Studies found that over half of Australian retailers are still experiencing supply chain disruptions, and these disruptions are projected to continue into 2023. While COVID-19 certainly acted as a catalyst, many experts view it as merely the symptom of a larger supply chain problem that has existed for years: a lack of innovation and growth. In the modern world, where seemingly small actions in New York can cause delivery delays in Brisbane, supply chain management cannot remain static.
As 2021 comes to a close, now is the time to reexamine how the industry can transform to navigate current and future challenges. On the demand side, customer expectations are high and evolving rapidly while the supply side is struggling like never before to overcome obstacles and adapt to new realities. Managing demand, supply and product movement through the enterprise is critical to success and requires new tools and practices. Below are three strategies to reduce supply chain disruptions in 2022 and beyond by Suresh Menon, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Software Solutions, Zebra Technologies.
Monitor production slowdowns and product shortages
Product shortages ran rampant during the pandemic, ranging from toilet paper to the current global microchip crisis. Organisations can manage these shortages from production to the storefront through advanced traceability and transportation tracking solutions.
Product shortages often start during the manufacturing process, with their effects felt throughout the supply chain all the way down to the consumer. Advanced track and trace technology can help inform raw materials sourcing decisions by automating inventory management. It can also help expedite inbound materials processing to ensure just-in-time delivery to the production line. Once finished goods come off the line, radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth® Low Energy and other location solutions can help outbound logistics teams and supply chain partners report and monitor inventory movements.
Once products leave the factory, they are especially vulnerable to delays during transportation. To ensure flawless fulfilment, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered fleet services can be used to accurately predict transportation issues before they occur. They constantly monitor driver performance, weather, traffic, and other variables. Based on this real-time tracking, intelligent fleet solutions can provide decision-makers and front-line workers with prescriptive actions to avoid obstacles and keep products moving toward their destination. AI and machine learning algorithms can also be used at loading docks to ensure containers and trailers are fully utilized, especially as shipping volumes increase, fuel costs rise, labor shortages linger, and fleet sizes remain stagnant.
Adapt to volatile demand with early supply chain planning
Consumer purchasing behavior is in a perpetual state of evolution as new technologies are developed and trends come and go, but the pandemic accelerated this evolution by years in the span of months. Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), self-checkout, curbside pickup and same-day delivery have made purchasing products easier and more efficient than ever before. In turn, consumer tolerance for inefficiency is at an all-time low. The modern retail customer expects access to their desired products when and where they need them. If that is not possible, they will take their business to retailers focused on the customer experience.
Demand sensing and inventory management solutions can reduce customer disappointment by ensuring the right SKUs are available on warehouse and store shelves at all times. Demand sensing solutions leverage AI, advanced analytics, and machine learning capabilities to translate retail data into accurate predictions and actionable insights. These solutions enable retailers to optimize pricing, promotions and stock levels based on current supply chain conditions, existing inventory, and consumer demand. Because they rely on both real-time and historical data, demand sensing solutions can make accurate forecasts even amid unprecedented disruptive events.
Once retailers understand the specific products and quantities needed to meet demand, they can use inventory management solutions to gain visibility into products already on store shelves, in the stockroom and currently in transport along the supply chain to identify gaps or overstocks. When combined, intelligent demand sensing and inventory management technologies can facilitate early supply chain planning to help companies exceed customers’ rising expectations.
Smarter warehousing capacity through connected technologies
A global shift to omnichannel purchasing, hybrid fulfillment models and soaring volumes have placed new demands on warehouses and distribution centers. The modern warehouse relies on hyperconnected technologies and automation to increase its capacity and support associate success.
Modern warehouse management systems (WMS) can work harmoniously with automation-centric technologies to optimize workflows and maximize worker productivity, performance and safety. Utilizing real-time information sourced from location-aware solutions and sensors, such as RFID, the WMS can sync with intelligent task management software to guide employees’ real-time, data-driven decision-making. In addition, autonomous robot automation is increasingly being employed to support human productivity. By delegating menial physical tasks such as sorting, picking and inventory movements to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and cobots, human team members can focus on activities that require complex problem solving and higher thinking.
These solutions maximize efficiency and safety to create a smart warehouse, helping to avoid delays and downtime that can cost companies in time and resources and ultimately impact the entire supply chain.
While the pandemic highlighted supply chain issues that had been left unaddressed for far too long, it also presented businesses with an opportunity to learn from these challenges and foster long-term growth. Through innovation at every touchpoint, organizations can enter the new year with the agility to overcome any disruption.
Go to Zebra Prescriptive Analytics for more information.