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Thomas R. Cutler

Customer Care

Last Mile Delivery

The neglected leg of the supply chain

Published: Monday, August 28, 2017 - 11:01

 

Flawless order fulfillment from a distribution center or warehouse to the customer’s door is the neglected leg of the supply chain. Ironically, without careful attention to the last mile, e-commerce customers are disappointed with the quality, accuracy, and condition of the products being delivered. Although tablets and mobile devices can provide the needed visibility, they are relatively new to the most important part of the supply chain: last-mile delivery.

Maximizing supply-chain visibility from raw materials to manufacturing is as essential as the picking and packing of the product.

Whether handled internally or relegated to third-party logistics (3PLs), customer orders can face an ugly journey on their last mile. Improved processes and decreased operational costs are driving the utilization of mobile tablets. Although radio frequency (RF) guns continue to collect data in the supply-chain process, tablets allow a better user interface with touch screens, connected bluetooth ring scanners, and a highly visual interface with pictures, colors, and more data fields. The RF gun is harder to train on, is usually handheld, and the screen interface is more cumbersome.

Tablets are particularly effective in capturing analytics, which helps improve workflows at the dock, in route planning, fleet management, and delivery. Choosing tablets to manage delivery processes allows for improved, quantifiable throughput and customer satisfaction.

In food-safety terminology, this process is characterized by “chain of custody,” i.e., knowing precisely where every element (raw ingredients or finished materials) is located, who touched what, when, and where. From route planning to final proof of delivery, logistics must operate optimally because the last mile is often the most expensive; lost margin at this stage is an operational nightmare. Increasingly, consumers ordering online want real-time visibility, from pick-up to delivery, to ensure their order was picked, packed, and shipped correctly, on time, and without errors. Failing to do so could mean returns and dissatisfied customers.

Most postal and courier solutions give enterprise visibility throughout the journey from door to door—including proof of pick-up or delivery, sorting and loading, and fleet management—so deliveries get there on time. However, new technologies provide heightened methods of traceability. Accurately communicating order status to customers from pick-up to final delivery confirmation ensures customer satisfaction and brand reputation.

Some of the specific lean impacts of using tablets and mobile devices for logistics include the capability to access customer information in order to call ahead and confirm delivery, access product documentation, and the ability to capture and store data, photos, and signatures.

At the retail and customer delivery point, mobile devices improve customer service with the ability to send or even print receipts. At the plant or distribution center, tablet-based solutions like Warehouse Operating Systems (WOS), helps with inventory management and reverse logistics, if necessary.

Tablets are specifically designed to support a delivery environment, transforming the last-mile delivery process by refocusing time and energy on core responsibilities, rather than managing delivery schedules, drivers, and trucks.

Accountability for on-time delivery and safe handling

When the holiday shopping season creates an influx of labor to fulfill online orders, these new technologies allow distribution centers and 3PLs to prepare for labor variances. Easy-to-use tools with intuitive interfaces allow quicker on-boarding of seasonal workers during peak times, and reduces the consequences of labor shortages.

With new minimum wages now in effect (upwards of $20 per hour is quickly becoming the national average for warehouse workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and hourly workers in high demand, the necessity to automate and optimize operations is clear. This must be considered while simultaneously reducing picking errors and increasing efficiencies.


WarehouseOS, tablet-based warehouse inventory management

Drivers who are not delivering product because of inefficiencies in delivery logistics are wasting time. In the manufacturing plant, the calculus concerns overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is a measurement of equipment capacity vs. actual output. In last-mile delivery, OEE is overall employee efficiency. Drivers who could be delivering product 10 to 12 hours a day, and are not, represent lost productivity, increased customer dissatisfaction, and unacceptable downtime.

In the same way that the distribution center or warehouse can be optimized, so can the truck. Real-time data allow shippers to maximize cargo space by seeing into every trailer on the loading dock; this cuts fuel consumption, minimizes bottlenecks to speed up work, and improves performance to enhance job satisfaction and safety. This type of load planning solution provides transportation and logistics customers with real-time operational visibility into operations.

From load density to trailer fullness, load quality to images of loads in progress, logistics using mobile devices can now precisely track the number of packages scanned and loaded per hour, giving unprecedented insights to achieve peak levels of performance and profitability. Ultimately, the last-mile delivery is yet another metric by which firms can (and must) increase productivity and promote safe and efficient workflows.

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About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com)  Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and is now the host of Kanbanversation, a weekly episodic video discussion.  Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.