Fast food on demand

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The recent KFC/DHL delivery failure story certainly provided a bucket-sized feast of chicken jokes on social media and in newspapers. 

Even KFC tried to play down its chicken-gate issues by Tweeting about the chicken failing to cross the road to its restaurants. But behind the scenes I’m guessing it was fire-fighting lots of angry reactions from only being able to supply about a third of its restaurants, not to mention its loss of business.

It’s hard not to empathise with their plight, especially when you saw the images of chickens stacked in boxes at the Rugby depot with nowhere to go other than waste. And we may never know what really went wrong, or what events aligned to conspire against the chickens getting delivered on time. But what we do know is that DHL and QSL clearly envisaged a very different rewriting of the rule book in delivering fresh products when they announced winning the contract last November!

They claimed then that they wanted to create a stock management distribution and reverse logistics model based on best practice from a range of sectors including food logistics. But clearly something went horribly wrong on what was pretty much their maiden voyage with KFC, and it made me wonder if ‘on demand’ warehousing and hardware rentals could have prevented, or certainly minimised, their delivery failures.

When companies experience seasonal demands or retail spikes (Black Friday being a well documented case in point), they need to be able to scale up their warehousing needs quickly as well as the devices necessary to process products.

There are firms out there now that offer on demand warehousing (see Manufacturing & Logistics IT February 14). And hardware as a service (HaaS) is increasingly being adopted as a flexible solution that enables businesses to increase and decrease their number of rugged devices like printers, mobile computers, barcode scanners and tablets in line with their operational workload.

In the coverage of the DHL/KFC story, it was suggested that staff shortages at the Rugby depot, and an incident on the M6 delaying lorries, exacerbated the distribution problem. Having an alternative distribution centre that could be ‘switched on’ to cope with the demand would not only have minimised the risk of eggs all in one basket but perhaps also have minimised the distribution downtime.

When Zebra analysed the state of the warehousing marketplace and industry’s plans over the next five years, it revealed that supply chain networks are poised to undergo an extreme makeover. It seems that manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and T&L providers are planning to increase the number and size of warehouses and distribution centres and retrofit them from legacy systems into more mechanised, leaner operations. They plan to transition to best of breed warehouse management systems that that take automation to unprecedented levels.

Expect to see workers equipped with more mobile devices to help increase the speed and accuracy of order picking; barcode scanning is expected to expand by 63%* over the next five years, for example. And as radio frequency identification technology (RFID) becomes more affordable, expect an increase in its use in real-time inventory visibility.   

Technology is enabling more ‘intelligent’ warehouse operations. And while intelligent fulfilment is still in its infancy, the bringing together of artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine learning and IoT promises smarter, more efficient systems where visibility of stock and improved communication would ensure items are available whenever and wherever they are needed.

This sort of intelligent fulfilment would almost certainly have prevented the KFC crisis happening. But we’re not there yet and for companies moving fresh food, it’s a goal worth striving for. Ops managers could monitor the real-time status of stock levels and locations to anticipate and adapt product levels according to seasonal/peak demands, or changing weather and traffic conditions. And that’s a take away I’m sure we’d all like to see.

* Source: Zebra Warehousing 2020. Building the smarter warehouse

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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