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The Future of Supply Chain

At XAct Solutions we work with clients across the entire supply chain, which gives us insight to the significant changes occurring at every stage across all industries. Facility Design and Operations is one of the key areas where rapid change is occurring.

There are three major trends that are shaping the future of supply chains in facility design and operations: robots, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality.

1. Robots are helping to reduce supply chain costs and improve customer experience

There are a number of ways robots are being introduced to reduce supply chain costs and improve customer experience. Three examples include:

Carton Optimisation Equipment

Growth in ecommerce is driving the development of packaging optimisation equipment able to deal with random package sizes. Cartons are sized to match order size, resulting in higher utilization of vehicles, lower shipping costs, reduced waste and an improved customer experience.

Robotic Piece Picking

Piece picking spider robots have been available for the picking of small, lightweight items for some time, but robots are being deployed to pick and pack a greater range of product and order types, replacing labour in goods to person operations and delivering round the clock performance and accuracy.

Widespread adoption of Goods To Person (GTP)

GTP costs have come down and flexibility has increased. Coupled with labour shortages, higher labour costs and tougher OH&S laws, this has seen GTP become more attractive and be adopted more widely. Although GTP has been around for some time, the integrators are becoming more innovative with its development, producing roaming shuttles and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) that travel between aisles or directly to pick stations.

2. Autonomous vehicles are helping warehouses to operate 24/7

Autonomous vehicles allow warehouses to operate 24/7 with reduced staffing demands, while also saving time. There are two major ways autonomous vehicles are currently being adopted in warehouses:

Warehouse Drone Stock Count

Aerial drones fitted with scanners are being developed to perform stocktakes within warehouses. This allows stock takes to be performed in a fraction of the time, more safely and with greater accuracy. While warehouse drones have initially been applied to simple full pallet operations, we will see them rapidly evolve to do more.

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) adoption in warehousing

Long used in manufacturing for moving items between processes, AGVs are now becoming more mainstream in warehousing, safely performing a wide variety of putaway and retrieval tasks. AGVs are particularly attractive where round the clock operation is desired, reducing labour costs and increasing efficiency, safety and reliability.

3. Does augmented reality have a role within the warehouse?

Augmented reality provides the warehouse staff member with a visual representation of information and directions usually in combination with a real view of the environment. Though for some time promoted as the next big thing, augmented reality in the warehouse has not yet been properly realized. Numerous safety issues are yet to be overcome and actual deployments have been limited to stationary, repetitive tasks and to servicing of equipment. Augmented reality is developing quickly – one to watch!

Implementing new technology in your facility design and operations

There are a number of DC innovations in the marketplace, with new solutions continually being developed. While this creates opportunities for businesses, making sense of the solutions, modelling the implications and understanding the alternatives is paramount to making an effective investment that truly unlocks cost efficiencies and competitive advantage to your organisation. Businesses will not benefit just by jumping on the latest trends without this knowledge and analysis. Independent advice is often key to this process, as it allows for an unbiased recommendation to be made.

If you’re thinking about introducing DC automation/ innovations into your supply chain, it is imperative that you:

1. Clearly outline your requirements and know what the right solution is for your operation. Not all solutions are compatible or the best option for your context. Flexibility is also an important consideration when automating. How reliable are the volume projections? How much flexibility is required to be able to incorporate new business opportunities with very different products and SKU counts and volumes?

2. Have a clear understanding of the benefits and risks of your alternatives (e.g. impact on property and transport arrangements).

3. Have an independent subject matter expert on your side during design, procurement and implementation of the automation solution. This is an up-front investment to protect the project’s overall return on investment.

XAct Solutions’ DC Design and Operations team have great technical and operational depth in design, assessing and implementing automation innovations for clients across Asia Pacific. Feel free to reach out to meet one of our experts and discuss how we can help you make the right decisions for your business.