Internal logistics operations are as challenged by the pandemic as those outside the company, says Craig Henry, U.S. industry manager for intralogistics at Siemens Industry.
Intralogistics has to with moving material within an organization as opposed to external movements, Henry says. These internal operations are sometimes called material handling, a term he finds much too general. Regardless of the label, the greatest challenge is the same as that which the logistics world faces everywhere today: the labor gap.
“Companies cannot find good help to work in fulfillment centers and distribution centers,” says Henry. “There's a knowledge gap among the workers and what they need to know in these facilities.”
The pandemic is only partly responsible for the problem. Henry says staffing DCs and fulfillment centers has been an ongoing issue for years. He cites a holiday season problem that Walmart experienced several years before COVID-19 set in. “It went live in 2017, but it didn’t automate enough. Christmas came, and they could only run one shift. They just didn't have enough workers.”
Digital transformation may help solve fulfillment’s staffing issues. With it, a virtual model of a DC or fulfillment operation can be built. It includes “doing the physics, running orders through to see what the capabilities of the facility are, what kind of variability it can stand, and what kind of agility and resilience it's going to have as we change orders.”
The automotive industry has used the technology for years, Henry notes. “We can now do a virtual twin of an operation that not only is going to get us ready for the physical asset, but is going to allow us to do the next iteration of that physical asset.” Unfortunately, he says, adoption of the tool to date has been slow.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.