Automation is coming of age in the supply chain. Where supply chain leaders once viewed automation capabilities as science fiction fantasy, automation’s real-world applications are becoming evident. As explained by David Welch of Supply Chain 24/7, part of the reason for interest in automation in the supply chain derives from the continuous threats of Amazon and e-commerce and retail giants like Walmart and Target. They all make promises of fast, free shipping. Moreover, Amazon has managed to tap an economy of scale, driving prices to microscopic levels. Supply chain leaders need to understand the challenges of automation in the supply chain, how it enables scalability, and the use cases of automation that enhance customer experiences through faster, better service.
The challenges of implementing automation in the supply chain reflect the challenges of upgrading existing supply chain systems. Top challenges supply chain leaders face includes:
The use of automation in the supply chain enables a remarkable level of scalability. Automated processes do not eat, sleep, or complain. Yes, problems may arise, and exceptions will occur. Yet, automation of repetitive processes is what has allowed humanity to evolve to its current state. If the broad definition of automation was applied to human history, then the invention of the wheel might have been considered a cost that would be too great and harm the world. This is an extreme example, but automation always enables better productivity, efficiency, and, as a result, scalability.
The best way to understand how automation enables scalability and provides benefits are to look at its specific use cases. Critical use cases of automation in the supply chain include:
Automation in the supply chain is the best way for supply chain leaders to augment the value in their existing supply chain networks. While arguments against automation in warehouses and throughout your distribution network do exist, they have a way of streamlining operations and improving the workload of your staff. Instead of risking personal injury, they can focus on other tasks, such as checking order contents, interacting with customers, and more. The same concept applies to leaders and managers, engaging with employees, which drives turnover rates into retreat and bolsters the productivity of your workforce too. Amazon is coming, and its acquisition of Whole Foods and recent partnership with Kohl’s for in-store returns mean supply chain leaders need to pick the low hanging fruit, automating processes where possible.
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