Consumer-centric supply chains: Track and trace for enhanced agility

“Today’s digitally-equipped consumer expects their order to reach them in the same day, at the press of a touch screen.” says Laurent Lassus, general manager marketing and product management at SATO Europe. “To meet this need for ‘whim-based’, rather than demand-based commerce, manufacturing and logistics operations must become increasingly agile in their approach by adopting systems and solutions that enable on-demand traceability.”

Laurent Lassus.

This can be difficult for operations catering for multi-channel fulfilment but particularly so for those with multiple sites and geographies to deal with. According to a report by Manhattan Associates, over half of UK shoppers (51%) want store assistants to be expert at sharing product knowledge1

Connecting the dots 

“Informing and connecting retail assistants with accurate data management systems empowers them to update customers with on-demand information, such as when new stock is on order, when it will arrive and whether it can be shipped straight to their home address,” continues Lassus. “Advanced data collection systems can connect a complex series of dots across the supply chain, resulting in a very simple update at the point of sale.”

“When data is collected and processed efficiently, it has the power to transform the consumer experience. Supported by the right technology, the innovative use of data can manifest itself in new and exciting ways.”

Lassus refers to projects such as the use of the ‘Waffle House Index’, an informal measure recently used by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency to monitor the severity of Hurricane Florence. If a food chain’s restaurants (which are capable of operating on reduced resources) are unable to open, it indicates to the government that the local situation is very severe2.

“This is a great example of very simple, collaborative data usage creating wider societal benefits. And it raises the question of how effective cross-industry interactions could be at enhancing demand forecasting, multi-channel fulfilment and visibility, when the right systems and solutions are implemented.”

Easy cross-sector integration

SATO has been at the forefront of auto-ID and label printing solutions for over 70 years. The company’s next generation of portable label printers are user-friendly and highly-customisable for easy cross-sector integration. Its latest cloud-connected FX3-LX device is equipped with a 7-inch, full colour touch screen and preloaded audio-enabled training videos for a more intuitive experience.

“For data to be utilised in innovative ways, it must be reliably and accurately captured. To enable this, it’s very important that we first understand the needs of the user and then develop technology that connects and empowers them in the most user-friendly way possible. A consumer-level, ‘smart’ tech user experience is a very real requirement for today’s workforce”

In manufacturing environments, this can be as simple as replacing legacy and outdated methods with automated solutions that are easily integrated with existing WMS. The manual preparation of labels to track and trace goods through factories and warehouses is at best labour intensive and at worst prone to accuracy issues. 

As simple as it may seem, however, to upgrade paper-based tracking to electronic label printing solutions, SATO does not believe that a ‘one-size-fits-all-approach’ is enough. “Our Application Enabled Printing (AEP) technology enables us to customise the user experience,” continues Lassus. 

Avoiding costly errors 

“To create electronic traceability in a food manufacturing environment, for example, we can tailor the application to print 2D barcodes after validating input from the user by comparing it to data stored inside the company’s ERP software. This enables the operator to carry out data accuracy checks that are unique to their company’s systems, preventing costly errors.”

As an extension of this, for inventory management applications such as putaway and returns, SATO RFID tags are invaluable for processing RFID enabled goods through ‘gateways’ removing the need for manual scanning. Interestingly, at the opposite end of the supply chain, this same technology is currently in use by Asian consumers at RFID-enabled, staffless stores.

Lassus concludes “Up until now, a supply and demand-based approach within the supply chain has allowed technological advancements and end-user requirements to be pretty much mutually exclusive. Due to digitalisation educating and empowering the consumer, one end of the chain is now directly affecting the other.

“Modern auto-ID and label printing systems must be completely agile from factory to shop floor to collect and manage data in both reactive and proactive capacities, to cater for consumer-driven commerce and enhance the user experience.”

1. Selling the store. Consumer and retail research 2018: UK, Manhattan Associates

2. How the Waffle House Index will help FEMA determine just how bad Hurricane Florence gets, USA Today

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