We all love a look into the future and speculate about where technology might take us in years to come, which is nothing new. As far back as the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci was predicting the flying machines of the future and the 20th century was littered with sci-fi movies, predicting all kinds of innovation.
In many ways, this is the future. Robots not only exist but have been put to work in sectors as diverse as space exploration, medicine and manufacturing.
The fulfilment sector has also embraced the potential of automation. Indeed, at Exact Abacus we’ve recently introduced mechanical handling equipment in our highly digitised warehouse. However, despite media enthusiasm for robotics and the increasing affordability of the components required to build automated systems, much of the innovation in the sector is actually centred around management systems and the optimisation of human resources.
People are critical to successful fulfilment operations and are a measurable resource that must be maximised to achieve 100 per cent productivity (or as close as possible to that target).
By focusing resource where it is required and employing a multi-skilled team, fulfilment providers can dramatically improve efficiency.
Company culture is also critical for hitting fulfilment targets. Here, at Exact Abacus, team ethics and technology go hand-in-hand with the use of dashboard displays to help warehouse personnel to work towards shared goals.
Vertical integration of software across all processes is key to maximising the value of fulfilment teams and can help to reduce the number of footsteps taken to complete processes.
Marginal gains across a number of processes can have a significant impact on overall efficiency and simply by sequencing order picking and returns to optimise routes, fulfilment providers can ensure orders move through the system more efficiently.
At Exact Abacus, for example, volumetrics in the system reference each item against 20,000 delivery service options on our database, selecting the best fit at lowest cost to reduce the time involved in managing dispatch and provide cost benefits.
For online retailers to fully benefit from their fulfilment partner’s software it must be embedded across all processes to eliminate human error and distraction from task.
If the only reference point for an operative is the technology in their hand the accuracy of the data in the system becomes a given, engineering human error out of processes while optimising efficiency.
Optimising the warehouse layout can have a transformational effect on speed of order picking and dispatch, with the most frequently picked items positioned in the most accessible locations.
Replacing time-consuming stock takes a perpetual inventory approach, facilitated by software and handheld terminals to improve efficiency. Stock levels can be monitored more accurately and in real time, which is vital for sellers listing on multiple channels. Integration of this data with other processes, such as forecasting and returns, also feeds into productivity gains, accuracy and efficiency across the fulfilment operation.
Online retailers can also contribute to fulfilment efficiency. By ensuring goods are compliant, clearly labelled and accompanied by the correct paperwork you can help your fulfilment provider ensure stock is processed quickly and immediately turned for sale.
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