The race to digitalise is on. In today’s fast-changing, on-demand world, supply chain companies must act fast to stay ahead of the competition. Faced with major global disruptions throughout the supply chain, 2020 taught leaders in Asia Pacific that the speed of change, delivery and operations can directly influence success.
The Zebra Warehousing Asia Pacific Vision Study found that 81 percent of IT and operations decision-makers in the manufacturing, logistics, retail and distribution industries believe that modern technology is key to competing in the on-demand economy. However, only 34 percent of them have a clear understanding of where to start deploying that technology.
In APAC, modernising the warehouse may be challenging, especially for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), some of which continue to rely on manual processes to support their warehouse operations. Reports have also shown that 84 percent of SMBs struggle to execute against their digitalisation goals.
Addressing this is crucial, given the significant economic contributions of SMBs. They contributed to 52 percent of APAC’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, and their further digital transformation could increase APAC’s GDP growth by up to 7.4 percent by 2024.
Technological advances have made it easier for smaller companies to modernise their supply chain operations, especially in warehouses. Innovative solutions are now easier to deploy, more intuitive to use and deliver a faster return on investment (ROI) than legacy technologies.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to warehouse transformation, it is possible for all warehouses to gain new efficiencies from technology.
Empowering The Front Line With Innovative, Yet Intuitive, Technology Tools
There are many ways in which SMBs can revolutionise their warehouse operations in 2021, beginning with barcode scanners.
The use of low-performance barcode scanners in warehouse environments often results in costly productivity losses. By introducing more intelligent and rugged scanners that can accurately read damaged, torn or poorly printed barcodes from any angle, both near and far, with a single trigger pull, businesses can eliminate the need for multiple scans of a single barcode, thereby saving time and money.
Rugged scanners and tablets mounted on forklifts, for example, can help drivers to simultaneously scan barcodes on multiple pallets or packages to verify that they are picking the right inventory – without having to get off the vehicle. This helps facilitate faster, more efficient materials transport, which contributes to the on-time completion of other tasks within picking, packing, shipping, and receiving workflows.
Investing in wearable scanners can also help to expedite the scanning process for those who spend their days walking warehouse aisles, managing docks and processing inventory. And setting up mobile thermal printers near inbound and outbound operations can boost efficiency by eliminating the need for workers to walk back and forth to centralised printers to retrieve shipping labels. It’s best to invest in newer thermal printer models as they are much easier to operate and reload, saving time on employee training and maintenance.
In other words, equipping front-line workers with high performance solutions enables them to move faster and act smarter. This translates into enhanced productivity across workflows and greater agility throughout the supply chains.
Embracing Internet Of Things (IoT) For Productivity And Safety
IoT is one of the most critical drivers of the supply chain process. By investing in IoT, business leaders can gain real-time operational knowledge – improving their ability to track inventory more accurately throughout the supply chain, improve communications among their teams and partners, and provide prescriptive, real-time guidance to their entire workforce.
The Zebra Intelligent Enterprise Index reveals that the pace of IoT adoption is picking up, leading to increasingly greater intelligence levels. In fact, 62 percent of SMBs surveyed have an IoT vision and are currently executing their IoT plans. With the ongoing pandemic, there is much greater urgency to modernise the supply chain in a way that enables businesses to better predict supply levels, mitigate sourcing challenges and improve response capabilities when demand surges occur.
Fortunately, IoT-enabled sensors and locationing technologies enable businesses to give their physical assets a digital voice so they can easily track inventory data, equipment, and vehicles. The mission-critical data captured via these technologies can then be shared across the cloud to the edge of the operation via handheld mobile computers and tablets, empowering workers to make better informed decisions anywhere, anytime.
SMBs that really want to streamline operations and boost worker productivity should also look at wearable technology, such as smart glasses, and plan to integrate all mobile devices and workflow apps with the warehouse management systems (WMS). For instance, employees equipped with head-mounted displays can receive and view easy-to-follow picking instructions at eye level, enabling them to fulfill multiple orders simultaneously. Managers can dynamically assign order fulfillment instructions based on a picker’s current location, availability or even order urgency.
Similarly, technology can help keep workers safe during the pandemic by issuing alerts when employees get closer than six feet from each other. It creates a record when employees are in close contact for a specified period. These data records allow easy contact tracing if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. They can also be used to uncover congested workflow areas, and measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of exposure.
Gaining End-To-End Asset Visibility
Once employee and overall productivity have improved, the next step for SMBs is to increase asset visibility even more. Technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID) registers tagged inventory via an RFID reader as soon as it is taken off the truck and wheeled through the dock doors. RFID readers located throughout the warehouse give visibility to precisely what’s in stock and where it is stored.
The ability to track and trace assets is crucial given that the top challenges cited by operational and IT leaders in Zebra’s Warehousing Asia Pacific Vision Study included picking efficiency and inventory management.
Having more visibility into each piece of inventory can significantly reduce out-of-stocks and the associated lost revenue. While 81 percent of respondents from the same Zebra study agree that they need to modernise their warehouse operations, they admit they are slow to implement new technology.
In today’s on-demand world, being slow to implement new technology could put businesses at risk of losing out to more agile competitors.
Fortunately, getting started is more straightforward than many businesses think. The first step to modernising a warehouse is to run a routine check on daily operations, to determine where efficiencies can be gained. Start by looking at daily tasks performed by employees, as every one of their actions impacts the overall performance of your operations.
If this seems like it will be overwhelming, especially for an SMB, know that businesses in APAC do not have to complete this analysis alone.
There are many technology experts with whom to partner for this process. They will take the lead on conducting the in-depth assessment of warehouse operations and recommend a tailored, comprehensive solution that can provide real, immediate value to the business – and the broader supply chain.
Just be careful not to take any shortcuts in the process. A thorough operational assessment is the only way to uncover pain points and opportunities for improvement.
Without these specific insights, it will be difficult to know where exactly technology can be used to streamline operations or how fast a return on that technology investment may be realised.
With these insights, however, businesses of all sizes can implement new technologies with confidence and scale to a more modernised warehouse operation that is poised to improve productivity and increase profitability.
For more information on how technology is helping warehouse operators modernise their operations and prepare their supply chains for the future, visit Zebra’s Warehouse Solutions resource centre.
Article by Aik-Jin Tan, Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific
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