Most people think of software in terms of functionality. It's easy to buy, says Belanger, but companies running sophisticated equipment within a distribution center need to take a wider view. "Functionality is going to get the work done," he says, "but how do you organize in the most efficient way possible?"
The answer lies in the science of operations research. The discipline compares work to be done against physical constraints, such as conveyors, shipping doors and customer orders. It develops mathematical algorithms that optimize processes with those constraints in mind. The resulting workflow can then be combined with standard software to get the best possible results from a distribution operation.
Belanger believes the use of analytics for optimization is in the early stages. Many companies still don't understand the importance of the science in deriving maximum benefit from their facilities.
Science can also contribute to innovation, he says. One Reddworks customer spent a significant amount of time building a detailed model of its operations. Within four weeks of implementing a warehouse control system, it was able to reduce headcount by an entire shift.
Waste results when an operation fails to optimize processes by customer type, or account for different seasons and times of day. "The composition of orders changes," says Belanger. "Latency and inefficiency build up. Little things begin accumulating across the workflow. They add up to a lot of time."
Companies should pay particular attention to the types of goods being ordered and the profile of each account. "You ignore the customer at your peril," says Belanger.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, inventory management, inventory control, WMS, warehouse management systems, WCS, warehouse control systems, logistics management, supply chain planning
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