We live in the age of tech. We use smartphones, tablets, and computers to help us with almost all of our daily needs. Steadily and swiftly, AI is coming onto the scene for businesses, and the implications are huge. Think Terminator, or the Borgs from Star Trek. Cool right? Well, what we’re talking about may not be able to travel back in time, but it can certainly help you reduce work time.
What is AI?
AI or Artificial Intelligence is like a man-made brain given to a machine. Nowadays, AI is used in our cellphones or self-driving cars. How smart that AI is, is determined by machine learning.
Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence that allows systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without explicit programming. The system starts with observations or data, direct experience, or instruction, to look for patterns in data and make better decisions in the future based on the examples that we provide. Computer programs can then access data and use it to learn for themselves, so they can learn and optimize automatically, in a split-second.
Just like you and I, the more experiences and data it’s exposed to, the better it can work within the system to optimize your operations.
How does this affect your fulfillment?
For businesses, there are tons of applications. Microsoft developed a program that uses AI to help with fulfillment, distribution, manufacturing, and field services. It’s called Intelligent Order Management (IOM). What's great about this is that AI allows the program to collect data and inform you of better ways to satisfy customers, and fulfill orders. Gone are the days of feeling flustered during peak season because you don’t know how to distribute certain products in your inventory to match the demand. Microsoft dynamics certainly makes our lives easier.
Where this gets exciting, is that one of our main focuses for the Inventory Platform is a seamless connection with IOM, and its built-in AI + machine-learning capabilities. So, IOM’s Intelligence will be equipped with all the commands, actions, and options that the Inventory Platform has, and will be able to execute those actions in real-time, helping you boost performance every day.
How does this work?
The combination of the Inventory Platform and IOM is a slow-build with extremely high-potential ROI. Over time, the intelligence can increase as the platform gains more experience from use. So, if you use IOM in manufacturing, the more orders you run through the system, the more efficient your order process becomes. The tactics of the IOM become tailored to your business.
There are thousands of options, and lightning-speed decision-making going on behind the scenes in IOM that help you make inventory management easier.
What if you just got a big order from your key customer, and they need it ASAP, yet there isn’t enough inventory unless you review order reservations and short or delay the fulfillment of other orders. What can you do? If you’re seeing that inventory is running low, it can already be too late. But, with a system that uses the inherent machine-learning capabilities in IOM, you can short or delay fulfillment orders in real-time, without having to crunch the numbers yourself.
Let’s say you suddenly get a massive spike in sales of small orders from the east coast because everyone’s gearing up for the summer, with an extra $1400 bucks in their pocket. You need to save costs by creating a wave set transfer order to a fulfillment shop in New York, but having a person monitor and make these decisions is another fire you need to put out.
Then days later, you’re slammed with full pallet orders that require forklift operators to act quickly. Anomalies like this found by IOM, and your picking rules can be put on hold automatically. This means that you can temporarily allow forklifts to pick from piece pick and case pick zones, without missing a beat.
Once these massive orders are out the door, you can systematically return to the normal course of the picking process. All made possible by machine learning and Power Automate.
It can be hard to deal with, but the times, they are a changing. Luckily, with The Inventory Platform coupled with IOM, it can be a change for good. If you’re curious how The Inventory Platform can save you up to 90% on data entry and 20% on labor, click the link below to get in touch with us. We work across all platforms and built our business and our products around our partners and customers.
Site transfers, if you're not familiar with the term, really revolves around the movement and requesting of inventory from one location to another, typically moving it over some significant amount of distance or changing of hands between who is managing it at one location, to another group or people that are managing it at a destination location.
There can be quite a variety around how that is all accomplished. But in general, it is the tracking, monitoring, picking and receiving of all those materials from one site to another.
Sometimes that can be over the ocean, in shipping carriers or as an in-transit location from overseas as well.
When you're talking about transfers, typically you're looking at the source as well as the destination. But in many cases, people want to track in-transit, and hence the term you might see of in-transit transfers as being a type of transfer that you might see between two locations as well. When we talk about optimizing how we manage these site transfers, that really boils down to simplification of labor. If you can eliminate labor in the process, all the better.
However, there's typically a cost involved in terms of oversight that you have to also consider when you're talking about the value of the transaction or of the inventory that you're moving, as well as how easy you want to make it and how high volume those operations are.
The first place we can look at minimizing labor is in the initiation or creation of a site transfer. Sometimes you have somebody in a back office that's looking at data, analyzing it, and then creating a document in an ERP system which is marked as a transfer order, and then that is sent down into the warehouse management system for the beginning of what happens, which is a pick process.
If you can eliminate that labor to create those documents, that's obviously one area to look at when you look at optimizing. You can set up, in many cases, system automation around min/max levels so that automatically you can generate one or more transfers based on hitting those minimum levels and trying to fill them back up to their max levels.
That can be a system automation that can help to reduce labor. The other way you can set that up, which can even be a little bit more dynamic in its ability to request transfers is what we call mobile request inventory. You might have an operator at the destination site that needs more inventory for a specific purpose. By using their mobile device, they can create their own site transfers so that they can be picked back at the source location, shipped and delivered off to be ready for receiving.
The last and easiest mechanism to use for transfers is what we call cross-site moves. If you think of a move is really the ability to take a product and move it from one bin location to another bin location. It's a simple, straightforward move process, which is usually within one site. What we've done is we've been able to say: “Look, we can track and determine if there's a bin location that happens to be in a second destination site as the two site. Let’s start from there, and build off of that”.
