Ready or not, one-day shipping is here.
In its first quarter earnings call in April, Amazon CFO Brian T. Olsavsky announced that the standard free shipping time for Amazon Prime members will be reduced from two days to just one day.
Expected to be rolled out in the next few years, Amazon surprised business and supply chain professionals alike with their announcement, claiming one-day shipping was already a living reality. Competitors like Target and Walmart are already scrambling to compete.
For supply chains, warehouse and distributors were already feeling the crunch of Amazon’s push toward mind-blowingly short delivery times of two-day delivery as a baseline. Enterprises have already invested billions in improving supply chains as a result. But now, supply chains must return to the drawing board to accommodate another seismic shift as next day shipping becomes the new norm – thanks to another ripple from the ever-present Amazon Effect.
What does one-day/next-day shipping mean for the warehouse? Increasing speed, throughput and inventory turns with astonishing efficiency will be crucial. How can warehouses do this, besides hiring more workers?
The answer may lie in digital warehouse automation. Particularly, a type of digital process automation for the warehouse known as mobile barcoding, which uses automated data collection (ADC or AIDC) in conjunction with mobile devices and barcodes.
Here are three ways mobile barcoding can help your enterprise warehouse operation stay in the competitive game, even with the rise of two-day, next-day and same-day shipping:
Pallets of product can stack up at the receiving dock. Even if the inventory is physically present in the warehouse, it doesn’t become available for picking or to be issued to a production project until the items have been entered into the ERP system.
This disparity is due to the time required to take physical receipt of material using slow, manual processes, such as with pen and paper or using spreadsheets and manually keying in data. A bottleneck like this limits your warehouse’s ability to handle inventory volume (and with relatively low accuracy).
Mobile barcoding can virtually eliminate the delays between when new product physically arrives versus when it becomes available in your ERP. By equipping workers with mobile barcode scanners, inventory can be scanned as it arrives at the receiving dock. Incoming inventory enters the ERP system accurately and instantly at the point of scan without employees having to read or interpret illegible handwriting, re-key data into a spreadsheet, or commute to a fixed workstation elsewhere on the floor.
Mobile data collection software can improve receiving time significantly, and license plating technology can accelerate speed in receiving even further.
With manual processes, unsatisfactory accuracy levels necessitate constant physical counts and/or daily cycle counts to validate stock levels. Warehouses may perform wall-to-wall physical counts every quarter, intermittent ABC cycles and daily high-dollar cycle counts on top of that.
A lot of manhours get consumed here – all because your team can’t trust its own inventory levels.
If your warehouse is going to ramp up volume in order to meet one-day shipping demands, the risks of unexpected stock-outs, costs of last-minute re-ordering and extra hands needed to handle inventory is overwhelming. In an age where cutting costs is the status quo, how will leadership accept increased overhead and staffing?
Using mobile barcoding, your inventory gets scanned into the ERP right at receiving. This begins a journey of real-time visibility as those materials flow through the warehouse into put-away, picking and beyond the four walls. Each mobile scan at the item’s location transacts against the ERP in real time. Software like RFgen validates each transaction to ensure quantities greater than what is available cannot be taken, ensuring extremely high levels of accuracy every step of the way.
By automating cycle counting using mobile hardware and barcode scanning, your workers don’t have to spend time checking against paper checklists. Once the item is located, the mobile user can scan it to perform the cycle count, saving time and money.
Warehouses running an RFgen mobile solution can reduce the time required to conduct cycle counting by 50-70% or more. Automated cycle counting not only saves time and money, but increases efficiency and inventory accuracy as well.
Issues created at the front-end of inbound inventory processes begin to have real impact when it comes to picking and outbound processes. Inventory data captured imperfectly at receiving can lead to surprises for pickers who discover items are missing, mislabeled or in the wrong location, increasing the time it takes to pick orders.
When an employee cannot finish picking materials for an order because the ERP says the items aren’t there, a costly delay may ensue for the sales order or manufacturing order – even though that material is physically present at the receiving dock.
When orders are picked, the team marks quantities used, issued or transferred using a manual process, such as paper, pen and clipboard or a spreadsheet. Each human error in the process costs the company money further down the pipeline in form of returns and charge-backs, as well as lost trust with customers.
As you can imagine, a warehouse running at 110% to fulfill next-day shipping will be generating more errors than ever using these manual processes.
With barcoded inventory and wireless handheld scanners or tablets, pickers can trust that the inventory levels shown in the system are accurate and true. When an employee goes to pick material for an order, (s)he scans the item(s), updating the new quantity in the ERP instantly.
If it’s a production order, the picker knows exactly how much to issue and from what location. With another quick set of scans, all the raw materials for a manufacturing project are picked and issued to the order.
Throughout these processes, opportunities for human error have been replaced by barcodes that capture the necessary inventory data automatically. Inventory accuracy stays at 99.9% or higher and the efficiency of performing each action improves dramatically.
Greater efficiency means pickers can handle a higher volume of inventory in the same amount of time. Maximized inventory accuracy increases order accuracy and reduces the overhead associated with incorrectly received, picked, packed or shipped orders.
Not only does your operation achieve a big win, your team’s job gets easier (even though they are more productive) and you retain the ability to deliver top-shelf customer service.
And with a greatly enhanced ability to move and transact inventory, you now have a competitive leg-up to use in the race for one-day/next-day shipping.
The benefits don’t stop there, however. Mobile barcoding using ADC technology with wireless handheld scanners and IoT devices is a versatile, expandable technology that can be used as a real-time inventory management system with near 100% accuracy, fulfill WMS or SCM software functions in your warehouse, and mobilize field services by extending ERP capabilities to delivery drivers, sales reps and more.
For more about digital process automation technologies in the warehouse that create value for you and your customers, download a free copy of this helpful white paper: Warehouse Technologies That Create Value.
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