Emerging Trends in the Logistics and Distribution Knowledge Areas
RFID technology is the hardware used to communicate information (typically bar code information) to computer software systems that gather and use the data (such as a WMS). The manufacturing of RF equipment is dominated by several market leaders that typically go to market through various distribution channels, including resellers.
It is important to recognize that RF technology provides the backbone—but not the nerve center—of a physical operation.In other words, RF provides the ability to gather data, but not necessarily to make use of it. RF and bar coding technologies need to be implemented in conjunction with software systems that not only gather the data, but that also respond to it in real time or in batch mode.
RF technology has evolved from its origins in proprietary systems to the point where today’s solutions use industry-standard, wireless communications protocols. New product innovations continue to emerge to improve the ergonomics and usability of the terminals. When choosing a solution provider, it is important to look beyond price and to study the equipment options, use of standards, and level of supplier support available for your geographic area.
2. Supply Chain Optimization Systems
Inventory visibility, order status, transportation shipments, sales and customer service information, product information, etc., have traditionally been isolated in various functional silos within the organization, and very little information-sharing was possible due to a lack of integration of enterprise software systems. Supply chain visibility technology attempts to integrate systems in a unified, ubiquitous Web user interface so that information-sharing can take place not only within the enterprise, but also up and down the supply chain, with customers and suppliers. Many firms are discovering that they can offer informational value to their trading partners to improve collaboration and competitive advantage. These solutions typically involve heavy integration to other systems, and therefore, often involve significant customization and require time-consuming data-mapping efforts. It is important to ensure that the software supplier provides appropriate service and support for ongoing changes
3. Voice Recognition Technology
Voice recognition technology is a relatively new application in industrial environments, but it is one that promises tremendous value going forward. This technology enables industrial operators (e.g., warehouse order pickers) to receive voice instructions from a headset, enabling a paperless work environment and eliminating the need for RF devices to scan bar codes to confirm transactions. Early implementations indicate that order accuracy, real-time inventory information, less training for new personnel, increased productivity, elimination of paper documents, and the ability to support multiple languages in the distribution center work force are all exciting benefits of voice technology. There are few suppliers of voice technology solutions at the moment. When evaluating suppliers, ensure that the solution provider can integrate voice technology to the chosen software support system (such as WMS)
4. Labor Productivity Systems
A labor productivity system is a solution that predicts and monitors the amount of direct warehouse labor required to execute warehouse operations, such as order-picking and stock movement activities. These solutions are closely coupled with the WMSs that generate the work to be done. For this reason, most labor productivity software is an extension of a high-end WMS solution. To predict the labor time required to execute tasks, engineered labor standards are typically used in conjunction with XYZ coordinates for each physical stock location. Many firms having a large warehouse direct labor force use this software to measure operator performance, and often companies can create financial incentive systems based on the engineered standards. In unionized environments, the software can play a key role in contract negotiations regarding labor productivity.
5. Yard Management Systems (YMS)
The YMS is an application that controls the movement of trailers, inventory, and people within the exterior distribution center yard. These applications tend to be deployed by firms with significant assets in private fleets, with 100 or more trailers, or by firms with significant traffic within the yard that is controlled by yard jockeys. The software controls the movement of trailers and the prioritization of loads to be received through instructions issued to the yard jockeys via wireless communications. There are few suppliers of this software due to the marketplace being relatively small and the solutions being in their infancy stages. Some of the larger WMS solution providers market YMS as an extension of their product portfolio, and there are stand-alone solution providers as well. It is important to assess the level of sophistication required from this application, because some of the solutions are advanced in terms of their capabilities.
6. Dynamic Routing Applications
Dynamic routing applications optimize the assignment of outbound orders to trucks to minimize shipping costs. These solutions are typically deployed by firms that operate a private fleet, and that have dynamic shipping schedules and multiple stops per load. These software systems use digitized road network databases to develop accurate times and mileages for the truckloads being routed. Digitized road networks were once only available for the United States, but more and more, other countries are now able to take advantage of this technology.
There are a few time-tested and proven applications in this market, most of which have been acquired by other firms. i.e. Enginest formerly known as Inria http://www.enginest.com. New European entrants to the North American market are providing alternative solutions. If you would like to read more about the topics discussed here such as RFID and Supply Chain Optimization then I would suggest to go to www.technolologyevaluation.com, where in the vendor showcase you can read about the vendor solutions in this knowledge area and obtain white papers and RFP Templates to assist your organization in evaluating the criteria in this area.