Supply chain automation technology is evolving rapidly, as many companies are seeing the efficiencies it helps create across different areas like back-office operations, warehouse management and bill of lading (BOL), among others. And while many businesses in the industry are reluctant to adopt new technology, it can bring significant near-term efficiencies for freight and logistics handling.
Furthermore, before the industry arrives at a point where fully autonomous vehicles can operate effectively, there remains much work to be done throughout the supply chain, writes Brian Belcher of Vector in Trucks.com.
What is a Smart Facility?
The art of moving things from one place to another is vital to our economy and will rely heavily on advances in technology. Smart facilities will be a key part of that discussion within the supply chain. A smart facility, such as a distribution center, uses technology throughout the operation. Functions such as self-service appointment scheduling, security check-ins, door assignments and temperature and seal trailer verifications can all be automated and connected through software.
A prime example is the BOL process. Currently, a lot of companies still use paper receipts for BOL. From the time a product is created to the time it reaches a store’s shelves, that BOL can pass through multiple people’s hands – especially when a mass shipment needs to be divided at a port and sent to different parts of the country. That opens the door for human error and complicates tracking processes if something does go wrong, not to mention the BOL has to be checked when a shipment arrives at the distribution center – only further slowing things down.
Now, imagine if that BOL was in an electronic format. Every person involved in transporting a good from origination to the endpoint can transparently see everything – from the location to who transported it and from how much product is sent to where it is delivered. All that information is accurately tracked and can be easily shared with the back-office billing systems, even eliminating the need for checking in at the guard shack and clerks.
For autonomous vehicles to work, there needs to be fully autonomous processes in place. AVs can’t interact with people. Let’s use the BOL example from earlier. If an AV arrived at a distribution center, it wouldn’t be able to communicate with the guard or the clerk at the security check-in point. However, if the BOL was done electronically, all the information involved in that process can be completed ahead of time, enabling drivers to confirm shipments before arriving and eliminating the need to hire security guards and clerks.
So, while fully autonomous vehicles may be years away, companies can futureproof themselves by adopting technology that enables further automation across their business processes – eventually leading to the rise of smart facilities and a more autonomous future in the supply chain.
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