouse. Maintaining that connectivity is no small feat. Cavernous spaces, countless Wi-Fi signal obstacles — such as machinery, racks, and conveyors — and the multitude of connected devices mean that intentional access point placement and access to real-time network performance are critical to keeping operations running smoothly. With the holiday peak season on the horizon, supply chain managers can’t afford operations disruptions or delays due to poor connections and devices not functioning properly. That’s why it’s paramount for leaders to take the time now to evaluate their fulfillment center Wi-Fi performance and adjust as needed.
Road freight is the largest expenditure in the $1.6 trillion U.S. logistics industry, according to a Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals report. There’s also a continued scarcity of available trucks and drivers across the country especially as the ongoing health crisis persists. Supply chain teams are feeling the pressure to map out the most strategic fulfillment network transportation arcs to achieve on-time, in-full deliveries.
Leading providers have adopted IoT-enabled weight sensors to support inventory management during load in, load out and transit, as well as ensure freight safety and compliance. They help reduce accidents, break downs and vehicle damage caused by excess inventory or incorrect weight distribution. Additionally, many truck fleets are equipped with sensors to track real-time data such as vehicle fuel efficiency and road conditions. Drivers are then notified of possible alternative routes to reduce fuel consumption and travel time. Both uses of weight and roadway sensors rely on advanced analytics solutions and asset tracking systems. These systems are supported by centralized, cloud-based networking and technologies that can provide real-time data, accessible to the entire organization. In turn, supply chain managers can ensure that scarce transportation resources remain fully operational and that their drivers are safe.
Beyond warehousing and transportation, the pandemic also brought a renewed focus to inventory replenishment and management strategies across brick-and-mortar stores. In recent years, retailers and brands began connecting back-end warehouse and order management systems with front-end inventory management to keep shelves stocked and to support new omnichannel fulfillment options such as buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) and ship from store. These emerging fulfillment strategies have been put to the test in the wake of the ongoing health crisis. A Qudini retail SaaS provider survey found that 62% of U.S. consumers are more likely to use BOPIS services to reduce exposure to COVID-19.
Both BOPIS and ship from store rely on IoT devices such as scanners, tablets and mobile phones to keep track of inventory on the floor and in the backrooms of physical stores. Even in stores where consumer foot traffic has slowed, Wi-Fi access remains a top priority to support inventory visibility. Store employees rely on the network to manage stock levels accurately and fulfill orders quickly. Few things are more frustrating for consumers than venturing to the store in the middle of a health crisis only to find that their pre-ordered items are out of stock. Store operations managers depend on the in-store IoT devices that support inventory management and replenishment to maintain the flow of goods to consumers who need them.
Digitizing the supply chain is no longer optional. As the pandemic continues to evolve, organizations across every industry are readying their supply chains in anticipation of what’s to come. The potential benefits of IoT technology — including reducing transportation costs, increasing operational efficiency in the warehouse and streamlining inventory management — are endless.
This article was originally published to IoT Agenda on September 21, 2020.