A happy, efficient workforce figures large in corporate success, or failure. This is no more so true than in the global supply chain industry. Eric Miller gives six suggestions from a rugged computer vendor’s perspective to make yours a happier, more productive workforce

The goal of every enterprise is profitable operation. What constitutes profitability? Making more money than is spent. Numerous factors contribute to that one crucial goal. The right product, the right market, the right business model, good execution, and sometimes just plain luck. The economy may be right, opportunities may come along, new technologies may work out, policies and regulations create demand, and so on, but you can’t really count on any of these to remain as favorable as they are.

There is, however, one important constant – if not the most important one – and that is your workforce. Depending on the type of operation, workforce compensation and benefits represent a major part of the operating costs and thus have a direct impact on profit. On the other hand, workforce productivity can directly correlate with sales. This makes the efficiency of your workforce one variable that you do have control over. Which makes workforce management one of the most important parts of any organization.

In short, an efficient workforce means increased productivity, which means increased profitability. An efficient workforce is worth its weight in gold. But how to get there? Much of it is self-evident but is absolutely worth keeping in mind at all times. Here are six keys to having an efficient, productive workforce:

1. The work environment. Almost no two work environments are the same. What applies everywhere, though, is the importance of a suitable environment where people like to work. Work environments can vary and not every job – certainly as far as the supply chain industry is concerned – is in a nice, modern office with a stocked kitchen and a water cooler. But no matter where people work, they need a clear idea of what is expected of them, clearly defined tasks and goals, the right tools, and enough time to complete the job.

2. Workforce training. Hiring people and then letting them figure things out for themselves is a recipe for disaster and frustration. Invest in proper training for all aspects of the job, assign mentors or team up with a service provider that helps your workforce get acquainted to tasks, processes and equipment. Realize that training is an ongoing thing that includes refreshers, updates, and learning new things.

3. Motivation. An engaged and motivated workforce is a vital factor in assuring high productivity levels, but keeping your workforce positive and motivated is among the most difficult tasks in any organization. As there is nothing more demoralizing to a workforce than uncertainty, clear communication is key. Be clear upfront about work requirements and expectations. And most importantly, if you do performance evaluations, concentrate on what is done well and structure improvement as an opportunity.worker efficiency

4. Proper equipment. Almost all jobs today include computers, systems, and being connected. Make certain that your workforce has the right tools for the job. In logistics and supply chain environments, that means mobile devices and other computing gear that’s fit for purpose, easy to use, and powerful and reliable enough to get the work done. Invest in the right software, updates or replacements when required and, above all, a reliable communication infrastructure. There is nothing worse than not being able to log in or losing a connection when on the job.

5. Good support. A workforce is efficient when it can use the tools you give them. It is not efficient or productive when those tools are unsuitable, hard to use, or fail. Downtime or frustration over malfunctioning equipment are productivity killers. Do provide proper tech support, quick equipment service, and expert troubleshooting to help workers quickly get back up and running. Today’s mobile device management systems can easily keep track of devices, troubleshoot them remotely, keep them updated, and overall make sure that everything works as it should.

6. Include your workforce. While executives set directions and management implements those, it’s the workforce that’s on the frontline. They know what they need to get the job done, they know what works and what doesn’t, and they may have great suggestions on how to make things better. Take advantage of all that! Include your workforce as much as possible when making decisions on new systems or equipment, invite them in evaluations and testing, and include them in the decision process. They are the ones who will use the systems; feeling a sense of ownership and participation can do wonders.

Work is work and making a living. Better technology isn’t everything, but work with optimized tools and equipment is more interesting and engaging. It also helps get work done quicker, with less stress, and with less chance of inadvertent errors The result is win-win-win. Your customers will be impressed with the improved service, accuracy and speed of delivery your operation’s optimized technology provides. Your employees will appreciate having the right tools to get their jobs done, tools and systems they helped develop and select. And your entire operation will benefit from the kind of productivity an engaged and properly supported workforce can provide.

The result is win-win-win. Your customers will be impressed with the improved service, accuracy and speed of delivery your operation’s optimized technology provides. Your employees will appreciate having the right tools to get their jobs done, tools and systems they helped develop and select. And your entire operation will benefit from the kind of productivity an engaged and properly supported workforce can provide.

Case study
JLT rugged computers keep Swire Coca-Cola’s warehouse operations and operators moving
As one of the largest independent Coca-Cola bottlers in the United States, Swire Coca-Cola, USA needs rugged computers that can deliver maximum reliability with minimum problems, all while operating in a tough environment.

