Inbound Logistics | May 2022

blind spots that often leave available inventory on the shelves when demand swings do occur,” says Keith Brereton, director of client services with Tecsys, a supply chain management software company. Supply chains need to recognize how markets are converging: Warehouses are fulfilling individual customer orders in addition to supplying retailers, while stores are picking, packing, and shipping like mini warehouses. Factor in drop shipping, click and collect, return logistics, and 3PL partnerships, and a technology layer that optimizes and distributes across channels becomes indispensable. COLLABORATION AND CONNECTION Flexibility is another component of distribution center resilience, and that’s driving interest in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). “Retail changes all the time,” says Gary Allen, vice president of supply chain excellence with Ryder. Technology needs to be able to manage that variability. Robots often are better at handling high numbers of SKUs than fixed systems, such as automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). They tend to be less expensive, as well. Robots also can accommodate tighter turnaround times on orders. That has become critical, as delivery deadlines on retailers’ orders continue to shrink, including on truckload orders. Another benefit: AMRs can work within existing DC infrastructures and relatively easily scale to meet peaks in demand. “AMRs have been the technology that’s made the biggest impact,” says Adrian Kumar, global head of operations science and analytics with DHL Supply Chain. Because collaborative robots receive information from the warehouse management system and then work with humans to execute operations, it’s often possible to double productivity, Kumar says. For instance, the robot may have a screen that shows a picture of the item to be picked and the quantity. In addition, it will stop in front of the pick location,

Transitioning from business-to-business to direct-to-consumer (D2C) fulfillment is an increasingly important competitive edge for manufacturers, sellers, and third-party logistics providers. The initial change is in basic philosophy. Most providers go from worrying about bulk servicing thousands of units on palletized loads to managing the throughput time of thousands of orders requiring additional touches for picking and packing. Several factors come into play when transitioning to a D2C model without exponentially increasing costs. The physical layout of your pick zones maximizes the space and creates an efficient picking environment for your associates, while choosing the right storage solution for commodities should allow for products and markings that are easily visible. Inventory management is critical too, because having clean receipt, put away, replenishment, and cycle count processes in place keeps order fulfillment streamlined, efficient, and accurate. Understanding the profile of the inventory that you are shipping is also important. For example, monitoring the velocity of products and utilizing that data in the slotting process will make your picking process operate more efficiently by reducing the pick path and distance for operators. There is no way around implementing some level of technology to be a competitive D2C fulfillment operation. At the very foundation, a functionally rich warehouse management system seamlessly manages e-commerce’s fluctuating demands. Also, it’s much easier to expand your automation solutions when you start with the right baseline efficiency. Then you’re not redefining your entire process to accommodate a new technology, which can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. It’s better to find solutions that modulate well, so that you are simply enhancing your efficiency with additional tech. In short, having the right mindset, tools, and solid plan allows for an optimized process and smooth transition for the organization and its ops team. – By Brian Kirst, VP Sales & Business Development, Synergy NA, SnapFulfil WMS CHANGING KEYS: MAKING THE SWITCH TO DIRECT SELLING

May 2022 • Inbound Logistics 47

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