Six Ways Companies are Driving Supply Chain Efficiency: Key Insights from ProMat 2023

April 5, 2023
Tom Cangelosi 

ProMat is the industry’s largest trade event for manufacturing and supply chain innovation. 

During this year’s ProMat event hosted by the Material Handling Institute (MHI), attendees from 1,000 of the world’s leading supply chain solution providers gained a front-row seat to what the future holds for manufacturers. Through several hands-on demonstrations and educational seminars, I was able to learn about the latest industry trends and technologies. One theme in particular emerged as this year’s most important priority for companies across the industry: Efficiency. In this article, I share event insights on six ways companies can drive supply chain efficiency through both automation and technology.

1. Utilizing sustainable electricity and energy

Reducing energy consumption has been a top priority in both manufacturing and distribution for decades. It’s now more important than ever, and incorporating energy-efficient technologies into key business processes and activities is a key way companies can move the needle on their energy consumption goals. Certain sustainable technology solutions are enjoying industry-wide acceptance and usage. One such solution is lithium-ion batteries, which can provide quicker charges, less drainage, longer overall life, and maximize overall energy usage. While imperfect, lithium-ion batteries also have a lower environmental impact than gasoline and lead-acid-based batteries and can play a key role in helping companies shift to a more renewable, sustainable, low-carbon producing future, and an overall lower cost of ownership. Sustainability is a priority not only for companies, but increasingly so for investors, partners, and younger generations of talent.

2. Employing camera technology

Companies are increasingly employing camera technologies as a replacement for manual labor to identify and dimension. The data obtained from these cameras, combined with integrated scales, improves inventory warehouse management by providing insights into identifying storage locations within the warehouse. The data can also be informative in determining the most efficient means of shipping the goods.

3. Reusable and eco-friendly packaging

Reusable and lighter packaging not only is better for the environment, it can also reduce costs and drive supply chain efficiency. Companies are focused on using reusable packaging as it has a lower environmental footprint (75% in global warming potential and 95% reduction in waste) compared to other forms of packaging. 

4. Optimizing use of space

Companies are becoming more aware of warehouse space limitations globally – particularly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Japan. Maximizing efficient use of warehouse space and square footage is key. Employees need to be able to maneuver warehouse equipment within narrower aisles and perform tighter turns with a limited radius for example and access a higher level of racking. Automation technology is especially useful at larger warehouses as it can help employees easily operate and navigate aisles without having to walk hundreds if not thousands of feet to locate and manage inventory.

5. Replacing manual tasks with automation technology 

Automation is becoming more commonplace within manufacturing and distribution centers, but adoption alone is not sufficient. Companies must also understand how to best utilize the technology. Automation enables workers to find and pinpoint products or materials on shelves. Whether it is a carousel operation that brings a bin location forward to a picker, or one of the various options in autonomous or semi-autonomous picking, technology is enabling a quicker and less labor-intensive material handling. Another innovation is in the ability for high-speed conveyor belts to read boxes, order items, and divert them to appropriate stores and locations. 

Although automation has traditionally been the domain of large companies, small and medium-sized companies are now able to participate in these cost savings due to anticipated economies of scale and increased market availability. The double-edged sword is that while adoption of modern technologies makes companies more appealing to job seekers who are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder, this cadre of talent is also more expensive, as they carry a higher skill set required to operate this modern technology. 

6. Promoting sustainability

Although small businesses don’t have budgets that match those of larger organizations when it comes to investment in ESG, they are increasingly factoring sustainability into their policies and operational framework. Leaders who maximize sustainable solutions will have an advantage over their competitors who lag behind in that the costs associated with waste and disposal of goods are becoming increasingly expensive–and an inefficient use of capital. Implementing sustainable techniques is both socially responsible and economically justifiable for organizations of all sizes.

The takeaway? Technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and, from a cost and implementation perspective, is accessible to organizations of all sizes, small and mid-sized included. Today’s solutions promise operational efficiencies such as addressing bottlenecks in the shipping process and maximizing warehouse design and storage. They also deliver a more sustainable, eco-friendly approach to resource use and management. Best of all, these modern-day solutions give companies the opportunity to do away with yesterday’s model that equated growth with spending and move into a more labor-efficient, cost-efficient, and energy-efficient means of growth and expansion.

Tom Cangelosi
A graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Tom has 40 years of experience with system implementations in the manufacturing and distribution industries. In a career that began with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Tom has blended business and technical skills to create a practical consulting...
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