Smartening up goods in

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I received an email from Royal Mail last week letting me know it had delivered an item I’d ordered and had left it in my nominated safeplace.

Bizarrely, I don’t ever remember telling it I had a ‘safeplace’ let alone where that might be!

As it turned out, my neighbour had kindly signed for my parcel but it got me thinking about the whole process of receiving goods. I was trying to imagine my scenario multiplied a thousand-fold at ‘goods in’ areas at manufacturing plants and retail distribution centres and how you reconcile what has been delivered with where it needs to go.

And we know there are some real pain points in inbound handling operations, like:

  • Manual reconciliation of consignments is time-consuming and prone to error
  • Pallets or cases dropped in the wrong location causing them to become ‘lost’ within the facility itself.     
  • Items taking too long to be put away creating false out-of-stock inventories and potentially lost sales.    
  • Bottlenecks in goods received areas through inadequate use of cross docking·     
  • Clogged aisles due to manual processing and limited throughput.    
  • Minimal data on deliveries i.e. no expiry dates or lot numbers to help with tracking and traceability.    
  • Slow processing of reverse logistics creates inaccuracies in inventory and leads to customer dissatisfaction.
  • Poor use of materials handling equipment like forklifts

Back in 2013 when Zebra conducted a survey of warehouse IT and operational personnel in manufacturing, retail, wholesale and third-party logistics (3PL), there were visions of stronger collaboration across the supply chain by as early as 2018, and proper use of the capabilities of GS1, GDSN, ASN and RFID.

The reality is, however, that too many shipments or returns are still arriving with missing or damaged barcodes or have other auto-ID technology. This is causing slow and inaccurate receiving, with deliveries having to be sorted and re-labelled before being sent to production lines, re-routed to shops or put away on shelves. This inevitably causes potential problems both upstream and downstream.

In something I read the other week, one company in the electronics sector calculated that it was costing them $2.1M just to re-label supplier materials. And I’ll bet there’s many firms who have never costed out how much relabeling is actually taking off their bottom line. If you’re using a 3PL provider to re-label then it’s probably listed as a materials handling charge but if you’re doing it yourself it’s worth looking at how many man hours are being spent re-labelling; don’t forget to add in material costs of labels/print too.

Undoubtedly ASNs are being used but many are partially completed and have become more of a financial document used to initiate and arrange payment. The sort of detail on an ASN that could prove useful for materials handling and planning, like batch and lot numbers, is often left blank, and therefore won’t be found on corresponding deliveries. So that’s why we’re seeing pallets of inbound materials or goods at receiving docks waiting to be inspected, identified and relabelled before they can be moved to where they’re actually needed. 

Many warehouse operations are scrambling to keep up with the huge omni-channel revolution but more needs to be done to streamline and improve processes around inventory control and management as it’s costing time and money. And the technology is there. For instance, passive RFID labels that can automatically identify and verify goods received. Wireless fixed readers auto-read the labels enabling workforces to process more shipments, reduce dock-to-stock cycle times and increase visibility of inventory.

Meanwhile back at my house, my own personal goods in system worked this time for my delivery as my neighbour was home, but clearly I need better visibility of my own safeplace!

Pete Laplanche

Out in warehouses and back offices, barcode printers remain the unsung heroes of the supply chain. Board director of Datatrade, Peter Laplanche, has spent 30 years communicating the importance of these mission critical devices, from early matrix printers to the latest mobiles. The brave new world of omni-channel requires even greater visibility and agility in track and trace, and label barcoding is…

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