Alex Wakefield, chief executive officer of Longbow Advantage, says the inability of warehouses to take full advantage of the data that’s available to them is a greater threat to supply chain continuity than a containership blocking the Suez Canal.
The warehouse is “the beating heart” of global supply chains, says Wakefield. “Its impact is much more significant than any other area of the supply chain.”
Confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic and intensifying service demands by customers, warehouses are undergoing a major change in size, location and purpose, Wakefield says. That transition only complicates an industry that was already being challenged by labor shortages and access to critical data.
Many warehouses today lack real-time visibility of what’s inside their facility, and where. They struggle with the huge volumes of data generated by their operations — 50 to 100 times greater than that produced by transportation networks. Inventory visibility and accuracy is a major problem, along with the need to reconcile multiple information systems within the facility.
New types of technology are needed to make sense of that mass of data. Robotics systems can help; they automatically generate valuable information about the location of product within the warehouse. But putting it all together, to the point where managers can keep pace with the velocity of product moving through the facility, is still proving to be a difficult task.
A giant containership blocking the Suez Canal gets big headlines, but more serious delays that occur within warehouses rarely make the news. Wakefield believes the industry doesn’t get enough attention from the general public, given its vital role in keeping global supply chains operating. “The amount of engineering and technology in a warehouse to achieve hyper-efficiency is staggering,” he says. It’s a black box to most people.”
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