After working with JLT for many years, Swire Coca-Cola naturally turned to them when looking to purchase new rugged devices to improve their warehouse inventory systems. Over the course of 18 months, JLT supplied Swire Coca-Cola with 300 JLT1214N vehicle-mounted computers as they were expanding their territory in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho, including the cities of Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Spokane and Tucson.

The JLT1214N computer is a real workhorse for warehousing applications with the higher performance that increases users’ productivity. It is based on the successful JLT computer platform and designed from the bottom up with the latest processor technology to deliver maximum reliability and efficiency in very tough environments, from cold storage rooms to broiling hot sun, from fixed wall mounts to vibrating forklifts.

“JLT has been extremely helpful in Swire Coca-Cola’s continued growth,” said James Sloan, Chief Financial Officer for Swire Coca-Cola, USA. “Improved productivity and reliability means we will continue to deliver excellent service with minimal disruption for our customers, consumers and employees.”

Eric Miller is CEO of JLT Mobile Computers, a leading supplier of rugged mobile computing devices and solutions for demanding environments. Twenty-five years of development and manufacturing experience have enabled it to set the standard in rugged computing, combining outstanding product quality with expert service, support and solutions to ensure trouble-free business operations for customers in warehousing, transportation, manufacturing, mining, ports and agriculture. JLT operates globally from offices in Sweden and the US, complemented by an extensive network of sales partners in local markets.

Chances are there will be more job openings in logistics than we will have workers to fill them. That not only calls for the use of technology, it requires technology that supports the human worker to be more efficient. But how do you go about that asks Axel Schmidt

A study by Cowen Research has found that ‘[H]iring trends remain strong despite accelerating deployment of logistics robots broadly1.” In other words: Technology can help boost employment. A recent MIT study2 confirms this projection. And the Covid-19 pandemic with its unprecedented e-commerce spike has certainly also highlighted the need for more manual work.

So, then there is little doubt: Human workers remain indispensable for the foreseeable future. Logistics and supply chain jobs require their skill, their spontaneity, their unparalleled dexterity as well as their capacity to adjust and collaborate instantly with others. These abilities are what distinguishes human workers from robots.

While this assessment certainly is no total rejection of technology, it still raises the question as to how technology can best support frontline workers. How can it help raise productivity, profitability, and efficiency while substantially relieving workers at the same time? This matter is even more pressing because the constant talk about automation and AI has fostered a sense of alienation, leaving many workers with mixed emotions and fear about potential job losses. Yet humans and technology should not be adversaries.

Connect the human worker to the IoT
Alienation and anxiety generated a gap which needs to be bridged. As the digitization of the shop floor evolves and gains traction it is evident that human-machine collaboration becomes instrumental. This requires technology to be built around the human worker and connect them to the internet of things while advocating for a decentralized, bottom-up approach to data capture. Wearable devices such as glove scanners are a perfect example for illustrating the benefits that may come with this approach.

First, they connect effortlessly to the corporate network; that is if they pursue an IT friendly plug and play approach. Apart from that, the fact that they are worn on the back of the hand promotes smooth and seamless processes. Workers can no longer misplace them or accidentally wrap them in the packages they are sending out. Needless to say, this kind of device is naturally less likely to be damaged because of accidental slips. All of the above is a significant factor in high frequency scanning environments and contributes to the expenses.

Promote workplace safety and ergonomics
TechnologyAbove all, wearable barcode scanners promote the idea of hands-free scanning. This provides an opportunity for workers to interact freely with their environment and focus on the operations they need to perform. Oftentimes this includes jobs like operating cranes or working in great heights such as high bay racks. In that sense, additional leeway accounts for more workplace safety because it significantly reduces the risks of accidents and physical damage.

Along those lines, it is worth mentioning that wearable barcode scanners can also have a lasting impact on ergonomics because they tend to be smaller and lighter than conventional scanner guns. This means that workers do not have to lift as much. In fact, the difference can add up to 1.5 metric tons per day and worker. Not only does this reduce the risk of health problems and injuries from strain, but productivity is increased as workers will have higher energy levels.

Furthermore, wearable technology can supply guidance with all senses. Wearable displays, for instance, can provide directions and cut back on unnecessary travel within warehouses. Aside from visual signals, wearable devices can also utilize haptic and audio alerts to provide guidance. This may come in handy as it can reduce common picking errors by a factor of 33 per cent which equals a massive quality enhancement.

