Transportation Gets Creative

Transportation Gets Creative

APICS Magazine 2018

 By Elizabeth Rennie


Transporting goods is a vital part of supply chain and a key economic concern for organizations today. Effective logistics, transportation and distribution professionals are addressing this challenge by tapping into enhanced visibility with sensors, mobile devices and automation — particularly for last-mile challenges. These competences provide a more global view of the supply chain; empower companies to correct or avoid issues via collaborative data sharing; and reduce human intervention, freeing people to focus on more valuable tasks. Every supply chain is different, but these proficiencies offer noteworthy benefits for any type of network.

Technology is enabling the shift, as well — although Weseley recognizes that even TMS vendors such as his own firm cannot build software that meets every challenge. Because of that fact, the goal of these solutions should be to provide support that offers enough flexibility to enable users to maximize their own ideas and ingenuity.

Under control

Far-reaching supply chain visibility requires integration among numerous tools. Often, master data must run in harmony across TMS, warehouse management systems, multiple enterprise resources planning systems and others. When separate elements exist across geographies, getting products from point A to point B is even more challenging. The good news is that the cloud, the internet of things (IOT), and a variety of inexpensive and commonly available tools are enabling dispatchers to control and optimize transport flows. These professionals can easily access information on every aspect of an anticipated shipment, including the shipper, the flow of goods, traffic conditions and much more.

As the data from these communication and computing systems matures, it also is changing the act of travel and transport. One way this is happening is through supply chain control towers. According to Capgemini Consulting, control towers are hubs that provide visibility by gathering and distributing information and enabling users to detect and act on risks or opportunities more quickly. When building a control tower, various systems are integrated, united by a common middleware software so information can be gathered at a centralized location.

Capgemini’s “Global Supply Chain Control Towers” report explains that these tools capture, monitor, organize and store data about “every product ordered from a supplier, every shipment shipped to a customer, every document created, every cost accrued and every event generated in the flow of product from order to final delivery.”

According to the report, control towers enable three levels of management control:

  1. Strategic control encompasses the design of the overall supply chain network.
  2. Tactical control involves proactive planning of procurement, operations and distribution according to market demand.
  3. Operational control enhances real-time functionality, including transportation management, inventory tracking and exception management.

Finally, because control towers enable real-time data sharing, they create greater resilience when handling orders, shipments and capacity constraints across a multi-party network. In this way, users can better align countless moving parts. As Goodchild notes: “Transportation is all about matching things in time and space. The ability to match things up efficiently is the function of how much information we have [and] how dynamic that information is.”

Augmented delivery capabilities

Beyond having access to data, supply chain professionals must use the data to optimize inventory, improve shipping and receiving, and track and trace workflows. The IOT is a valuable visibility tool in this regard. “Thanks to smart devices equipped with vision-and-image-recognition technology, the IOT can even be extended beyond connected items that are embedded with a computer chip,” explains Samuel Mueller, chief executive officer at Scandit, a bar code scanning and mobile data capture solution provider. “With a quick scan or capture of a code, text or image, you can identify any object to learn more about it and document its status.”

According to the white paper “Mobile Computer Vision in the Post and Parcel Industry,” published by Mueller’s company, these relatively inexpensive tools are being maximized in the following ways:

  • Loading: Drivers use smartphones to read multiple items in a single scan and obtain augmented reality instructions on how to place packages more efficiently.
  • Identifying special parcels: Mobile computer, vision-enabled smart devices highlight packages that are high-value, timed or undergoing delivery changes.
  • Sorting: Employees use augmented-reality-enabled smart devices to see instructions on how to sort multiple packages in order to improve accuracy and save time.
  • Proof of delivery: Drivers use smartphones to scan bar codes, record electronic signatures or take a picture of where a package is left.
  • Search and find: Augmented reality-enabled smart devices identify parcels in a vehicle, enabling drivers to locate specific packages.
  • Digital parcel status check: Drivers scan a parcel with a vision-enabled smart device right before delivery to check that any special requirements have been met.