And if we can identify that, then we can initiate a site transfer from one site to another in the backend of the system without having to overly complicate the creation of documents in the picking up of the material and receiving of the material.
It really turns it into a one-step operation, which is fantastic, because it requires so much less labor to facilitate. But it also means it's the least oversight that you probably are going to have of any of these types of site transfers. When we first tried to zoom out, and see the big picture for optimization, we looked at barcoding. That’s where license plates come into play. It’s a great way to initiate large numbers of these site transfers.
If you've got a label, a small sticker, it could even be a 2D barcode representing the license plate that you stamp on any kind of container or box or pallet, those can be marked and simply scanned at the point of receipt by the operator that's at the destination site.
You can really save a lot of time from having to manually go through and check all the quantities of those site transfers. But again, you are then taking into consideration that the quantities and items have already been validated by the scanning that's occurred in the source location, which can oftentimes be a very meaningful assumption that you can make.
Looking at seal numbers is another way to help to ensure that you've got the quantities that were on the transfer from the beginning to the end. A seal number is usually a piece of plastic that gets put at the back of a trailer of a truck that has a unique serial number on it, and makes it hard to open it up without knowing that it's been opened. That gives you that confidence that you have all the material that was put into the truck and has not been disrupted.
Another thing you want to consider is discrepancies. When you do have those scenarios, when you are receiving inventory and there is missing product, there are a couple of different ways you can handle it.
Of course, you can manually put through a process where somebody gets involved and reviews those scenarios and determines what to do and whether there should be an inventory adjustment made at the source location or if we want to create some inventory adjustment at the receipt level.
One other way to optimize site transfers, especially when you're dealing with third party vendors, is to taking a look at ASN receiving technology. ASNs stand for advanced ship notice. And is a form of EDI document that is used to initiate a receipt to be coming up from a vendor that provides you with a UCC or license plate number to be scanned at the point of receipt.
If you can find those scenarios where you can get labeling of those license plates done by vendors, that, again, is a huge gain from a simplicity perspective and a lack of needing to label incoming material.
With that technology, you're simply scanning and scanning and scanning those license plates as they come in from that vendor.
WithoutWire is a cloud-based inventory management service that brings science to barcode scanning for field techs, manufacturers, or warehouse pickers.
Within minutes, you can set up your own personalized environment. With our embedded Microsoft Power BI and SQL reporting services, you'll get live views of your activity from nearly any device and form factor, including iOS or Android-based smartphones, tablets, and rugged purpose-built scanning devices. WithoutWire, inventory management solutions without equal.
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How can you help your inventory team improve using digital technology? When it comes down to it, we should all focus on one question: How much inventory do we truly need to keep on the books to run a successful business?
An inventory team works best when it can ensure that they can find accuracy in the information and that they can adequately keep inventory that you need—in stock—when it's needed. That means we are always trying to maintain a better quality of customer service, and make sure that we have enough raw materials to meet the needs of production.
Digital technologies include everything from a back-end record-keeping system to the barcode-scanning technology that identifies products. What we’re excited about is AI and predictive analytics. When it comes to reordering points with inventory, finding the correct answer is key. Inventory truth means that no matter what, you have a full 360-view of what’s available at any given time.
If done correctly, digital technology can also reduce the cost of labor, saving you a couple of hundreds on paper throughout the process, shoring up mistakes, as well as lowering costs for materials across the board.
Use a system that’s best with both.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s a tool for every job. Work smarter, not harder. There’s a million and a half euphamisms about process, building, and fixing something. Today we’re here to say, they’re right. But, it’s about how you use what you’ve got, and use it well. What’s the answer to the inventory management problem? The waters are murky, but we’re here to help you find out.
Paper is easy, cheap, and universal. But, it also has shortcomings. Today, let’s dive into when paper is better, and how to use it in a system that utilizes the best parts of digital as well.
We’re all living in the real world, with real jobs. The best part of it is, this isn’t high school. If somebody else is crushing it, you can copy their crib-notes.
It comes as no surprise that the biggest 3PL in the world is Amazon. They make weird, cylindrical robots that tell you about your groceries and servers that the majority of businesses use; for the most part, they make their money off of shipping other people’s goods. Storing them, transporting them, and doing it faster than the post office.
How did they become the biggest 3PL in the world? Simply by working to be the best at it. They didn’t invent a new plane that can store more products and they certainly didn’t build new roads that only Amazon trucks can drive on. They streamlined processes and made decisions easier to make. They used the best + newest tech that was (and still is) available: Artificial Intelligence. By taking the headache of decision-making out of the picture, they’ve been able to make cross-country shipments daily, hourly, and sometimes, even by the minute--without a sweat.
If there are seven trucks and five of them need to reach a certain weight limit, the machine learning inherent in their programming can do it. And, it can pack it better than the world’s best Tetris player. Got 300,000 packages going to Minnesota? We know which trucks can make it there the quickest.
This point is that at the end of the day it’s about working smarter, not harder. There is no reason you can’t look at your classmate’s notes for this one. In fact, you’ll probably both do better on the test if you do. We know that the biggest 3PL in the world is using AI + Machine Learning to keep things moving. So, why not beat the system?
With our Inventory Platform, you can boost your functionality, save on data entry, and build a better, scan-happy system that works on the same principles as the best in the business.