Advancements in technology have had a profound affect on the efficiency and operations of product distribution. By introducing technical systems and technology-based processes into product distribution models, order fulfillment companies can benefit from significant improvements to efficiency, workflow, and at the end of the day, the bottom line.
Technology has affected modern product distribution in the following key ways:
- Integrating flows of information between sales, marketing, distribution and logistics.
- Improving flexibility and balance with product demand and inventory levels.
- Optimizing warehouse management.
- Maximizing distribution efficiency.
Information Flow Integration
The enhancements to communication that technology offers have impacted information flow in amazing ways. From the moment an order is received and throughout the product distribution process to shipment, information can be seamlessly integrated across all departments.
While improved team communication tools provide the opportunity for immediate contact anywhere in the world (with a wifi connection), specialized programs can now convert sales into orders automatically in real-time, moving them directly into the supply chain for fulfillment. With modern equipment and technology, the product distribution process essentially becomes a constantly moving mechanism of almost fully automated operation supported by human labor and management.
Product Demand and Inventory Management
With technology automatically transforming sales into orders, and systematizing the order fulfillment process, orders enter the supply chain and proceed toward fulfillment with minimal human intervention. Information about inventory levels, product demand, and partner offerings can be transmitted as needed to facilitate more efficient inventory management. These immediate notifications allow for far more accurate projections about order volumes and more efficient inventory management to reduce costs, mistakes, and delays in product distribution.
Additionally, supply chain partners and inventory distributors can have access to real-time transmission of order volumes into the distribution network to facilitate better planning for production quantities and delivery timelines. Technology and technical systems improve flexibility and timeliness, while reducing waste in the product distribution process.
Warehouse Workflow Optimization
Before automated systems and modern equipment advances, warehouse workers wasted considerable amounts of time traveling throughout the warehouse to move product. Today, most of the product movement is facilitated by machines and warehouse management software to reduce lag time, improve accuracy with order fulfillment, and optimize warehouse floor space.
Modern warehouses can be smaller with more efficient inventory management and movement, since they are no longer limited by the access capabilities of forklifts or restricted by aisle widths that must accommodate two forklifts operating at the same time. Contemporary equipment such as conveyors, rails and elevators can be integrated with a centralized computer network to improve efficiency while reducing errors. Pallets and units can be placed randomly and then called up when needed without concern of misplacement because the centralized network is more accurate at records than a human with a clipboard.
Distribution Process Efficiency
Since it’s far faster and more accurate than human analysis, technology helps attain the most cost-effective and fast product distribution process. Today’s product distribution traffic managers can optimize distribution by using software that analyzes the best route for the lowest cost and/or fastest fulfillment. With warehouse workflow optimized for best use of floor space and movement of goods from storage to loading bays for shipment, the product distribution process can be made far more efficient.
The technological advantage continues from the warehouse to loading bays as well. Using specialized shipment analysis software, shipment trucks can be loaded according to the most efficient route if/when they are making multiple deliveries. Goods that are planned for the last delivery would be loaded in first, so that products don’t have to be unloaded and re-loaded multiple times along the route to their destination. This not only improves delivery speed, but also reduces risk of damage during shipping.
As you consider upgrading, migrating or adding to your supply chain technology, you should consider a few important things. This includes the learning curve, first and foremost—training your workforce on new technologies will take time, and you’ll need to plan for fulfillment delays or downtime in some cases. Next, do a comprehensive (and unbiased) review of new technologies before you purchase and implement them into the product distribution process, because you’ll want to step beyond the sales representative to determine whether or not the technology impacts your business positively, and in the ways you want it to. Finally, be sure to measure the performance of a new system once you’ve given it time to do its work. There should be tangible value and reporting to prove its effectiveness.
Technology continues to advance with upgrades in accuracy, detail, capability, speed and more. As upgrades to software and logistics technologies improve, distributors can continue to implement effective systems in order to further reduce lead times and inventories as well as their associated costs.