But the most striking advantage wearable technology delivers is efficiency. Wearable barcode scanners can reduce the time per scan by up to six seconds. That can amount to as much as 50 per cent of the overall scanning time. In fact, XPO Logistics recently announced that the use of wearable barcode scanners saved six seconds per pick, representing an efficiency gain of approximately ten per cent and led to a 75 per cent reduction in errors per million units picked3.

Delivering the human digital twin
Workplace safety, ergonomics, quality and efficiency gains are key advantages. However, there are more benefits to be collected. This technology can be paired with software to leverage the fact that glove scanners are worn on the back of the hand. This makes it an ideal prerequisite for time-motion studies which may provide valuable insights into travel times within warehouses for instance. As they account for about 30 to 50 per cent of the time spent on picking, they represent an important lever for optimizations that can save unnecessary trips.

Such data also provides precise information about hotspots, identifies obstacles and allows for workstations to be properly compared. More so, since this data can be visualized by means of heat maps. At the end of the day, this kind of solution collects data, contextualizes it and provides actionable insights. For example, if too many workers are deployed at one station while they are missing at another.

Its inherent bottom-up approach is pivotal for this kind of solution, though, because this way it all starts with the frontline worker in mind, and it delivers a human digital twin.

1 https://www.cowen.com/insights/deus-ex-machina-part-2-robotics-in-the-warehouse-logistics-market/
2 http://workofthefuture.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/2020-Final-Report.pdf
3 https://news.xpo.com/2503/xpo-logistics-pilots-wearable-technology-for-ecommerce-logistics/

Axel Schmidt is Senior Communications Manager at ProGlove. ProGlove builds the lightest, smallest, and toughest barcode scanners in the world, connecting workers to actionable information. More than 500 renowned organizations in manufacturing, production, logistics, and retail use these smarter workforce solutions. ProGlove employs 200 people from over 40 countries with offices in Munich, Chicago, and Belgrade.

Phil Hadfield discusses the current supply chain sector and why overcoming the challenges of the current pandemic call for a connected and resilient approach

We have often talked about how we bring The Connected Enterprise to life and what that means for us, but what often gets lost in the whole process and what we often tend to downplay is just the mere fact that we are a manufacturer. That means that we understand a lot of the intricacies of what it means to make products available to the market. As a company, we have spent a lot of time thinking about how we build and grow our internal supply chain, and that has allowed us to understand the ever-evolving industry challenges.

We often talk about supply chain uncertainty and the true elements that we are mitigating against as an organization. A lot of these come from the traditional macroeconomic challenges that we are all aware of. But what has been different about the last few years is that these factors have occurred concurrently, or they have happened in rapid succession, whether you start with protectionism and you think about the US, China trade war and then move on to the constrained markets. It was not too long before Covid that we were dealing with an allocation of labor challenge. Globally, in some sectors there were also challenges with component allocation and just the availability of electronics. The demands from cloud computing, electric and hybrid vehicles and even 5G all adding to the general stress on the electronic component supply chain in the global marketplace. This was complicated with foreign currency, spot pricing and the global trade environment.

If you fast forward to the current situation, the different layers of complexity that have been brought forth with the global pandemic, we have had to adjust to a transportation environment that has been significantly capacity constrained. Then you can add to that the notion of employee welfare and keeping our facilities clean, just maintaining product flow. There is a significant amount of unpredictability throughout the market that has made it incredibly challenging for us all. With Resilianceour product mix and our demand profile we had to pivot away from thinking about managing our supply chain as being just efficient or lean. Just trying to take the most costs out of the supply chain was not going to allow us to be certain that we had product available.

We have had a lot of success in driving an efficient supply chain. We thought about this in a very siloed fashion, being very biased toward being efficient and lean. What that has meant for us is we have been extremely opportunistic. We have seen a lot of working capital reductions, but it did not always allow us to have the right value that we delivered in terms of availability and truly leveraging supply chain as a competitive advantage. A couple of years ago we started pivoting our supply chain to talk about agility. I know it is a buzzword and it is leveraged across multiple functions. We have continued to think through what it means to have the right cost, service, and quality given our overall company strategy. What we have begun to see are the elements of our agile supply chain, and how we have tried to focus on both our processes and our technology in relation to this new normal.

