A More Connected Path: Fulfillment Centers Powered by the IoT

Published : November 11, 2015

A more connect path: fulfillment centers powered by the IoT

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is not a flash in the pan when it comes to fulfillment center development. It's an incredibly useful network that's revolutionizing the entire supply chain—from raw materials to consumer delivery. If you've shrugged it off as a whim for larger companies until now, it's time to take a closer look into all the ways a comprehensive buy-in will bring your goals within reach. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many facets a properly-configured IoT weaves its way into.

Step 1: Tapping into Partner Transparency

The building blocks of your IoT solutions begin with your supply chain partners. While you can do a great deal with in-house data and connectivity, ultimately it's the "heads up" opportunities found in external routes and tracking that hold the greatest benefits. Working with your current partners to either funnel existing device-based data to you or to set up a network to catch it in the first place will help you cement current business relationships—or replace poorly functioning ones.

The IoT can be used to monitor the whole lifecycle of a product—from manufacturing plant to customer doorstep or store shelf—to lessen the risk and/or impact of mishandled freight. This data can then be used to hold suppliers accountable for how they are, or aren't, treating your items in transit. Transparency and digital adoption with an eye towards your mutual technology wins should be a core discussion point in any negotiations with new vendors, as well. A lack of capability or relevant technological progress on their part may signal a mismatch of operational philosophies.

Step 2: A Top-Down View of Transportation

One of the more obvious applications for the IoT is in company fleet management. Not only does connecting a fleet to your IoT enable you to give customers more realistic delivery windows, it also enables you to re-route shipments and add or subtract routes as needed—even in the middle of the work day. While this functionality is admittedly limited if the fleet is a carrier's and not your own, it still provides you with valuable data that can be discussed with your carrier’s representative to ensure the best possible outcome on every run. 

Step 3: Your Daily Operations

Receive, pick, pack and ship—the age-old fulfillment process hasn't changed much over time, but the methods that meet those needs certainly have. Imagine a network where shelves tell employees that they are empty, or when a dwindling bin of packing peanuts is smart enough to order its own replenishment supplies—with the IoT, it's all possible. Nearly every device used in a warehouse can be a "smart" one—from scanners that send and receive live order data to scales that are programmed to communicate package weights to shipping forms, the learning curve for these devices is relatively short for seasoned warehouse workers, but the benefits are long-lasting on a busy floor. These devices are only getting smarter as innovation reigns. Mary-Ann Russon of the International Business Times highlighted Samsung's much-touted chipset for the IoT earlier this year. That means that the sooner you're able to acclimate your own operations to work with the IoT, the better off you'll be as tech moves forward in leaps and bounds.

If you're nervous about increasing your engagement with the IoT, think of it this way: your hardworking fulfillment center is already completing all of the tasks that would feed into and link up with it. Adopting the new concept within your warehouse or strengthening your existing relationship with this powerful network concept isn't reinventing the wheel, it's getting more mileage out of what you've already set in motion.

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Topics: Supply Chain Technology

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