The current state of the nation’s supply chain isn’t quite Dante’s nine circles of hell, but those on the front lines say that when a solution to a problem is developed, it can often be stalled by other issues that relate to the movement of goods across the continent.
For example, many retailers and product suppliers today are working to shorten the distance between the nation’s larger ports and distribution centers and are willing to invest in constructing new warehouses. A commendable idea for sure.
The problem? Limited availability of construction materials along with a shortage of labor to build the new structure. Frustrating, indeed.
“We have put up a lot of warehouses for companies that are looking to offset the supply chain challenges they are facing,” said Norm Brouillette, a Senior Vice President with Ryder Supply Chain Solutions. “These new facilities are being built by those looking to enhance just-in-time delivery, or bring products to market faster.”
“Availability with the domestic supply of building materials, roofing and steel,” Brouillette added. “It used to take six to nine months to construct a new warehouse. Now that timeline may be as long as 12 months.”
A number of supply chain experts who spoke with Store Brands said the need to share information is perhaps as great as any moment in recent years. While there is an understanding that many companies are reluctant to pull back the curtain on their operations, doing so may lead to additional solutions that offer quicker delivery and possibly some cost savings.
As Parks noted, one pet foods company will not want to share information with a direct competitor, but sharing information with a shipping partner may allow for development of new ideas related to the movement of products.
As is commonplace today, technology is playing a major role in curing what ails the nation’s supply chain. Experts note that in recent years, a growing number of companies have become more technologically savvy in how they track the movement of goods.
This has been a major asset when it comes to having proper staffing at times when the highest volume of products are moving through warehouses and distribution centers. In fact, a recent survey of supply chain executives by Carl Marks Advisors found that 39% of respondents reported investing in new technology as a way of overcoming supply chain challenges.
Availability of labor continues to be a major issue for a number of industries, including supply chain, and robotic technology combined with automation is providing not only a solution for now, but also a possible long-term answer that ultimately could offer cost savings.
“We’re seeing a growing use of robotic technology such as forklifts, which diminishes the need for manual labor,” Brouillette said. “The big benefit here is that the robots don’t get sick and don’t take days off.”
New technologies are also finding their way into the hands of those responsible for product delivery from retail stores or micro fulfillment centers (MFC) to the consumer. The continued growing demand from shoppers for same-day or next-day delivery is driving the need for companies to be open to new solutions that streamline this process.
Dana Krug, Senior Vice President for Phononic, noted his company has responded to this need with the development of the actively-cooled freezer and refrigerator tote, a product aimed at same day delivery or store pickup of groceries. The tote features solid state cooling technology that cools without the use of refrigerants by using the thermodynamic power of phonons, which are particles working at a subatomic scale.
“We wanted to develop a product that allows those working in MFCs or in stores the ability to minimize the amount of times employees touch products,” said Krug. “Eliminating a few minutes per order can save a great deal of time each day and make the process of delivering products to consumers more efficient.”
As an example, the totes can be utilized as part of a retailer’s buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) solution for shoppers. The challenge for store personnel gathering items for a grocery order is to gather and house various products that are shelf stable or need refrigeration.
The tote stores frozen and refrigerated foods and can be placed on the shelf next to other products. This keeps a customer’s order together in one spot and reduces the time needed to bring the order to the shopper when they arrive.
“We’ve all seen store personnel running from the shelf to a large refrigerated unit to get the products needing cold storage,” Krug said. “Our totes eliminate the need to do that.”
Finding ways to shed a few pounds when loading a truck also helps with the flow of products. The plastic pallets offered by iGPS are lighter in weight than their wood competitors, which provides shippers an opportunity to ship a larger quantity of goods.
“Our pallets can save 10-15 pounds per pallet, which could be as much as 400 pounds on one truck load,” Parks said. “This allows for more items to be placed on a truck.”
CHEP’s Henry noted that her company has continued to invest in automation and improving internal processes, an effort that started prior to the pandemic.