Strategic inventory or buffering has become very necessary given the current allocation and constrained markets. Network optimization is another one. This optimization pivots us toward looking at visibility and better decision making. One of the biggest elements of the agile supply chain is end date orchestration because it truly transforms the business. Finally, in terms of agility I would be remiss to not talk about process automation and IT/OT convergence, which is just a staple in our digital manufacturing journey. While agility is truly relevant, I think with a pandemic we have spent a lot more time talking about resilience, and just this idea of mitigating against unplanned disruption to understand our vulnerabilities.

Like agility, some of the elements of resiliency, starting with protection of supply is about ensuring availability of components or finished goods. With the onset of the pandemic we initially saw a significant drop of about 30 per cent in demand. In this scenario, market intelligence becomes particularly important to allow us to understand the behavior and the direction of the market.

Supply chain scenario planning has become a staple for us, so that we can be prepared for the various circumstances that we were challenged with from an end to end basis. Redundant manufacturing now plays a major role, not just for us, but other organizations. As I talk to peers the talk often turns to regionalization and reshoring.

There are areas where agility and resilience are unique, there are also areas where they are in union. The result is that in transitioning to a resilient supply chain we only had to reprioritize some of our initiatives, as opposed to completely redefining our strategy. That strategy is both for inside the four walls aswell as outside the four walls. Inside it is focused on digital manufacturing, while outside is where we talk about that truly connected supply chain. While visibility is important for me to understand where my components, finished goods and working process are, if I did not understand the market intelligence with a greater focus on sales and operations planning, we would be headed in the wrong direction.

We have defined our future in terms of capabilities. We are trying to adjust to this fast-paced environment. We are trying to collaborate in a much more fundamental manner, and we are trying to make data driven decisions much faster than we have. If I sum it up, we are trying to make the right decision but faster.

I often leverage the traditional scoring model of plan, source, make, deliver, but it is also how we start to define our digital strategy. By focusing on those capabilities that give us that balance of agility and resiliency we acknowledge that this digital transformation is not just about leveraging technologies. We started there but at this point we are trying to be very thoughtful about how we look at this transformation. What you start to lean into is the importance of having an organization that is designed to process these levels of information or an organizational culture that thinks more from end to end perspective, as opposed to individual silos that I was alluding to earlier.

Phil Hadfield is UK Sales Director of Rockwell Automation, a reliable worldwide leader in industrial automation and digital transformation, well-known for its flagship product brands Allen-Bradley ® and FactoryTalk software. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rockwell Automation employs approximately 23,000 problem solvers dedicated to customers in more than 100 countries.

Five ways temperature controlled shippers can boost supply chain efficiency. By Mark Peterson

The increased need for adaptability and agility sums up what nearly everyone is feeling these days—this is particularly true for companies shipping temperature sensitive freight when timing is critical. In any environment, internal and external influencers regularly affect supply chain efficiency. Finding ways to remain flexible is key to maintaining efficiency and safety while dealing with influencers like new restrictions and continuously changing operational processes.

Adapt to changing conditions through supply chain efficiency
In any industry, finding new ways to manage spend and add efficiency is critical to successfully manage through changing market conditions. If you’re looking to improve the efficiency of your temperature controlled supply chain, carefully consider your approach to the following five areas of your business. Making improvements in these areas will help you meet safety expectations, and better meet customer expectations.

1. Improve detailed and holistic visibility
If you don’t have full visibility to your temperature controlled shipments, it’s impossible to identify issues and optimization opportunities, such as delivery schedules shifting, or having to re-route your freight mid-haul to meet inventory shifts. A lack of suitable supply chain visibility is a challenge many organizations face - even during stable conditions.

In our current world of unpredictability, visibility gaps can be truly detrimental to your success - costs will increase if your freight does not arrive on time and in full to its destination. Know where your shipments are and where they’re going to be to best accommodate today’s temperature controlled shipping standards.

Beyond having the ability to track shipments, strive for big picture visibility across all aspects of your supply chain - from cost components and service and handling to lead times and more.

2. Gain insight into demand volatility
Unstable demand - no matter the cause - is difficult to plan for. Yet, keeping an eye on order status and changing demand is essential to ensure your sensitive freight is on time and in full to its destination. This information can help you Cool Chainmake smart decisions about your business.

Consider Bloomin’ Brands, one of the world’s largest casual dining companies. They understood the importance of implementing supply processes that not only addressed current challenges, like demand fluctuations, but could scale along with their business’s growth and change.

