The potential for efficient, flexible and effective coordination of transportation processes and networks lies in the emergence of internet-based information and communication technologies. Technologies such as RFID, e-commerce and telematics provide proven potential for the improvement of efficiency in coordination and transaction processes. In particular, these technologies provide opportunities for improved flexibility in coordinating supply and demand in dynamic supply network environments.
Mobile solutions have been helping organizations optimize basic warehouse processes for some time now – key processes such as reception, put-away, picking, shipping, and inventory management. Most importantly, these technologies are enabling organizations to reduce and/or eliminate human intervention. RFID-enabled products are playing a significant role, as multiple items can be read at the same time, eliminating the need for individual scans of pallets or cases. RFID can significantly reduce or eliminate problems due to human errors, which warehouse and transportation environments mainly relate to product counting and stock control, particularly in receiving and picking activities. For example, RFID can eliminate manual and visual verification of each received product, and speed up the receiving process and help to avoid bottlenecks at distribution centers, warehouses, and store entrance docks. Additionally, RFID integration into warehouse activities can promote cross-docking business models, where products move from inbound vehicles to outbound vehicles without any need to be stored, thus significantly reducing labor intensive and costly activities such as put-away and picking.
Given the potential of mobile technologies such as RFID to improve warehouse operations, numerous trials have taken place to verify the potential in supply chains of transportation intensive organization such as CPG manufacturing and retail. Publix Super Markets Inc., a Florida based supermarket chain has been actively using Electronic Product Code (EPC*) labels to improve the distribution of produce as it moves from suppliers to multiple distribution centers. Another notable example is Ballantine, a large fruit supplier – the company has been using RFID tags with their produce shipments to retailers like Walmart in order to gain competitive advantage and to deliver a fresher, more consistent product to consumers.
Fleet management systems
Fleet management systems enable logistics managers to monitor the daily distribution process of goods to customers (e.g. retail outlets) while monitoring important parameters (e.g., load temperature etc.). These systems record the position of the delivery fleet and the product temperature in real time (via temperature loggers), using a telematic unit that is fitted in each vehicle. The position of the vehicle is then relayed back to a central monitoring centre using GPRS technology. The data received is typically stored in a database and can be displayed on a variety of platforms, including mobile.
Fleet management systems are critical for the supply chains of CPG manufacturers and in retail distribution, were GPS/GPRS hardware is routinely integrated with refrigerated containers and/or trailers. By monitoring their assets in real-time (for any changes, such as refrigeration status and human or system errors) and using fleet management systems to predetermine routes and delivery times, these organizations can proactively detect any route violation(s) and have alerts generated an alert at their control center – allowing dispatchers to take necessary action(s) to avoid longer transportation times, which might affect the quality of the products.
Vehicle-routing software is critical for transportation intensive organizations – these solutions enable firms to optimize their vehicle usage (e.g. minimize transportation time, distance travelled, etc) while bringing the ability to maximize vehicle / capacity usage.
The principal advantage of using automated vehicle-routing systems is that they can take into consideration a larger number of constraints and calculate more alternative solutions than can ever be done manually. Vehicle-routing software incorporates advanced scheduling methods (routing algorithms) that can generally be relied upon to provide very efficient solutions. For mission-critical scenarios, a vehicle-routing system can enable the scheduler to make fundamental changes to existing routes to allow late or urgent orders to be planned into the schedule while the system checks for any implications (missed delivery windows, legal infringements, etc.).
To learn more about the enterprise mobility opportunity in transportation and warehousing, click here for the executive summary to our recently published (November 2011) Report.