Supply Chain Matters provides a first installment in a four-part technology market education series where we address the evolving use of Cloud based control layer technology platforms applied to warehousing and customer fulfillment processes. This initial posting provides readers with an overview and primer for this type of technology. Subsequent installments will address implementation considerations and helpful hints, along with specific case study deployment examples.

This joint thought leadership series is provided in collaboration with AutoScheduler.ai

 

Background

In our recently published 2023 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chain Research Advisory report, we included a specific prediction relative to technology adoption trends. Further, a specific Supply Chain Matters commentary published on January 20, 2023 provided two examples of control layer technology approaches applied to warehousing and manufacturing execution. Both summarized some important market education which included:

  • Cloud platform technology offerings are now being positioned to augment the synchronization of planning and execution processes and workflows, including material flow and labor allocation processes and decision making within a facility of grouping of facilities.
  • Positioned to coexist above existing backbone ERP and specialty supply chain process management software applications as a means to augment enhanced decision-making needs.
  • For warehousing and distribution management processes, control layer technology can bridge the gap between warehouse planning and physical execution workflows. It can further address much more variable processes that are subject to frequent changes and/or disruptions.
  • Designed to extract and augment key analytics and insight information, provide timely context and process synchronization without the need for a rip and replace approach.

 

Enhancing Warehousing and Customer Fulfillment Processes

The four most important variables in enhancing operational planning and process synchronization for warehousing and distribution center operations are:

  • Managing overall direct labor or equipment availability for optimal efficiency levels.
  • Optimizing individual and facility wide capacity and productivity levels.
  • Assure on-hand material availability and facility positioning according to customer order requirements.
  • Enhanced synchronization of facility or campus throughput.

 

Managing Direct Labor or Equipment Availability

Because of the constant variability or seasonality of warehouse related work needs, the planning for direct labor is a constant challenge in that not enough results in falling behind and too much impacts overall facility productivity and efficiency goals. High labor turnover or lack of workers continues to be a constant challenge for certain warehouse operations and process execution management, while workers providing key skills to perform key tasks need to be proactively planned to balance overall work shift needs. Thus, enhanced planning and synchronization of execution related to hourly, daily or weekly operational activity windows are now essential to ensure optimized facility management.

A control layer technology enablement approach can provide for enhanced planning and management for direct labor or warehouse execution system (WES) needs in either hourly, daily or weekly work shift needs predicated on exiting planning, or on unplanned or unanticipated events.

While existing WMS system plans for resource needs on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, a control layer system can extract key data hourly to create an optimized plan for a daily or pre-determined multi-hour window, factoring various planned resource needs, or alerting to added resource requirements.

 

Balancing the Receiving, Put Away and Shipping of Products

Warehouse, distribution center or logistics campus operations generally involve inbound product movements (receipts), material provisioning and put away within the facility, along with outbound material shipping activity predicated on customer orders and service level requirements. The goal is to be able to optimally sequence inbounds and outbound flows to achieve optimal throughput efficiencies along with the ability to alert shift supervisors to requirements such as prioritizing a particular inbound trailer of inbound material that can be cross docked to be able to support a scheduled outbound order in the same or subsequent work shift. Planning can be for a particular work shift, operating day for multiple work shifts or for designated planning windows.

While the resident WMS accounts for planned inbounds and outbounds, there are often unplanned events, such as a running late inbound, an unanticipated facility material or equipment shortage that will impact certain plans. Depending on when the WMS system is updated, along with its existing alerting or replanning capabilities, a corrected plan may not be able to be consummated before resource inefficiencies occur on the warehouse or DC floor.

A control layer approach configured with hourly data extracting has the ability to re-optimize planned outbound or inbound workflows while accounting for an unplanned event or shortage, by determining what other planned orders or activities can be conducted to optimize existing resources.

 

Assure Material Availability to Fulfill Customer Order and Service Level Requirements

For outbound shipment processes, the goal is to more intelligently release customer order fulfillment activities based on inventory availability, labor and required equipment resources.

Considerations for a control layer approach involve providing enhanced decision support and control for materials replenishment management or slotting decision making on a daily or defined operational window basis. That can include inventory consolidation moves within the facility or decisions related to cross-docking of specific inbound shipments in order to fulfill a planned multi-item shipment that will need that specific material.

In sites that include multiple warehouse or DC facilities, the control system should provide the added intelligence for scheduling and managing multi-site shuttle management.

 

Enhanced Synchronization of Overall Facility Operations

Synchronization of facility throughput is where a control layer system provides its most critical benefits.  They include the ability to orchestrate decisions that optimally synchronize inbound, outbound and in-facility labor, equipment and other resources. They do so by managing a closed loop process that optimizes efficiencies given the variables that are presented in any given work shift or designated planning window.

In addition to extracting external data and information every hour and presenting an operational dashboard of control, the control layer process closes the loop by feeding the optimized plan back into the resident WMS or other dependent ERP or supply chain focused software applications to automate areas such as order waving, warehouse door assignments, inventory allocation management or work queue prioritization.

In essence it serves as the resident operations control, electronic workflow and enhanced productivity system.

 

Summary and Next Installment

In today’s more dynamic environment of business and operational changes, enhanced planning related to hourly, daily or weekly operational windows are now essential. New supply chain management focused Cloud based technology offerings are now being positioned to augment the synchronization of planning and execution and to extract and augment key analytics and decision making needs. Synchronization of facility throughput and added efficiencies are where new control layer systems are garnering their most important benefits in the ability to orchestrate more-timely, and more-informed decisions.

In our second installment in this market education series, we will highlight specific individual facility examples.

 

Bob Ferrari

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