Logistics is increasingly under focus in modern businesses as it is an area where real differentiation can be made. Strategic input can create efficiencies which have an immensely positive impact on customer perceptions and the bottom line. Where we are really seeing these efficiencies is in the area of automation and robotics in third-party logistics providers (3PLs). These technologies can remove manual tasks which can be slow and prone to human error. The result is improved performance, competitive advantage and increased revenue.
The Game is on
Of course what this means in practice is that there is a race to modernising 3PLs through robotics and automation. The industry is undergoing immense change. Inventory tracking, scheduling and order processes are all ripe territory for automation. So, how can we be part of the race to our own advantage?
Using Email to Schedule Shipments
At the moment, scheduling is a laborious and time-consuming task, often involving a great degree of fire-fighting. The ability to submit a shipment request by email and have that acted on automatically saves time and effort re-entering data on to different systems.
This service requires a platform using smart robotics software to pull out the information needed from emails and automatically using the data to schedule shipments. It can then go further to email customers with information of what’s going on with their shipment, as well as email carriers who need to know delivery and pick-up details. The result is an immensely streamlined and efficient process.
What’s more, this can all take place within seconds and minutes rather than hours and days.
Customers really like this experience because they are fully informed and in-the-loop in real-time. If this is combined with GPS tracking of logistics items and vehicles then they can track their product and verify its security and arrival.
Scheduling, Tracking and Routing: Adding More Efficiency
A worthwhile case study to look at here is how Crete Carrier, powered by Kofax Kapow, streamlines scheduling with robotic process automation. They provide logistics services to big names in the US such as Wal-Mart and Kimberly-Clark. They are creating a competitive edge and ensuring greater on-time delivery success whilst being more efficient and therefore cutting costs.
There are a wide range of factors to consider with regards to scheduling. In order to make scheduling efficient, those factors need to be visible together. You need to consider things such as distance, available and appropriate vehicles, driver flexibility, loading time, customer availability and more. This requires multiple points of information and data, all of which become very labour intensive.
As logistics operations get larger, dealing with more and more deliveries, this inevitably becomes more and more complex and prone to error. Scheduling can ‘grow legs’ of its own.
Crete Carrier has been using robotics process automation for scheduling for around four years. This involves 400 robots with more being designed at the moment. This approach results in excess of 1 million robot executions per annum. Yet, looking after them and the entire process are just three employees as the robotic automation has become so simple. Only when there is a conflict in the robotic scheduling do the humans get involved, who at this point change some parameters to ensure scheduling gets back on track.
The Crete Carrier robotics automation process doesn’t stop there. They also use the same process to improve the visibility of logistics once on the move. Individual vehicles and their loading are working in tandem with software robotics removing the need for the driver to complete location updates. This has proved particularly successful for businesses which deliver directly from manufacture to end-customers, which of course is much more time sensitive than standard B2B services.
Real-Time Stock Tracking and Order Status Updates
Customers are increasingly becoming aware of their ability to be included in the visibility process in real-time. Businesses can gain a competitive edge by using robotics to provide this real-time insight into what’s going on with a customer’s order. Instead of customers approaching businesses with their order queries and problems, much of this can be alleviated by simply and automatically providing them with up-to-date information that is relevant to them. This makes for a much more proactive approach.
This works by assigning a tracking number to an order reference from the moment it enters the organisation’s warehouse management system (WMS). As the order moves through the logistics process, updates automatically feed through using robotics software. This in turn automatically sends email notifications to customers. This also makes customer service much easier for operatives too as they have fantastic real-time visibility.
This process can be applied throughout the entire logistics approach. If automation is used to check stock levels then inventory management is easier, and also enables you to email customers in real time regarding out-of-stock items.
Automation in the Future
We aren’t there yet. There’s still a long way to go as we as an industry develop and implement appropriate and effective robotics technology and automation. Different businesses are developing different tools which can be scaled and expanded as required, but also for different needs. As the technology develops, robotics can be used for ever more complex tasks, and ultimately potentially be used in every facet of third-party logistics.
For now, logistics operators need to build their awareness of what robotics process automation can achieve. They need to look at the areas where labour is intensive, manual input is rife, and productivity struggles. Looking at these areas they can consider how robotics technology can alleviate problems, improve customer service and widen margins. Eliminating manual processes will give third-party logistics the competitive edge.
Ultimately this will break down the silo situation that we see commonly in logistics and instead integrate all facets and create welcome transparency and visibility.