Bloomin’ Brands met with experts from Robinson Fresh®, a division of C.H. Robinson, to discuss how Managed Procurement Services could provide a customized, more holistic solution. This solution provided clear visibility to consumer demand, upcoming orders, and existing shipments, allowing Bloomin’ Brands to make strategic decisions that accounted for volatility and eliminated waste, bringing a ten per cent cost savings to the Bloomin’ Brands team.

Use your current level of demand, demand forecasts, and the right logistics technology to answer when to place the next order and if additional solutions like temperature-controlled LTL, or MPS would be beneficial to your transportation strategy.

3. Be strategic about inventory management
Inventory levels and demand requirements go hand in hand. When one shifts, the other must also adjust. Once you have insight into your changing demand levels, apply that information to your inventory strategy.

As demand ebbs and flows, the most successful shippers will focus on creating inventory efficiencies through technology, capacity networks, and expedited transportation services. Supply chain technology and warehouse management solutions can help provide the visibility you need to better understand your inventory and its locations. Keeping inventory close at hand can help speed up orders, better align supply and demand, and act as an effective overall strategy for your supply chain.

Ensure your network and warehouse decisions reflect your shipping patterns and demand needs. Consider conducting a network analysis to determine how efficient your existing inventory strategy is and identify opportunities to improve.

4. Uncover unnecessary spending
Increasing efficiencies and optimizing space on trucks can help manage cost of hire impacts and is perhaps more critical than ever before. Paying attention to cost components of individual products as well as cost factors of the overarching supply chain can help you identify unnecessary spending.

Once you understand where your money is going, drive those costs down by working with a provider to leverage capacity options and a vast distribution network to meet the needs of your sensitive freight. Capacity and distribution options with a 3PL, allow you the flexibility to find the right carrier at the right price and schedule for your shipments. Pay special attention to small inconsistencies that happen irregularly, as well as changing retail compliance requirements. Be sure to address these issues as swiftly as possible as these can quickly add up to significant costs and a decrease in overall shipment performance.

5. Use the market conditions to secure the capacity options you want
When it comes to over the road capacity in the United States, you can expect a highly-fragmented experience, whether you’re shipping dry van goods or temperature controlled items.

In addition, when capacity is at a premium, carriers are more selective about freight acceptance. We’re regularly seeing overly complex or challenging freight (like fresh products) getting passed over in favor of simpler freight.

You likely need a solution to help aggregate high-quality small and mid-sized carriers while maintaining carrier acceptance rates when the market tightens. It is important for shippers to be adaptable and flexible in order capture capacity when it is needed - that might not be leveraging your traditional capacity cycle or pattern as you have in the past. Freight procurement bids may need to shift to every six months rather than annually in order to secure a stable cost and service delivery.

When it comes to sourcing the capacity, you need - especially in times of disruption - look for third party logistics providers (3PLs) that can support your supply and demand requirements.

Above all, remember to be adaptable
Any number of influences on supply and demand can affect your temperature controlled efficiency efforts. Solutions that have been in place for a while may no longer make the most sense based on changes to your business or the market.

Consider outsourcing your supply chain management as a solution. Not only can a quality outsource reduce resource costs and increase efficiency through expert optimization, working with a credible, aligned outsource supply chain provider can deliver the flexibility you need while reducing the time and energy needed from store operators to manage purchase orders and deal with claims.

Choose your vendors and providers carefully. Focus on those that offer clear communication and are willing to collaborate on the right solution for your business - not a one size fits all, quick fix. Collaboration combined with the scale to offer new technologies and execute on advancements in temperature controlled transportation, refrigerated warehousing, and other operational areas can set your business apart.

Your temperature controlled supply chain has limitless potential. There is always opportunity for more efficiency and cost savings. As businesses and the market change and evolve, creating the most efficient supply chain possible will help you do more with less, meet consumer demands, and adapt quickly to changes.

No matter which area of supply chain efficiency you choose to focus on first, maintain an adaptable mindset in your approach and you’ll best position yourself to overcome disruptions to the market

Mark Peterson is vice president of temperature controlled transportation at C.H. Robinson. C.H. Robinson solves logistics problems for companies across the globe and across industries, from the simple to the most complex. With nearly $20 billion in freight under management and 18 million shipments annually, it is one of the world’s largest logistics platforms. Its global suite of services accelerates trade to seamlessly deliver the products and goods that drive the world’s economy. With the combination of its multimodal transportation management system and expertise, it uses its information advantage to deliver smarter solutions for more than 119,000 customers and 78,000 contract carriers.

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