With a rapid increase in the eCommerce market share, supply chains all over the globe are becoming increasingly complex to manage. In order to keep the supply chain more efficient, more organizations are looking to integrate automation into their operations and processes to minimize errors and eliminate repetitive tasks.
A large number of businesses are now employing autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), AI, and machine learning technologies to automate their supply chain. For instance, the online retail giant Amazon uses over 200,000 robotic vehicles that collaborate with humans to improve its operations on the logistics front of the supply chain. These changes in the supply chain enable enterprises to increase efficiency, reduce operational and logistics costs, and improve profit margins.
Let’s explore some of the ways through which automation is helping modernize the supply chain.
A well-connected automated supply chain allows freeing workers from manual, menial tasks, which often possess some degree of risks. For example, picking or placing items for stocking or order fulfillment is a tiresome task that usually involves the risk of injury to workers.
However, warehouses can automate these repetitive and physically-demanding tasks using autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Equipped with sensors such as LiDAR, GPS, and cameras, these robots can be programmed to navigate through the racks, pick the correct items from the aisle, and bring them to the packaging area. Moreover, they are also useful in validating the inventory levels by scanning and recording the inventory stock levels each time they pick or place the package in aisles.
With mobile robots handling routine inventory management tasks, the chances of accidents reduce drastically. Employees can command robots to carry heavy packages across the facility and help lessen the strain on the staff. Besides, they work 24x7, increasing the throughput time significantly and bringing down the operational costs. These robots also free up employees to focus on value-driving tasks.
The unpredictability of lead times and the lack of transparency of the inventory to monitor its progress are two great downfalls faced by traditional supply chains. Passing the right information at the right time between different departments is essential for the smooth working of the supply chain, and this can only happen if there is clear visibility for everyone.
An automation platform can be leveraged to connect all the disparate systems involved in the supply chain and create a central location where information can be accessed by the employees, providing complete visibility and orchestration. The real-time data access gives them the up-to-date status of everything and allows them to make informed decisions, helping reduce supply chain backlogs.
Efficient inventory management is an essential factor in keeping the supply chain running. A supply chain utilizing automation tools can predict future demand by analyzing the available historical data. With access to reliable insights, supply chain teams can better prepare to meet the rise in demand or alter their inventory levels when the demand is low.
This data collection practice can also be extended to monitor the logistics process. For example, when utilizing IoT devices on delivery vehicles, supply chain teams can access valuable insights about the efficiency of the last-mile delivery process. The devices can also collect data on vehicle performance and help establish predictive maintenance plans to avoid breakdowns and disrupt the supply chain.
The recent years have taught us to expect the expected. Many organizations have been primarily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Some even closed down due to unexpected supply chain disruptions across the globe. Using an automated supply chain gives the benefit of adaptability to respond to such unforeseen circumstances faster. For example, it is possible to keep the warehouses and distribution centers running with autonomous mobile robots even if there is a chronic labor shortage.
Forward-looking manufacturers, retailers, and warehouses already acknowledge the benefits of modernizing their supply chains using automation. However, the pandemic was more likely a wake-up call for those still lagging in adopting digital technologies to streamline their supply chain operations. Moreover, as consumer demand continues to rise with rising expectations for same-day delivery, supply chain leaders must embrace automation sooner to improve efficiencies, manage operations cost, and stay profitable.