The world is more interconnected than ever before. The rise of e-commerce, overnight delivery options, standard two-day shipping – these are just some of the radical changes the logistics industry has experienced in recent years. The increasing demand from consumers and retailers has forced the industry to expand and innovate. Automated logistics is the ultimate outcome of that innovation and expansion.
What Is Automated Logistics All About?
Automated logistics is really nothing more than the application of computer technology to traditionally manual processes within the logistics industry. While it sounds simple, the impacts are quite profound. It is also the answer to problems that have plagued the logistics industry for a very long time, including a shortage of workers, dealing with the ongoing rise of e-commerce, and the need to save money without sacrificing capabilities.
Why Is Automation Needed in the Logistics Industry?
Before tackling the benefits of automated logistics, it is important to understand why automation is necessary in the first place.
- Errors: The logistics industry is replete with errors. Human beings cause most of these – simply holding a scanner incorrectly can require multiple tries to read a barcode. That adds time to the process, dragging out functions of the business.However, that is just one very basic example. Humans may also misread packing lists and orders, pick the wrong product, ship incorrect items, and more. Those errors are costly, and not just in monetary terms. They can also damage the company’s brand and erode consumer trust.
- Worker Shortage: As mentioned above, there is a worker shortage in the US logistics industry. The lingering effects of COVID-19 have only exacerbated that problem. Warehouses, shipping/delivery companies, and others within the industry have been struggling to “make do” with skeleton crews while demand for items shipped from retailers and e-commerce stores has exploded (2020 saw record online orders and 2021 is delivering more of the same).
Automation allows business owners to improve their operations without having to hire a human being, thereby getting around the worker shortage. While that might seem one-sided, the truth is that automation creates as many jobs as it displaces.
- Quality Control: What happens when demand accelerates and there are fewer people doing the work? Quality suffers. In the world of logistics, this shows itself in many forms, including damaged packages, partial packs, incorrect items shipped, items shipped in the wrong packaging, and so much more. With automation, those worries are no more.
Automated logistics systems allow for much higher quality in shipping, warehousing, and receiving operations. This is particularly true for fully integrated, complete solutions that include not just software, but all the hardware necessary to handle the required tasks (picking, packing, sorting, label application, etc.).
- Customer Satisfaction: Customers are often dissatisfied with their shipping experience. Sometimes the process takes too long. Or, the item might not arrive with sufficient packaging, and even if it is not damaged, the customer could worry that jostling in the shipping process could cause premature wear or damage. Other problems include incorrect items delivered, items delivered in damaged packaging, and more.Automated logistics systems help eliminate these all too human errors. Automated pick, pack, and ship solutions ensure that items are packaged correctly every single time. Automated receiving systems can quickly sort, feed, and organize items as they come into the warehouse. The result? Improved customer satisfaction.
Obviously, there are many reasons that automation is needed in the logistics industry. What benefits can this technology offer businesses, though?
The Benefits of Automated Logistics
There are two primary benefits to automated logistics – an improved movement of goods and improved handling. Both of those are crucial for shipping and logistics companies. Below are some more specific benefits offered by automated logistics elements.
- Improve Uptime: Sortation is a major consideration for inventory control, shipping & receiving, and other aspects of the logistics process. However, it’s also fraught with errors. That’s only natural – people make mistakes. The problem is that those mistakes cost a business time and money. A single mistake can have a ripple effect that spreads through adjacent services/functions. Automation helps to maximize uptime while eliminating human error. It also delivers a boost of efficiency and requires fewer employees to operate.
- Process Returns Quickly: Handling returns has traditionally been a time-consuming and costly process. However, with automated logistics processes, that is a thing of the past. Businesses can process returns quickly and accurately. This applies to the entire reverse logistics process, from initial information gathering all the way to final product disposal after it has been received from the customer.
- Eliminate Picking Errors: Picking, packing, and shipping – those three steps require an immense amount of time and labor, and they have lots of room for error. Automated logistics processes allow businesses to enhance those steps, streamlining them and cutting out costly problems. Businesses can eliminate picking errors while improving product flow, and even unlock simultaneous order processing.
- Save Time Scanning: Businesses lose an immense amount of time to mundane processes like scanning every single year. Every second counts, but manual scanning is slow, inaccurate, and prone to problems. Automated scanning offers the ability to quickly and correctly identify packages, thereby improving inventory control and shipping accuracy. The right system will also read any type of linear barcode accurately, saving time and money, while also boosting customer satisfaction and building a stronger brand.
Automated Logistics: The Future of the Industry
While no one has a crystal ball, if one were available, it would show automation as the future of the logistics industry. The ability to improve processes, drive better customer satisfaction, cut costs, and eliminate errors is the answer to the industry’s most pressing challenges. However, not all automation systems are created equal.
For decision-makers intent on learning more about automation within the logistics industry, understand that it is vital to choose a partner with great care. Look for a company that understands that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that is dedicated to building customized, scalable solutions tailored to each individual client’s needs and budget.