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Intelligent Technologies Enhance the Distribution Center

The tentacles of smart technology stretch into virtually every aspect of our lives, whether it's a device that's always in your hand or software that tracks vehicles in real-time with accuracy down to the square inch.

Innovations such as voice tasking, warehouse robotics technology, microprocessors, and the talking lift truck are fundamentally changing the way business is being done. Those who stay on top of these innovations gain an invaluable lead on the competition.

As more warehouses and distribution centers turn to intelligent, high-tech solutions, it is important to take advantage of technology to optimize the efficiency and ultimately increase the revenue of your business.

A closer look at today's available technology shows just how intelligent the tools for the materials handling, logistics, and supply chain industry have become and the transformative impact they can have on operations.

Value is delivered in increased accountability and visibility as supervisors can make critical dispatching decisions in real-time and review historical data for improving operations. In numbers, the use of smart trucks for automatic inventory tracking routinely translates into 30% higher productivity. Drivers can focus on what they do best: driving. Customers can also count on substantial labor savings and improved OSHA safety compliance as a result of the uninterrupted monitoring of the warehouse.

We've seen some exciting examples from our customers about how smart technology can improve the supply chain at TotalTrax, where I serve as CEO. TotalTrax Smart Truck Solutions turns traditional material handling vehicles into smart trucks. In addition, image processing technology transmits images to a centralized monitoring system, giving supervisors real-time access to the warehouse.

Genco Supply Chain Solutions provides a telling example of a business that realized the full potential of this technology and saw immediate and drastic performance improvements in its dry foods distribution center in Lemoyne, Pa.

Genco wanted to improve routing and slot optimization and simplify the receiving and retrieving processes at the 200,000-square-foot facility. It started using the Total Trax Sky-Trax Solution. The results: a 12% increase in facility throughput, 99.9% inventory accuracy, a 20% increase equipment utilization, and a reduction of more than 50% in training time.

“With gained visibility to inventory and vehicle movement, we are now able to analyze each operator's performance, including the amount of idle time and time spent with no load,” Cary Cameron, Genco's vice president of strategic technologies, said in a press release. “The data and reporting Sky-Trax provides allows us to analyze the root cause [using Lean Six Sigma] and measure processes we've never been able to see before.”

Another TotalTrax customer, East Pack, a large kiwi packing house in New Zealand, also realized big gains including a reduction of its forklift fleet from 24 to 16, a sharp drop in shipment penalties, and a significant reduction of penalties for noncompliance of on-time delivery — from $250,000 to $0.

Keeping up with this kind of innovation can help any organization achieve better business results. Even more importantly, you should make sure your organization uses its smart system for a breadth of capabilities and applications to ensure getting the most out of it.

Now we want to hear your experience. What types of smart technology have had the biggest impact on your business?

10 comments on “Intelligent Technologies Enhance the Distribution Center

  1. Eldredge
    March 18, 2014

    Those are impressive benefits experienced in the case study of Genco. Smart technology can do a great deal to eliminate waste.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 20, 2014

    @Frank, i'd be interested in understanding what holds OEMs back from adopting this sort of technology? Is it a cost thing? or training concerns? Are there misperceptions going on?

  3. Frank Cavallaro
    March 20, 2014

    Traditionally, the distribution center has been relegated to being last on the list for strategic investments. As a result, it typically lacks the budget  dollars needed for technological advancement. Compound this with high staff turnover rates and a lack of understanding by the user group and you do not have a fertile ground for innovation. That said, there are progressive organizations that are reaping millions of dollars in ROI from these investments…they get it…and will win because of it.

  4. SunitaT
    March 20, 2014

    Although the power of technology cannot be shunned, it is true that even tracking technology misfires sometimes, and one of those examples is the Boeing that is missing. The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went off the radar on 8th march, and still hasn't been found. The real time tracking technology failed miserably to find a 70 metre long plane carrying 239 passengers. I hope the supply chain involved with making electronics that make tracking easier do not feel the blow, because people are furious over the tracking technology that cannot track a plane.

  5. SunitaT
    March 20, 2014

    @hailey: Probably all three. A company can only adopt a technology that fulfils three criteria: 1. Easy to use 2. Easy to incorporate without having to endure expenditure hassles 3. Long time run. 

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 22, 2014

    @Frank, your points are well taken and i think there's a similar argument to be made for the supply chain as a whole–although i think that the visibility has improved greatly and SC is being seen more and more as a strategic advantage. Surely, the distribution center will become part of that conversation as well. Thanks for the post!

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 22, 2014

    @Tiriapur, I like  your list…and i would add: Clearly linked to a stated business objective with clearly defined ROI.

  8. Adeniji Kayode
    March 24, 2014

    @tirlapur,

    Good comment Tirlapur.

    Because our daily lives depend on different electronics, we sometimes don,t realise that they can still fail totally or take advantage of.

    I am so sure tracking technology companies have gone back to scoreboards or tighten their belts, because this cannot be allowed to continue.

  9. ITempire
    March 31, 2014

    Smart technolgy like tracking is best for cost saving and somehow easy to manage supply chain operations but Organizations cannot completely rely on tracking system for handling distribution activities.

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 31, 2014

    In the end, whatever the technology, it's only as good as how well it's leveraged for use within the organization.

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