Technology keeps changing the game all around us, including the distribution industry. It’s become a lot more complicated than physically moving stuff from point A to point B. In turn, that’s changed many staff roles, from movers to monitors. Along the way, technology has also impacted other important aspects of the distribution industry:
#1 Information Flows
Distribution and logistics disciplines have become integrated and directly linked to sales and marketing. Programs are designed to convert real-time sales and marketing projections into orders for moving inventory from one position to the next as a continually moving mechanism. Some elements of the supply chain and distribution are essentially the same, though technology and modern equipment have altered performance attributes substantially. Labor and industries will continue to adapt to these changes.
#2 Product Demand
Supply chains now can operate with minimal human intervention in the order placement function. In a vertically integrated system with closely aligned supply chain partners, sales and demand information can be transmitted back into the distribution network to anticipate order volumes. Likewise, distributors may transmit their inventory draw down to their own suppliers/producers in real-time so they may plan production times and quantities.
Advantages are flexibility, timeliness and a substantial reduction in inventory as a result of foreseeable demand.
#3 Warehouse Management
In a modern warehouse, goods come to the workers; workers don’t go to the goods. This shift in thinking significantly impacts the labor and industries involved, resulting in improved speed, accuracy and space optimisation.
With technology, warehouses may be smaller. The height and breadth of the warehouse is not limited by the reach capability of a forklift with aisles wide enough for two to comfortably operate. With a network of rails, conveyors and elevators, pallets or other units can be placed randomly in slots to be called forth later by the centralised computer network. When summoned to a loading area, the system routes the units on computer-controlled conveyors to the loading area for placement onto the appropriate delivery vehicle.
#4 Traffic Management, Loading and Delivery
Traffic managers utilise software to optimise equipment and time for distribution efficiency. Orders are analysed for least-cost routing prior to loading. Trucks are loaded according to the most efficient routing while drivers are guided by GPS systems to minimise costs.
More Shifts on the Way
Logistics managers and software developers will continue to streamline the distribution process to wring cost from the supply chain by lowering inventories, shortening lead times and reducing safety stocks at each level. Today, companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart are even exploring the feasibility for drone deliveries that can shorten the lead-time to delivery to just hours rather than days. Smart stuff!