Not a moment after the founding of the first civilizations, trade routes sprang up. These routes were dangerous and required a host of obscure roles to ensure the successful transportation of goods. Fast forward a few thousand years and the art of logistics has only grown in depth and scale.
Today, the bulk of logistics is concerned with improving order fulfillment. Dedicated systems exist for ensuring that orders can be placed with confidence, will arrive quickly, and will be accurate and intact.
All of this depends, as it did the in trade routes of old, on specific roles. Today you are far more likely to see the term supply chain than outrider, but the work is the same.
To shape up your own order fulfillment you need to understand what can be done in-house. You also need to know what needs to be addressed with partners up and downstream.
Next Level Order Fulfillment
The field of logistics demands precision, planning, and innovation. Since its inception, it has sought to do more tomorrow than was possible today.
With the globalization of industry and push for instant access to goods and services, logistics now underpins most industries and companies. From the smallest to the largest, a logistics minded supply chain drives revenue.
In today’s business climate, efficiency comes from minute changes across the entire stream. These start and end with transportation. Along the way, you’ll need to evaluate storage, tracking, picking, and labor practices.
The first step in the order fulfillment process is receiving. As raw materials, partially completed components, and finished products come into the warehouse it’s essential that they be entered into a comprehensive system.
Digital data storage and inventory tracking depend on items entering the system as they’re received. This includes entry into the WMS (warehouse management system).
Items need to unload from trucks quickly to keep the warehouse flow working and get drivers back on the road. An integrated WMS that operates with the shipping makes this work faster and adds to transparency across the entire logistics stream.
Routing of shipments and deliveries makes a big difference in cutting down transport times. When trucks need to make multiple small deliveries across a wide area, every stop adds time to process.
Using computer-aided routing algorithms and developing speedy receiving dock protocols drastically improves everything downstream. Nothing is worse than keeping personnel on-hand to unload a truck that hasn’t arrived. That, or waiting for a shipment to enter the system to complete an order.
Improving the flow of the warehouse makes it easier to access the most important products quickly. A distinction between long, mid, and short term storage allows better flow through the warehouse.
This leads to fewer instances of lost products and delays in loading from blocked access routes. Revisiting warehouse flow also limits the hurry time that contributes to forklift and moving equipment accidents.
Warehouses feature prominently in crime stories as out-of-the-way locations that spend large amounts of time abandoned. This is a far cry from modern warehouses that have near-constant personnel and equipment shifting resources around.
How a warehouse stores materials contributes to intake and outflow. Stages of storage need to exist to prevent clogging up floor space in high-mobility areas with slow-moving items.
To design better storage you need a plan and enough data to identify prescient timetables. Part of this comes from the warehouse flow, the other from the tracking process employed.
Batch tracking makes it far easier to move items through a staged process. The picking strategy at play also dictates how access to storage is handled be it in bulk or individual access.
Inventory and storage are two different beasts. Storage is about the space available to place, retrieve, and move inventory. Inventory is the stuff that gets moved.
Inventory is the lifeblood of the logistics beast. The difference between a stored item and inventory is intent. An item becomes inventory when it has somewhere to go, no matter how far in the future that travel gets booked.
Inventory that gets lost or no longer has a way to get from A to B becomes items again. Unprofitable items that lose value even if relocated. To prevent this, inventory management requires a constant sense of purpose.
Think of it like a stage of matter. Solids are really slow-moving liquids which are slow-moving gases.
Tracking ties together and facilitates all of the above. Improvements to tracking are both the most far-reaching of improvements and often the most expensive in terms of labor and infrastructure.
Changes to a tracking system can’t create too much delay or they defeat themselves, so staged roll-outs are ideal. However, changing a system constantly over the course of years creates confusion and leads to fatigue on the part of personnel.
The best way to improve tracking information is then in stages. Create a single system and apply it to sectors in turn. This way the system itself is both easy to learn and reinforced word-of-mouth by personnel already using it.
Customers, and other members of the supply chain, demand and depend on transparency, especially in eCommerce order fulfillment.
Knowing where inventory is along the chain allows systems to update and for people to set proper expectations for deliveries and product completion.
Data security of tracking information also needs to be kept in mind. Create a data information plan that accommodates endpoint customers, suppliers, and manufacturers so that only the information they need goes out.
Knowing where everything is, getting it into the warehouse, and being ready to get it back out quickly are important time-savers improved by technology and big data.
The picking process is where policy shapes the majority of improvements. Tracking systems and warehouse automation have come a long way but automation along the picking line is still ineffective in comparison to earnestly-trained and well-positioned human pickers.
Currently, up to 70% of a warehouse’s costs go into the picking line. Improving the process puts that cash to work.
Improving accuracy is important for customer satisfaction and to keep suppliers locked-in on contracts. It takes a scant few mistakes in the ordering and receiving process to distress and lose a customer.
Speed is important but consumers would rather get the right item slower than the wrong item faster. The shipping industries would also appreciate this, (see the Last Mile).
To ensure accuracy redundancies and scanning of SKUS to complete orders remain important. However, a dedicated area for correcting mistakes and offering replacements for damaged goods needs to be a priority. Nobody wants to get the wrong thing and have it replaced slowly.
Delays in the picking process escalate through the remainder of the fulfillment process. An order that needs to be dealt with more than once obviously more than doubles the time it takes to complete an order. This is why accuracy is more important than speed but speed still registers.
Speeding ing up picking is about decreasing areas of downtime. This includes walking times and locating times. Pickers need the inventory they are in charge of nearby and easily accessible. This is why maximizing warehouse flow and storage comes earlier in this list.
Once a product leaves the warehouse it still needs to arrive in a timely fashion.
Increasingly, shipping is outsourced to third parties that specialize in diversifying the shipping into a modular system. Ideally, shipments are gathered, sent to a central processing facility, and then distributed in stages based on distance and population density.
Third-party logistics experts like the team at https://inloginc.com/ have established themselves by tackling problems related to shipping distribution and ordering.
One of the most recent key innovations from order fulfillment services is the option of drop shipping. Rather than travel all the way to a distribution hub and then back out, drop-shipping (and the associated routing) produces smoother delivery schedules. In this way, products travel less total distance but at the same centralized process speeds.
Establishing regional contacts and satellite warehouses adds value and quality to shipping schedules.
Few operations have the ability to build their own internal last-mile shipping fleets. Using the current systems comes at either a premium price point or a delay of an extra day to complete.
There are many issues to consider in the last mile problem, however, an emerging wave of independent agents is streamlining this issue. By using local agents cash flows into communities and tricky geographic problems get tackled by those familiar with the area.
The World You Know
Improving the order fulfillment process takes many steps but all of it operates under the umbrella of a controlling plan. If you aren’t considering every link in the chain, you’re likely missing something important.
Data is a necessity for logistics, you need to know more to make the right decisions. Fresh eyes and new ideas can only come about if the integrity of that data is unimpeachable. Work to create a firm data stream and gather reliable numbers from trusted sources. This empowers you to make the tweaks listed above to power your own systems.
Information can come from anywhere. Come back here for more overviews of topics in business and industry.