7 Ways Inventory Tracking Has Changed in Modern Warehousing
This is a guest post by Christina Morrison.
Note from the editor: With warehousing being an important part of the supply chain for countless importers and exporters and Universal Cargo helping many such shippers, especially those who import for e-commerce business, with our Warehousing Services, we thought we’d post the occasional blog on the topic like this one from Christina Morrison.
Accurately tracking and maintaining inventory has long been one of the major challenges for warehouses and distribution centers. And as e-commerce has increased in importance, so has warehousing. That adds up to a lot of new inventory management challenges for warehouse staff.
The size and scope of these challenges has sometimes made the industry slow to change. The change, however, is unmistakably here and happening in front of our eyes. Innovators in the industry have developed robust new tools to tackle inventory issues, and warehouse and logistics staff now have unprecedented power and control over inventory management systems. These seven trends are all results of the inventory management revolution, and they’re all happening now.
1. Warehousing has taken on a bigger role.
With innovators and disruptors blazing new frontiers in e-commerce every day, it’s sometimes easy to forget what powers those innovations. The work of warehouse and distribution staff is the lifeblood of e-commerce. Without these vital elements, few of the innovations of the past two decades would be possible.
Warehouses in the e-commerce era must often take on a variety of roles and play all of them well. Many warehouses now perform value-added services including product assembly and customization. That’s also made it even more vital to develop efficient inventory processes as warehouse staff are consistently asked to do more with the same resources.
2. New and improved tracking systems have boosted efficiency.
As warehousing and logistics take on expanded importance in the 21st century business, inventory tracking has had to grow and evolve as well. These days, a warehouse that does its day-to-day inventory tracking manually is living in the past. Using ERP distribution software or systems that automatically adjust inventory and sync it with invoices is the new gold standard for the most successful companies in e-commerce.
That said, doing an old-fashioned physical inventory count is still occasionally necessary to ensure your inventory’s accuracy and security. Fortunately, barcode and RFID scanning technologies have been vital difference-makers in improving the efficiency of inventory counting. These technologies have become even more effective with the 21st century’s advent of the mobile-powered workplace.
3. Mobile devices have created on-the-go offices for workers.
The tools available to the modern warehouse worker don’t stop at scanners and RFID devices. Phones and tablets are often perfect warehouse tools that offer great potential to increase picking productivity and accuracy when paired with the right software. Distribution ERP software systems now often include support for mobile apps and other options for taking your warehouse workforce mobile.
4. Lean systems like JIT have become increasingly commonplace.
With more sophisticated inventory monitoring increasingly available, many businesses have begun to interrogate their inventory practices, looking for fat they can trim. Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management is one popular option for streamlining supply chain and inventory operations. This model aims to greatly reduce the amount of inventory needed in a warehouse by manufacturing and storing only enough product to fill demand.
JIT can pay big dividends in reducing waste, but it requires finely-tuned coordination between different departments. Thus, it’s important that a business considering implementing these strategies have the technological resources to make it run smoothly. Manufacturing ERP systems are a virtual necessity to have a functional JIT system, and many different types of ERP manufacturing software are available to address the special challenges of each individual sector. When these systems are properly implemented and paired with a lean and responsive JIT system, the cost reductions and profitability gains can be considerable. Just ask Toyota, which pioneered these systems and used them to aid their ascent in the auto industry.
5. Technology now allows non-traditional tracking and storage methods.
With digital inventory management technology advancing so rapidly, new and innovative practices are being introduced every day. One such method is what’s been referred to as “Chaotic Storage.” In this warehousing model, items aren’t stored according to a preset floor plan that staff memorize and use. Rather, their locations are managed entirely by the sophisticated computer models that compile the pick lists.
So, although the storage systems might seem like anarchy at first, there’s actually a method behind them that’s apparent only to the algorithms. The results? You might recognize the name of the company that employs this system—it’s called Amazon.
6. More powerful inventory monitoring helps smooth out supply chains.
Supply chain management is increasingly a make-or-break factor for success in e-commerce. And although there are a wide variety of supply chain strategies such as drop shipping and direct sourcing now available to eCommerce retailers, most of these strategies have one major point in common: They require a well-implemented inventory control system.
Today’s technically advanced inventory monitoring systems are increasingly integrated into the hearts of supply chains themselves. By bringing together multiple systems into one, these manufacturers can gain a holistic perspective into how their supply chains behave. Through these insights, they can often turn inventory more quickly, make better use of warehouse space, improve customer service and more.
7. Smart warehouses are setting the new pace.
The next frontier in inventory management? Full automation—or at least a much smarter warehouse. e-commerce is only becoming more complex as channels continue to proliferate, and warehouse inventory technology is working hard to keep up.
A smart warehouse doesn’t have to be a hyper-automated, Amazon-style operation. Many businesses have started making their warehouses smarter by using automation technology to streamline their operations. Whether it’s automatic billing to reduce paperwork or computer-generated pick routes to optimize picking efficiency, there are plenty of steps that distributors can take to automate commonplace inventory tasks, often without making a particularly large investment.
Other companies are going the Internet of Things (IoT) route, which can include everything up to implementing ambitious solutions such as robotic pickers. Whichever path an organization chooses to pursue, it’s clear that inventory systems will continue to become smarter as eCommerce expands.
Today’s inventory tracking systems are more robust, powerful and convenient than ever. Inventory management tools exist that address nearly every niche and need in manufacturing and distribution. Businesses that invest in their futures by developing robust inventory systems are likely to see improved outcomes, especially as the field’s innovators push forward to new frontiers.
This was a guest post by Christina Morrison.
Christina serves as the General Manager for Top 10 ERP. She specializes in the development and management of Business to Business online properties which support businesses within specific industries with software evaluation tools and resources.