Improving the speed and accuracy of fulfilment while controlling the costs of execution is one of the key sources of competitive advantage available throughout business and commerce. While the necessary measures may start on the shopfloor and in the warehouse, successful fulfilment depends on communicating and seamlessly integrating with all the partners in the extended supply chain.
Achieve Fulfilment With Speed & Accuracy
In an increasingly e-commerce driven economy, accuracy and speed of fulfilment are critical factors that can differentiate one supplier from another, influence buying behaviour, and ultimately, win or lose business. Achieving a slick and cost-effective fulfilment operation depends on creating seamless integration between all elements of the supply chain from manufacturing, through external partners to the end customer.
In a recent survey carried out for Access, the supply chain systems writer and vendor, fully 40% of respondents cited improving the speed and accuracy of fulfilment among their top challenges. That will surprise nobody. Consumers, especially on the Internet, increasingly expect next day or even same day delivery as standard, and with little scope for price competition, retailers must differentiate themselves through service and availability.
Further up the supply chain the recession has imposed a culture of minimal stock-holding, a situation which is unlikely to change given that interest rates and the cost of holding stock are only likely to move North. These conditions add to the mounting pressure on supply chains to respond instantly to purchase orders and manufacturing requisitions.
The survey highlighted four key areas that businesses felt could be improved significantly:
1. Picking Efficiency
Being able to support several different pick strategies, as appropriate, offers both savings in time and increased labour efficiency. Picking efficiency, however, does not depend purely on choice of strategy. Warehouse planning has its impact on optimising stock locations and making different picking sequences available – so supply chain systems need to be able to model alternatives. Clear, consistent and accessible ‘labelling’ of parts and components, using barcodes, RFID or otherwise, is essential to ensuring that the right parts are picked in the right quantities – after all, a part delivery is not a fulfilled order.
Given an otherwise well-managed supply chain, undoubtedly the biggest cause of fulfilment delay and inaccuracy is paper. Paperwork can be completed inaccurately, it can be torn, dirtied, rendered illegible, lost or forgotten. If these perils are avoided, data then has to be re-keyed into one or more systems with added scope for error, and this takes time. Pick notes may not be generated, or acted on, for days – meanwhile recorded stock levels are always in arrears. Many staff spend much of their time re-entering data, which is expensive for the firm and unrewarding for the employees.
So a good supply chain solution will support a variety of technologies to eliminate paperwork. On the manufacturing side this may include machine-mounted touchscreens – these can be used to record many parameters, but from the point of view of fulfilment speed the important point is that the progress of the job, and its ultimate availability to stock, is recorded in real time. In the warehouse, hand-held devices (or for that matter, hands-free voice picking systems) can track the progress of the pick and enforce verification routines.
3. Online Ordering
E-commerce and the web has been a major driver of expectations around speed of fulfilment, and online ordering has long been commonplace for consumers and businesses. A surprising number of firms, though, still have a manual intervention between the website and their fulfilment process, manually re-keying orders and delaying the initiation of fulfilment by hours or perhaps days. In some cases, even over a Bank Holiday weekend! Integrating the order process with the supply chain can offer a real time and competitive advantage.
4. Courier Integration
Fulfilment cannot be completed without carriers and couriers. Again there is considerable scope for saving time and cost, and improving accuracy, by linking warehouse and supply chain systems with those of the couriers, automatically generating labels, batch and round numbers. Typically, there will be interfaces with a number of carriers, depending on factors such as weight (is it a two-man job?), urgency (overnight, three-day?), capacity and of course cost. The relationship with carriers is typically a very dynamic process – by the time the data has been re-keyed, the capacity on a particular vehicle may have been sold to a competitor.
Speed of fulfilment, then, is an ever more critical competitive advantage, but it is not one that can be bought at the cost of accuracy – an incomplete or erroneous order is not a fulfilled order. A good supply chain system will not only improve speed and accuracy within manufacturing and warehousing; it will help streamline and accelerate all the third party processes, from suppliers to carriers, that influence successful fulfilment. Perhaps most critically, by giving all parties the visibility they need, the supply chain becomes not just faster but more flexible, and better able to understand and adapt to the impact of events.