Optimizing Your Supply Chain Operations: Bird Box Edition

At Chainalytics, we enjoy a good post-apocalyptic yarn as much as the next person — but being the experienced supply chain subject matter experts that we are, we couldn’t help but view the film in a different light than the average viewer.

As compelling as the film is, we simply can’t help but ask ourselves: “How could one maintain a fully functioning fulfillment and distribution operation in the face of an apocalypse? Especially one where you can’t use your eyesight to perform typical warehousing tasks?” Fear not fellow supply chain travelers, we (maybe) have answers (not good ones) to prepare and protect your operations from a monster/zombie apocalypse.

Pick-to-Voice technology

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Pick-to-Voice technology is precisely what it sounds like, a voice operated system that an operator wears to perform standard warehousing functions such as putaway from receipt and pick to ship. With these systems, an operator is outfitted with a wireless headset and RF scanner (preferably gladiator style during an apocalypse), and is directed to a location on the headset for pick/putaway and through voice commands can perform their task while preparing for the next one. The advantages of pick-to-voice is, you guessed it, eyes-free picking!

In a perfectly happy, non-apocalyptic world, utilizing pick-to-voice technology allows you to achieve up to 30% improvement in picking productivity and near perfect pick accuracy, equaling improved service levels and the likelihood of repeat business. Sadly, in a “don’t look at the monsters or they’ll cause you to do horrific things to yourself and the person next to you” environment, you’re going to lose some of that upshot in productivity. However, the show will go on, and you will get that nice crew neck sweater out to one of the last remaining people on the planet outside your warehouse, assuming you’ve implemented the system prior to doomsday.

RFID to the rescue

I know what you’re thinking, “Great, I picked this lovely crew neck sweater, but now how do I get this thing out the door?” We’ve got you covered. Your next apocalypse-proof technological enhancement involves installing RFID readers at your dock doors. Step 1 in this process requires outfitting your shipments with RF readable electronic tags. Step 2 is to install the readers, which typically look like larger, less invasive versions of the portals you walk through at airport security checkpoints. Once that’s accomplished, start loading up that truck! As the material passes through the threshold, it is automatically scanned into the truck as you feverishly work to load out the trailer while avoiding eye contact with any monsters. Easy, right?

Now there are a couple caveats to this exercise when faced with a “bird-box-alypse.” One, ELD regulations and driver’s shortage alone have caused supply chain professionals to go completely mad, even prior to the monsters’ arrival. Coupled with the fact that they’re most likely driving that truck blind, your chances of getting that shipment to your customer are practically nonexistent, but at least in that scenario you can blame the carriers.

Two, all the enhancements in your warehouse require excellent wi-fi coverage and a strong IT backbone to keep your system online. So I recommend hitting LinkedIn now to find some excellent IT candidates, preferably those so skilled they can literally do their job blindfolded, and work through some of your infrastructure needs now before it’s too late.

Unfortunately, all monetary systems will cease to have purpose in this environment, but you can rest assured that your operations are still running at the highest possible efficiency (contextually speaking, of course). Plus, we can all appreciate how a strong routine can help us cope with sudden, unexpected change. So on a final note, we wish you luck surviving that impending apocalypse and in the next blog installment, perhaps we’ll tackle demand planning and right-sizing your inventory for the zombie apocalypse.

Tim Brindley is a Sr. Manager within the Supply Chain Operations competency at Chainalytics. He has more than 18 years of supply chain experience working in industry and as a consultant in both the public and private sectors. In his free time, he enjoys long walks on the beach and the works of Sandra Bullock.

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