Why your postman might have a technology background
Why your postman might have a technology background
For more than a decade, the logistic industry has shown a steady growth, now worth over $300 billion and still growing inexorably. However, this growth has never been easy. The industry has been confronted with new customer expectations, new business models, new market entrants and the need for optimized approaches. And then all of sudden, Covid-19 added an even higher degree of difficulty by demanding elevated performance in an emergency situation and the simultaneous need to prepare for the future even more. A future that requires agility, sustainability and visibility in the supply chain. A future that defines the roles anew. And a future that puts a lot of pressure on every protagonist in the logistic industry — from warehouse person to postman.
While addressing these challenges, it is crucial to understand the impact of technology in logistics — in particular in the areas of supply chain optimization, communication approaches, customer-centricity and the right extent of agility. And how all of these areas benefit from technological progress in IoT, big data, robotics and AI solutions.
Optimised supply chain solutions
Optimisation in the supply chain is driven by the need for greater efficiency and productivity, improved flexibility, and real-time visibility across complex networks. At the same time management issues, such as high labour costs and labour shortages need to be addressed. In addition, there is a strong need for real-time supply chain visibility to mitigate disruptions and improve delivery performance and order fulfilment within ever tighter deadlines.
To address these issues, software for process optimization is being adopted across the supply chain, from manufacturing and packaging, through to data capture on the movement of products and intelligent visibility across different information silos, departments and external stakeholders. All these activities are undertaken with the aim of enabling end-to-end visibility and the traceability of orders, products and assets.
Visual Sort Assist
In other areas of process optimization, “Visual Sort Assist” (VSA) solutions are being deployed. It’s a combination of detection and projection technology that can speed up the process of sorting parcels on a conveyor belt. The system is designed to be used in sites where the workers receive, sort and process items such as in production facilities, retail warehouses, and sorting and distribution centres. As packages are checked and routed accordingly, sorting operations are improved dramatically. At the same time, the solution enables less staff involvement, more social distancing, reduced time spent training the workforce and reduced errors in processing.
Another optimization example is Intelligent Warehouse Solutions (iWS) — a complete solution which includes surveillance cameras, network video recording and tracking software to provide visual intelligence on the movement of packages, parcels, parts and assets. It can monitor the progress of any items through the production or delivery processes, identifying losses, damage or interruptions to their progress and provide vital visual information when investigations are required.
Technology to support communications
Effective communication is the foundation of an efficient logistics operation. When speed is valued more than ever, there is no room for non-transparent communication, where information is hoarded or shared quickly. Lags in communication can lead to lower efficiency and increased costs — as well as the overall demotivation of employees. Timely communication and collaboration possibilities between the different stakeholders in the supply chain — independent from their operational area — are therefore of the utmost importance.
One example of success is Elitfönster, which has more than 1,000 employees and produces approximately 550,000 windows per year. By installing rugged mobile computing devices to its forklift trucks in the warehouse, the company has found a digital communication solution to replace its paper-based system. The detachable robust devices, conveniently placed in a docking station near the driver’s seat, provide all the information that the truck drivers need. This makes the warehouse more efficient, effective and safer for the drivers because there is no longer any need to leave the trucks to retrieve, update and record warehousing information.
Communications technology can also support warehouse workers by providing them with the freedom to operate hands-free via headset and microphone. Voice picking is a popular solution for warehouses and distribution centres. Pickers wear headsets connected to a mobile computing device that runs a voice application telling the pickers where to go and what to do next. The person can then respond or confirm to the application via a microphone and speech recognition technology.
The technology has a number of benefits in speed and accuracy for the business. Firstly, it speeds the process of picking and shipping items. Secondly, it minimises mistakes in items picked and customer orders shipped. Its adoption, alongside other wearable technology such as smart gloves, is transforming operations.
Customer-Centricity addressed by Gemba Process Innovation
There is no doubt that customer-centricity is one of the key elements to provide an applicable technology solution that optimizes processes, drives profit and creates competitive advantage for a logistics business. In the end, it all comes back to understanding the demands and requirements of the logistics company and providing the right solutions on-site.
Panasonic’s emphasis on a customer-centric approach in logistics is strongly illustrated by the introduction of Gemba Process Innovation. “Gemba” is the physical site where things happen — in Japanese the word literally means “the actual place”. In supply chain management, the gemba is where things are made, moved, or sold; the site where value is generated and problems must be confronted. The factory floor, the warehouse, or points-of-sale; these are referred to as the “gemba”. Gemba Process Innovation draws on all Panasonic’s business, technology and solutions know-how, to help customers innovate these processes on-site.
Security hardware and software has long been an important technology to the logistics industry. However, the addition of AI to the next generation of camera systems is transforming this technology from reactive to proactive uses in the logistics industry.
For example, AI-based analytics enables the identification of staff for automated entrance management — even with masks or scarfs covering their faces. Intrusion detection (human or vehicle) provided in combination with automated alarm triggering means less staff are required on on-site for supervision. This type of solution can be used for monitoring vehicle movements and parking as well as people entering and leaving secured areas. Furthermore, technology solutions for social distancing and occupancy levels, as well as heat mapping, head-counting and dwell time analysis can simplify the monitoring of health and safety and even help to enforce social distancing.
A pandemic faced by agility
Lastly, Covid-19 has changed the world — caution and social distancing are dominating the everyday life and businesses are requested to provide agile solutions to address the new normal. Even a simple process of accepting a parcel needs to be re-considered: Are there non-touch approaches for signing the acceptance / receipt? Can a safe distance between the recipient and the postman be maintained? Are agile processes in place to meet the constantly changing government health and safety Covid-19 guidelines? And what happens, once the pandemic is over? Will everyone get used to the new approach or will there be another necessity to change? Independent of what the future will bring — agility will be key. And most likely it will not be about “re-inventing the wheel” but rather looking for competitive advantage in in areas of the operation that will make a difference.
These are just some of the ways in which technology is helping the logistics industry to deliver a successful future. The right utilization of technology solutions addressing the areas of optimizing supply chains, communication, customer-centricity and the right extent of agility can certainly make a difference. And this difference is inevitable for every business as the logistics industry is subject to constant change. Technology is the key enabler to accompany, perform and lead this change — influencing all the protagonists in the logistics industry, from the warehouse person to your postman.
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