Posted On January 4, 2021
“That was easy.”
Automation is making parts of the shipping process easier for companies of all sizes—and it’s not going away anytime soon. Businesses are looking for new ways to include automation in their shipping processes, and at the same time, automation capabilities keep getting more advanced.
Flat World (and our transportation logistics software arm, Prologue Technology) helps companies add automation to their supply chains every single day, through innovative technology that connects with countless other platforms. Here’s what you need to know to make automation part of your company’s plans for 2021.
The Benefits of Supply Chain Automation
The biggest draw for automation is the ability for companies to save time and increase efficiency in their operations. Cutting out manual tasks frees up time for employees to accomplish more or focus on other projects.
Ability to Scale
In a time when warehouse employment is at an all-time high, optimizing employee efficiency can be a game-changer. By doing more in the same amount of time, companies can scale faster.
Better Customer Satisfaction
That increase in efficiency also leads to the next benefit: higher customer satisfaction, thanks to orders going out more quickly and on-time. As more consumers turn to e-commerce for their shopping needs, companies are getting overwhelmed by order fulfillment, and automation solves that challenge.
More Accurate Data
Relying less on manual data entry and more on automation can decrease the chances of human error in the shipping process. Over time, more accurate data allows companies to gain better insights in their sales and processes and make smarter decisions for the future.
But there’s another question companies should be asking too: what are the consequences of not incorporating automation in the supply chain?
As automation becomes more prevalent, shippers who are still relying on the old ways of doing things will not only miss out on the benefits, they’ll be overtaken by competitors. Depending on the industry and competitor landscape, automation might be a leg up against the competition—or it might be the necessary step in keeping up.
Supply Chain Automation: What You Can (And Should) Be Automating
While automation can bring positive benefits to departments throughout a company, the place where it most often comes into play is on the loading dock.
Without automation, a dock worker—we’ll call him Dan—might get an order notice and need to figure out the weight and dimension of the package. He’d also need to open several tabs to find carrier rates and do some comparisons on pricing and transit time. Once he decides which is best, Dan might type up a bill of lading, submit the pickup request and print out the shipping label.
Implementing automation in the TMS (or Transportation Management System) eliminates much of Dan’s manual work. If Dan uses Pipeline, Flat World’s TMS, he just scans the order number once the order is placed. With the product sizes and dimensions pre-filled into the system, Pipeline aggregates all carrier rate options and chooses the best one for the shipper’s priorities. The bill of lading, pickup request and shipping label are automatically filled out and printed.
Now, Dan can begin filling two or three orders in the time he used to fill one.
The sales office benefits from using automation too. By programming the TMS to automatically choose the best carrier option, a salesperson can give more accurate shipping rates to customers on the front end and have a better picture of how much profit will come from each sale.
Does supply chain automation eliminate jobs?
We get this question a lot, because so much time is freed up by implementing automation. What’s much more likely is that the number of jobs stays the same—but the productivity skyrockets.
For example, one of Flat World’s clients was processing 300-400 orders a day between three employees. After implementing automation, that same team of three is now able to process 800-1,000 orders a day, allowing the company to scale.
How to Get Started with Supply Chain Automation
The logistics of adding automation to a company’s supply chain vary widely based on the size of the company and what technology they’re already using. But we’ve found that many Flat World customers are pleasantly surprised with how quickly the process can go. (One of our clients, an automotive parts manufacturer and distributor, told us it was it was “the easiest implementation we’ve ever had.”)
To get started with automation, take a look at your current processes and determine where you have the most inefficiencies and room for improvement. You’ll also need to evaluate whether the TMS you have in place can allow you to automate those processes. A TMS needs to be customizable enough, and able to integrate with ERPs and other software, to make automation actually work.
From there, you can work with your TMS provider or logistics partner to start programming the automation. Depending on the size of your company and its needs, your business could be automating within the quarter.
It’s that easy.
Have questions about adding automation to your supply chain, or whether your TMS will be able to give you the automation capabilities you need? Let’s talk!