Automated Supply Chains: Don't Let Labeling Become the Weak Link
by Jackie Steele, on October 19, 2018
Automation in the supply chain has spent the past few years delivering capabilities that would have been described as science fiction no more than a few years ago. Systems have become more efficient and streamlined, allowing human employees to focus on strategic matters while robotic warehouses pick and pack orders at previously impossible speeds.
There are potential roadblocks standing in the way of supply chain upgrades, however. Heavily automated environments are built out of many systems working together, and missing pieces could compromise efficiency gains. Systems such as labeling, which leaders may overlook in their desire to automate quickly, could end up determining whether the process changes succeed or fail.
How Far Has Automation Come?
Improved automated processes can empower all levels of the supply chain. Eye For Transport recently described the present state of the industry as an "arms race" between various organizations trying to become fast enough to compete in an e-commerce economy.
With robotic process automation adding artificial intelligence features which will help processes adapt to changing conditions rather than being invariable, supply chains can be flexible as well as efficient.
Eye For Transport noted that actions such as picking and packing goods are now being handled through automated systems. This is a major change to historical norms, and one that companies will be able to build upon as they look for ways to shorten the distance from manufacturing goods to shipping them to customers.
What's Next for the Supply Chain?
Contributing to Supply Chain Digital, DHL Supply Chain Chief Consumer Officer Mark Parsons stated that robotics systems will go beyond companies' decision-making engines. Large-scale robots moving goods around warehouses and transportation hubs are becoming popular choices for organizations that want to work at a speed or scale impossible without robotic intervention.
Where Does Labeling Fit In?
The promise of a heavily automated future is rapidly becoming reality. There are a few potential weak links, however, that can stop companies' upgrades from coming to fruition. Today's robots and automated systems interact with goods through labels, using barcodes or radio-frequency identification tags to determine items' identity and location. Inaccuracies or slowdowns in labeling could, therefore, neutralize the value of an automated supply chain.
The solution to this potential dilemma involves taking labeling as seriously as the other elements of a modernized supply chain. Centralized labeling systems that draw their data from central sources of truth such as enterprise resource planning software can improve the accuracy and effectiveness of labeling in warehouse settings, giving automated systems something to work with.