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Other Voices: Five supply chain tips to prepare for the future

Innovation makes it easier to identify waste and inefficiencies while meeting customer demands and minimizing operational disruption.

Editor’s note: The following column by Dave Norton, Vice President, Customer Solutions and Support, The Raymond Corporation, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column, a series featuring ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


The movement of goods through the supply chain has never been so closely analyzed. This extra scrutiny has brought into view a number of stress points in the material handling world. Consumers are ordering a wide variety of products and expecting they be delivered in less time and at a lower cost. Warehouse inventory is expanding at an overwhelming rate and operations are looking for ways to optimize their operations. Here are a few things to keep top of mind as we navigate the future.

1. Optimize Your Operations Through Lean Management
Based on Toyota Production System (TPS) principles, visual lean management procedures and techniques allow operations to standardize work, track KPIs and make continuous improvements to optimize an operation’s people, processes and entire plant through the elimination of waste. Visualization trains employees to identify wastes in their daily tasks, and lean supports finding the solutions to eliminate those wastes and empowers employees to implement solutions across the organization.

The next step is to pinpoint the value-added and non-value-added steps of processes. Once this distinction is made, operations can begin to develop standardized work processes that create clearly defined employee expectations and ensures consistency of labor and materials.

Lastly, for lean to be truly effective, a culture of continuous improvement needs to be adopted throughout an organization. This includes top level executives buying into lean philosophies and instilling creativity and confidence in associates to embrace an active role in seeking better solutions. Throughout the lean management process, operations are able to fully understand the current state of their facility using visual tools based upon data.

2. Collect and Analyze Data
To fully embrace lean management philosophies and standardization, it is imperative that operations have access to real-time data to help problem-solve, provide reduced lead times to customers, and ultimately optimize operations. It is important to implement processes and telematics solutions that will provide measurable data and consistently track fleet utilization, operator performance and scheduled maintenance. Collecting data and implementing intelligent intralogistics solutions can help to connect your people, process and plant, as well as identify potential issues such as hidden costs.

Telematics assists in right sizing a forklift fleet that is tailored to meet specific needs, refines maintenance schedules to avoid overspending, and can even detect minor issues before they turn into expensive repairs. Solutions like RTLS can enhance efficiency and productivity by assisting operations managers to monitor the movements of lift trucks, personnel, and assets in warehouses and to reinforce proper operational practices.

Gathering data also allows operations managers to make root cause-based decisions and improvements by getting deep inside their warehouses to see the bigger picture from every angle.

3. Prevent Interruptions Through Automation
Many industry experts will say the future of manufacturing is automation. The greatest opportunity for the material handling industry is the introduction of collaborative automation and operator assist technologies. Introducing automation into various processes creates preparation and programming tasks that a human will always have to handle. It’s not that jobs are being eliminated. It’s that jobs are being created in new areas, which can mitigate downtime and support new procedures and protocols.

Ultimately, collaborative automation reallocates labor to more value-added tasks with greater flexibility and for a lower total cost of ownership. The industry will need experts to demonstrate opportunities on how to reduce downtime and streamline processes. The challenge lies in creating the infrastructure to support the new jobs and train the workforce to get them aligned with their new responsibilities, ultimately setting them up to succeed in a technology-driven future.

4. Listen to Your Customers at Every Stage of the Process
Consumers today are highly informed and often know exactly what they need to buy before they even get to the point of purchase — this even extends to lift truck purchases. The challenge lies in determining how operations effectively and strategically ensure customers still get outstanding product quality in shorter lead times. Collaborating with customers, listening to them, anticipating their needs and providing them with the support and solutions that best fit their evolving operations is key to building a lasting relationship.

Asset management tools are crucial to helping operations visualize cost structure and identify areas of need. A truly collaborative relationship will help both parties align and understand strategies so customer investments can evolve with changing market conditions. Constant, one-on-one communication and product customization, however, are going to be big drivers in the future.

5. Partner with a Complete Solutions Provider
In today’s fast paced world, choosing a complete solutions provider is imperative to staying one step ahead of the competition. As labor needs continue to fluctuate, operator and technical training as well as enhanced learning technologies like eLearning and virtual reality are essential to helping new employees get up to speed. Consultation services, support offerings and innovative solutions are highly sought after as companies experience a range of challenges including record consumer demand and widespread operational disruptions.

From forklifts to automation logistics and telematics solutions, as well as parts and service, a complete solutions provider is crucial to supporting the production of essential goods and products. Additionally, consulting with a company that has many locations across the country helps to standardize operations. With a disciplined and systematic approach, every location receives the same service, no matter where they are located.

With innovations affecting every aspect of the supply chain, from production to point-of-sale, waste and inefficiencies are becoming easier to identify. Make sure to keep evaluating new technologies and innovations to determine how they will fit into your operation.

Article Topics

Lift Trucks
Fleet Management
Lift Trucks
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