Integrated Supply Chain Technology Solutions for End-To-End Security and Efficiency

Last week, Panasonic contributed an article to Area Development on the importance of situational awareness in the supply chain, and how supply chain operators can benefit from an end-to-end technology solution to increase efficiency, oversight and cost effectiveness. The truth is that many distribution centers today are relying on outdated methods to capture data and keep track of operations. In some cases pencils, clipboards and punch cards are still the tools of the trade, as operators are required to record information manually and input data into a fixed terminal. In today’s environment, these antiquated methods are no longer sufficient to keep track of the supply chain and operate an efficient distribution center.

With the power of mobile technology, data analytics and cloud computing, warehouses and throughput centers now have the opportunity to access, analyze and relay business-critical data instantaneously. Employees can access information from the warehouse floor, on the bed of a truck, or even while operating a forklift. Let’s take a look at some of the tools and processes available that can help revolutionize today’s distribution centers.

Tablets

Instant, ubiquitous access to business-critical information is the key to situational awareness in the distribution center. With specialized data capture technologies, information on shipping, warehousing, throughput, as well as customer and employee information can be made available in real-time. Using cloud storage and analytics, frontline employees can access company sales data, shipping information and more on their handheld device from anywhere in the facility.

Granted, almost all supply chains have computerized inventory management systems in place. However, many still rely on fixed computer terminals to enter and receive data. What makes tablets special is their portability, their ease-of-use, form factor and the ability to add new applications. Tablets’ smaller form factor and increased portability allow employees to access and update information from anywhere – in a loading dock, on the warehouse floor, or in a freezer.

Vehicle Technology

The lifeblood of the supply chain is transportation. Deliveries arrive and depart the warehouse hundreds of times a day. In order to track vehicle movements in real time, innovative logistics operations are now outfitting their trucks with telematics solutions that automatically communicate a vehicle’s location, service hours, travel time and incident reports back to the command center. This data can be fed into cloud-based or on-site analytics solutions that can determine optimal shipping routes, respond to incidents, and communicate arrival/departure times to warehouse staff.

In addition, many delivery fleets are being outfitted with dashboard consoles or tablets that allow drivers to record and transmit delivery information, capture signatures, customer interaction, cargo data and more. With this steady stream of instant information available to drivers and to headquarters staff, distribution centers can ensure the right cargo gets to the right place on time, and respond to any incidents along the way.

Barcode and RFID Scanners

Manually receiving products and entering data into a fixed terminal is an inefficient and time-consuming process, and introduces the risk of costly data errors and delays. Instead, distribution centers should use mobile devices with bar code scanners or RFID readers at the receiving dock to instantly categorize materials when they arrive. With scanner-equipped mobile devices, the risk of human error is dramatically reduced, inventory accuracy is improved, and the receiving and identification process becomes much more efficient.

Fixed And Mobile Video Systems

Fixed video camera systems can be installed in the loading dock, the warehouse floor or any other high-traffic areas to increase visibility and monitor vehicles and people who enter the facility. A number of delivery fleets also deploy mobile video solutions to capture video from vehicles. Many video systems are enabled with software that allows them to identify faces, vehicles and license plate numbers. With integrated video systems, warehouses can take advantage of a real-time overview of the warehouse floor, and driver procedures, to make sure workplace regulations and safety protocols are being followed.

Digital Signage

High-definition digital displays allow managers to dynamically share information across a campus with little effort and extend situational awareness to everyone at the facility. These digital displays can be read even with high levels of ambient light, and can be easily updated from a central location. By offering constantly updating information to employees, management can communicate results with employees immediately, such as productivity goals, urgent messages, and video feeds.

Distribution centers are aware of the value that technology-enabled situational awareness can provide in terms of greater efficiency, visibility and productivity. IT managers should assess the options available to them and craft a strategy to introduce integrated situational awareness technology to their warehouses and distribution networks. Ultimately, complete end-to-end visibility and management capabilities will have a transformative effect on the distribution center in terms of efficiency, capabilities and cost savings. Be sure to check out the full article at Area Development. For further information on Panasonic’s enterprise solutions for supply chain management, please visit us at Panasonic Solutions for Business.