Managing reverse logistics presents new challenges in the post COVID-19 world. Instead of simply managing returns and isolating defects, supply chain executives must now consider how returned products could lead to higher safety risks. And the need for efficient returns continues to grow in tandem. The supply chain coronavirus (COVID-19) impact also undermines efficiency in handling the traditional inbound flow of merchandise—resulting in added delays or complications in managing docks. Rather than throwing in the towel, supply chain leaders should consider the use of reverse logistics automation to streamline the process. In fact, consider these five ways organizations can deploy reverse logistics automation with ease.
As with any effective deployment of automation, reverse supply chain automation must begin with understanding the need for its use and potential opportunities within existing processes. Any redundant, highly laborious task is ripe for automation. Automation in reverse logistics significantly capable of reducing the amount of work associated with returns management authorization (RMA) and tracking capabilities. Among these, including the use of reverse logistics automation traceability within a transportation management system (TMS), supply chains must begin to collect and analyze data on existing systems. Only by understanding the full scale of current needs and demands will organizations be able to develop and implement automated processes that add value.
The next step to maximizing the return on investment (ROI) of reverse logistics automation lies within integration. Automation mandates the use of machine-to-machine connectivity across the Tech Stack. In other words, the reverse logistics software should connect to all existing supply chain management systems, including the WMS, YMS, WES, WCS, ERP, and more.
The application of automation is highly suited for use in automated sort and put away systems. Unlike automated sort and retrieval systems, these resources focus more on the restocking aspect of reverse logistics. Of course, automated systems of this fashion may further include the use of smart conveyors, put-to-light systems, and voice-controlled systems that connect users and help reduce the amount of work required across repair, recycling, and restocking of whole products, components, or raw materials.
Any conversation on reverse logistics automation must include a mention of robotics. Robotics process automation (RPA), involving the use of chatbots and intuitive algorithms that seamlessly respond to queries in a manner consistent with human management, and physical robots will always involve a level of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Artificial intelligence and machine learning allow supply chain leaders to focus more on objectives and let machinery focus on finding opportunities to recapture revenue. As reported by Supply & Demand Chain Executive, “There’s little-to-no incentive for businesses to change their return policies. Consumers want simple – if not free – return policies and make their buying decisions based on these policies. And, because more e-commerce means more returns, this problem is only going to get more difficult for businesses in the retail channel. By pointing robotic automation solutions at the problem of reverse logistics, perhaps companies can mitigate the logistical and financial pain associated with the return of items ordered online.”
Another opportunity to succeed in deploying automation in the reverse supply chain lies in outsourcing the whole process. According to Material Handling & Logistics, “chances are, those within your organization with vast logistics and supply chain experience lack the necessary reverse logistics expertise to put forth strategies and tactics that will have a major impact. Engaging with a partner specializing in returns will enable you to produce a true situational analysis and implement a plan to improve operations and profits with returns automation.”
Adding value within the reverse logistics supply chain necessitates increased efficiencies and a dramatic reduction in the amount of manual processes. Reverse logistics automation deployment is the ultimate win-when for recapturing lost revenue and transforming reverse logistics from cost center to profit center. Furthermore, supply chain executives that consider the ways in which a TMS can aid in the fulfillment of the aforementioned steps, ranging from data capture and integration with advanced technologies, will be poised to reap the greatest rewards.
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