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Helping Companies Master the Modern Supply Chain

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Panasonic and TOUGHBOOK Mobility Solutions help companies address the critical aspects of the modern fulfillment process—from warehouse management to material handling, yard management to transportation—and all points in between.

With the complexities of managing fulfillment, distribution, and global supply chains increasing year after year, the need for reliable technology solutions to tackle these challenges grows exponentially. This year is no different, with 2020 presenting an array of new stumbling blocks and opportunities for companies across a wide swath of industries.

A persistent national labor shortage, the push to fulfill small orders quickly, and a customer who expects orders delivered the same-day or next-day are all driving companies to reimagine their supply chain and distribution operations. Add physical space constraints, last-mile logistics challenges, and the growing e-commerce opportunity to the equation and the result is a distribution environment where automation and technology are standing out as key differentiators.

“Supply chain operations are under pressure to adopt new business models and technologies to excel in an increasingly complex and volatile world,” said Gartner’s Dwight Klappich. “Supply chain leaders must identify where to innovate and invest in new processes and technologies to help their companies remain relevant in their markets.”

Grabbing E-Commerce by the Horns

As they race to grab their slices of the growing B2B and B2C e-commerce marketplaces, companies are balancing a labor shortage with an ever-demanding customer and constrained resources. Those in the B2C space online are now operating in a marketplace worth $3.5 trillion, while those on the B2B side are vying for their share of a market that brought in $12.2 trillion in 2019.

Pushed in part by huge e-tailers and their fast shipping promises, both B2C and B2B companies are working to get orders into their customers’ hands within a day or less. The drivers are both real and relevant: a company’s ability to delivery same-day shipping is a key consideration for consumers aged 18-34, with 61% of all customers willing to shell out a premium for that service. Fifty-three percent of online buyers won’t even hit the “buy now” button if they don’t know when it will arrive.

These facts create major challenges for modern fulfillment and logistics networks, many of which were developed with the idea of getting pallets or cases of goods out the door to retailers that, in turn, sold the merchandise in their brick-and-mortar stores.

A lot has changed since then. Instead of just getting goods to market and hoping that someone will buy them, companies now must put the customer at the center of their e-commerce operations, offering a seamless shopping experience (aka, “omni-channel”), personalized experiences, and use technology and automation to help balance processes with profitability.

According to CBRE, e-commerce is also driving demand for smaller warehouses (i.e., those 70,000 to 120,000 square feet) that are closer to consumers—fulfilling the need to close the last-mile supply chain gap. “A year ago, two-day delivery was considered ‘prime,’” Logistics Management points out. “Now, many expect to receive their purchase the same day or next day at worst. By definition, that means warehouses have to be closer to consumers.”

Sailing Through the Perfect Storm

With the perfect storm of labor shortages, higher velocities, and space constraints not expected to subside anytime soon, companies are searching for solutions that can help them tackle these issues without breaking the bank. By focusing on workflow optimization, for example, firms can improve productivity even when labor is getting more expensive and difficult to come by.

Using Panasonic rugged Android OS handheld devices and scanning solutions, including, our application support, and deployment services, companies can get their permanent and temp workers up to speed and operating quickly. Already accustomed to using these operating systems on their own personal devices, employees can work faster and more confidently with these familiar interfaces.

Out on the warehouse floor,  deploying a voice picking solution infuses high levels of efficiency into the picking and packing process, which consumes about 63% of the typical warehouse’s operating costs, according to Georgia Tech. Citing a Warehouse Education and Research Council (WERC) survey, it also says that order picking is the number one area for improvement in warehousing.

In a push to automate more warehouse processes, companies are also turning to Panasonic TOUGHBOOK rugged handheld computers and tablets, which provide unsurpassed levels of wireless connectivity, ease-of-use scanning, and long-lasting battery life. They help everyone from the order picking clerk to the floor supervisor to the warehouse manager operate in a very mobile and untethered manner in today’s fast-paced fulfillment environment.

By adding aerial drones for inventory management and a visual sort-assist solution to the mix, companies can effectively augment their human labor, make efficiency gains, and get a leg up on the competition.

A Critical Link in the Modern Supply Chain

To the unknowing, a warehouse or distribution center (DC) looks like a big empty space filled with shelves, racking, products, and people. Peel back the layers, however, and you’ll find a critical ecosystem that relies on a combination of material handling equipment, storage space, processes, and people to support one of the most critical links in the modern supply chain.

“From the outside, warehouse storage and logistics may seem like a staid and passive industry, performing much the same role that it ever has. Those of us on the inside know that nothing could be further from the truth,” Invicta’s James Beale writes in Modern Material Handling. “Like the trucks, people, and products they house, nothing ever stops moving – and the design of modern warehouses is no exception.”

To help warehouse operators adapt to these new demands, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK Mobility Solutions address nearly every aspect of the fulfillment process, including material handling, yard management, and transportation. For example, with the growth in forklift fleets, TOUGHBOOK rugged tablets offer cost savings, portability and agility of use both on and off the forklift.  To help companies more easily deploy rugged forklift mounted tablets, Panasonic offers customizable mounts along with cost and time saving pre-pack kits that help facilitate the installation process. Panasonic also offers installation and mounting services that reduce demands on internal teams, allowing them to focus on more business-critical tasks.

Out in the yard, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK tablets provide high levels of visibility to workers and managers in an area that’s often referred to as the “black hole” of the supply chain. By applying the Internet of Things (IoT), telematics, using aerial drones, and radio frequency identification (RFID) to trailer and truck asset tracking,  workers can remotely access the WMS and other systems and immediately know where the inventory or equipment is at any point and time—even out in the yard.

Using route optimization, proof-of-delivery, last-mile delivery, and electronic logging device (ELD) software, the same companies can transfer these high levels of visibility out onto the road. By offering a wide array of transportation and logistics software applications through its ecosystem of partners—plus rugged tablets or handhelds and deployment and installation services—Panasonic is committed to helping companies effectively overcome their current supply chain challenges while also preparing them for future success.  

If you’ll be at MODEX 2020 in Atlanta, March 9 – 12th,  I invite you to stop by our booth #4500 and visit with our team. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your supply chain and distribution challenges and how Panasonic can help.  Or contact us at toughbook@us.panasonic.com.