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Regular Industry Development Updates, Opinions and Talking Points relating to Manufacturing, the Supply Chain and Logistics.

How has technology transformed the distribution industry?

How has technology transformed the distribution industry?
At first glance, it seems as though very little in the distribution industry has changed over the years. iPhones, cryptocurrency and Donald Trump running America - the world today is significantly different to the one that we lived in at the turn of the century. Yet, the distribution sector looks very much the same; with palletised goods stored in a big warehouse until it’s time to be shipped off when an order is placed. It’s not the most complex process. However, the reality is that nothing is safe from the unstoppable tide of technology and while it might not be obvious on the surface, distribution has in fact been propelled into a new era thanks to these advancements.

Much of this change has been driven by the rise of ecommerce. As the way in which customers engage and shop with brands continues to evolve, distributors are looking to keep up with increasing demands for fast retail experiences, and this ripple effect has resulted in a significant technology shift across the industry.

One continuous flow of information
Whether its distribution information or stock data, the development in tracking technology has given businesses much greater access to information than ever before. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to continuously identify and track tags that are encoded with digital data. These RFID tags are attached to products and automatically update as the product enters different stages of processing in the warehouse.

Efficiency, in this instance, is increased in two ways. Firstly, it automates processes that previously required manual intervention and streamlines those processes that still do. For example, RFID technology can log when items arrive and leave, and for those jobs that still need to be completed manually - such as pick-and-pack - RFID readers can tell you the exact locations of items that you might need, saving countless hours of searching.

This, of course, grants huge benefits to companies by having greater insight into data, and as a business grows and operates globally - often incorporating different organisations - this tracking technology extends into all communication channels. With every piece of information being logged, the necessary data is available to anyone when needed - increasing efficiency and allowing greater accuracy of future planning.

An important point of this increased access to information is the impact it has on customers. In an omnichannel world that demands a seamless customer experience, having certain insights - such as tracking purchases or looking into inventory in real time - plays perfectly into these customer needs, and reflects better on the retailers that these distribution companies are working with. This level of access facilitates complete transparency between a third-party logistics provider and the customer and is playing a strong role in increasing consumer satisfaction - driving quality levels up.

The difference in delivery
Another way in which commerce is enabling the distribution industry to improve its technological adoption is through delivery. While the demand for same day and next day delivery continues to grow throughout retail, it is the distribution sectors that need to adhere to it. While much of solving these problems relies on earlier opening times and investment in labour, technology has been implemented to help streamline the process, making deliveries much more efficient. Route planning technology has been developed to optimise driver routes - saving both time and operating costs, all whilst delivering packages to an increasing amount of residential and urban destinations.

While this delivery process certainly benefits the end recipient of products, it also works to keep drivers safer through better vehicle monitoring. Be it through cameras or tracking, logistics companies can use this information to pre-warn drivers about possible issues on the road. This real-time tracking also means that drivers can be aided in the delivery of products, and optimised routes can be changed at the click of a button to make deliveries even more efficient.

Unlocking transparency
In terms of the technology itself, there haven’t been any groundbreaking developments that have completely diversified the way in which we view the distribution industry today. However, the key takeaway is the access to information on hand. Previously, the information has always been there but has only been accessible manually, filed away and difficult to utilise.

However, over the last 20 years, this has slowly developed to the point where much of the warehouse logging and delivery route information is an automatic process, easily viewed through computers. The increase of transparency has made for a much more streamlined process throughout the entirety of distribution - from when goods arrived, right until they’re delivered to the customer.

This, in turn, has helped maximise efficiency, contributing to increased profits and playing a quietly important role in the remarkable evolution of retail that we have all played witness to over the last few years.

David Jinks MILT
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