When you’re running a distribution or fulfillment center, it’s hard to find time to pull your head out of the day-to-day responsibilities to examine the health of your connection to the larger supply chain. A weak link in the supply chain can make the entire chain vulnerable, and being seen as one will put your company in the hot seat. That’s why it’s important to root out weaknesses before they ripple beyond your walls and threaten your future opportunities.

Mastering speed and efficiency is the best way for a distribution or fulfillment center to secure its position within the supply chain, and don’t expect much patience! Your team must consistently work fast, without sacrificing quality, or risk being replaced by more competitive players. Thriving operations routinely prove they have the capacity to meet daily demands and can be trusted to deliver without disruption.

Signs you’re not getting the job done in the eyes of supply chain leaders may be subtle at first but can quickly snowball if you’re not paying attention. Make sure you keep an eye out for these red flags that may send a negative message about your company’s ability to deliver.

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You Must Be a Continuous Communicator.

Supply chain relationships are all about expectations. No one likes surprises, especially in an industry that travels at lightning speed. This makes it critical for distribution and fulfillment centers to communicate in real time with their supply chain partners and end consumers as much as possible. Timely information allows the rest of the chain to make plans or change them accordingly to keep everyone happy and prevent larger problems.

The information your company sends to the chain must be accurate and consistently reliable. A solid system of documentation down to the details and a highly-responsive notification process are essential for getting the job done right. Inventory data is especially critical. Inaccurate data or long lag times in reporting data can trigger confusion from one end of a supply chain to the other and will almost always require time and resources to straighten everything out.

warehouse radios

Poor distribution or fulfillment center communication can cause problems up and down the supply chain. It may leave consumers wondering if products are in stock or being shipped to the right locations. And when critical feedback about product problems is slow to reach manufacturers, turnaround times to fix those problems can create an even bigger slowdown.

Warehouse Management Software (WMS) is key. Is yours upgraded and optimized to its potential? A finely-tuned WMS system is the backbone of your company’s ability to connect to the rest of the supply chain. Good WMS should be able to communicate inventory issues and changes in real-time, as they happen, without having to scan information into the system over and over again. The most efficient WMS systems are paired with a matching hardware solution to ensure the software can do its job right.

And if you assume you can keep pushing your old WMS system to keep up with today’s demands, you’ll quickly run into a brick wall of limitations. Rather than learn the hard way, it’s best to integrate new functions and features as they become available and your budget allows for upgrades.

Even if your WMS is up to par, your methods for feeding data into it may not be. If your barcode scanners keep skipping over key pieces of information, not only does accuracy come into question, productivity comes to a halt each time an employee stops what they’re doing to manually enter the correct data. 

What about labels? Are you using the rights industrial labels for the particular materials, products, and shelves in your warehouse? Are they properly positioned to ensure scanning accuracy? 

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If traditional barcode scanners no longer give you the results you want, radio-frequency identification (RFID) is also an option, although many distribution and fulfillment centers have been slow to adopt this technology. In certain situations, the investment is worth looking into if you want a robust system that accurately tracks all aspects of your inventory flow.

You Could Save More Time, But You Don’t Realize It.

How quickly your distribution or fulfillment center can process and ship inventory largely determines how seriously you can compete in this industry. The quest for accelerated speeds is never ending and you still need to keep an eye on new opportunities so your competitors don’t scoop them all up. Upgrading the technology in your operation will likely shrink wait times and expand your ability to deliver better results. And doors to bigger opportunities often open up when your workforce feels happier and more productive on the job.

Making the most of your human workforce is a key part of the speed push, but even the best workers can only do so much when they’re forced to use outdated technologies. They only have two hands and the question is, are those hands making the most of their time while they’re at work? Wearable technology can free up human hands for more important tasks by automating functions like scanning. Rather than holding scanners to zap barcodes, the devices can now be attached to wrists, fingers, and even glasses.

wearable-tech-supply-chain

And what about cell phones? Are smartphones the smartest tools to keep your workforce connected?  Do employees rely on cell signals to communicate with other workers? Or do they just shout at each other across the warehouse floor? Nothing is faster than a push-to-talk radio when you need a quick answer or immediate response. And communicating over a radio network means you don’t have to compete for wireless signals. 

Two-way radios are extremely reliable and have been counted on for years to keep workers connected. But choosing the wrong radios or skipping service or training can seriously compromise an otherwise smart investment. If you’ve noticed your radios are noisier or need to be repaired more often, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

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Your Space Needs Smarter Strategies.

How do you store inventory? Where exactly is it stored and how long does it stay there? A core competency of a successful distribution or fulfillment operation is your ability to optimize space. How fast and efficiently your team can move inventory sends a message to the supply chain about the strength of your operation.

Aggressively taking advantage of every inch of available space inside your facility gives manufacturers confidence. Top notch distribution and fulfillment centers stack inventory near the ceiling on towering shelving structures carefully designed to safely squeeze in as much inventory as possible. They also make it easily accessible.

Maximizing the use of your space is step one. Making the best use of it is step two. You don’t want fast-moving inventory stored in the back with slow-movers near the front or you’ll create needless, time-wasting work for employees who are already scrambling to fill orders. You also don’t want old inventory monopolizing precious space because it will prevent you from flexing to accommodate sudden surges in other inventory.

security camera

An advanced WMS system can go a long way in optimizing inventory storage and eliminating process redundancies. Surveillance and access control systems can help streamline the effort too. 

No longer just for security, modern surveillance and access control systems are now smart enough to analyze the flow of employees and inventory throughout your facility. The result is a clearer picture, maybe even a heat map, detailing areas and times of congestion that could be balanced out by process shifts or changes in staff schedules. Surveillance and access control systems can even help you stay compliant by confirming actions, such as the loading of a shipment onto a truck at your dock.

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All Together Now.

No single tool or system will likely convince the supply chain that your distribution or fulfillment center is worthy of the opportunity. Becoming truly competitive and staying that way involves a combination of strategies that draw on all the right technologies to streamline performance without compromising quality. It’s not enough to do core functions well. You must also be a good partner who communicates well with everyone you serve, from manufacturers to end consumers, every step of the way.

Avoid being seen as a weak link! Work faster, smarter, and in sync with your supply chain using technology solutions built for your environment. Whether it’s hardware, software, supplies or expertise, our team has the vendor relationships and technology resources to bring your operations up to speed.

Want to make sure you’re choosing the right technologies for your facility? Contact us today to talk through your options>>