Embracing a Green Supply Chain for Sustainability and Business Advantage

By Vijay B Iyer, Vice President & Global Head, CPG, Retail & eCommerce, HCL — 10/30/2012

Our world is changing rapidly; the forces of nature are wreaking havoc, shifting environmental and turbulent weather patterns and ongoing calamitous and extreme conditions, which are all pointing towards “Sustainability” and “Embracing Green” as the only long-term solutions to help regulate the damage before it has severe consequences.
 
Today, companies and citizens, alike, are not only moving towards sustainable and eco-friendly products and solutions, but also ensuring and insisting for the “greening” of the entire end-to-end manufacturing, production, and logistics processes that are key to creating the end product. With heightened end-customer awareness and stringent regulatory norms, only organizations with greener supply chain management practices will enjoy a competitive advantage and leverage this momentous shift. Across the industry, there must be a focus on the greening of the supply chain to create “efficiency led value” for customers and all other stakeholders. 
 
The Dual Challenge
 
Thus, businesses are increasingly trying to make their supply chains greener by introducing sustainability strategies throughout the organization and looking for a tight alignment of their supply chain and environmental management systems to enable a sustainable business strategy. The challenge that organizations face is how to enable a robust solution in warehouse logistics, which can work efficiently in a complex environment, and yet, embrace green business practices.
 
While every enterprise is striving hard to decrease its logistics/transportation and energy costs, and ultimately, aiming to significantly reduce its operations cost and enhance operational efficiency, it also needs to do so while keeping in mind sustainability and the greening of the supply chain. These dual objectives can be achieved in a complementary way, enabled thorough the right technology, and keeping in mind business focus and key organizational objectives and indicators.
 
The EWM Solution
 
An Enterprise Warehouse Management (EWM) system that promotes paperless transactions with RF Scanners supplemented with voice activation is one such solution. Many Consumer Goods companies are implementing EWM instead of employing a traditional warehouse management solution, not only to achieve operational efficiencies, but also to make their supply chain more sustainable and green.  
 
In a typical paper-based picking system, the picker travels between the shipping office and the bins which leads to waste, increases fuel consumption and reduces the operator’s efficiency & productivity. However, in paperless WMS with voice activation, the picker need not return to collect the next-pick list. Also, achieving 100 percent picking accuracy and 4-nine (99.99 percent) inventory accuracy, which is quite common in the case of paperless WMS, is hard to achieve in the traditional WMS. In the case of voice-activated systems that use RF signals to communicate to the WMS, the picker need not scan the bar code, nor read the instructions to validate and manage the small keys on the handheld terminal. All of this facilitates the ploughing back of productive time to actual picking.
 
Functionalities and Benefits
 
A well-integrated Warehouse Management Solution with RF Scanners and voice activation typically has the following “ready to deploy“ functionalities: Robust Warehouse Monitoring, Yard Management, Easy Graphics Framework, Cross-docking, Delivery Processing, Production Process, Transport Cross-Docking, Value-Added Logistic Services, Handling Unit Management (HUM), and Resource Management.
 
The above features offer efficient and automated business process within the warehouse, which boost paperless business transactions and enable green objectives.  
 
A few of the benefits of these functionalities are listed below.
§ The Cross-docking ability arranges the warehouse in a more optimal manner, similar to a hub and spoke model, enabling Consolidation and Deconsolidation of shipments. Thus, this leads to the optimization of: space, shipment delivery times, transportation and logistics arrangements, and, ultimately, making delivery more efficient, faster, and at a significantly reduced cost.
§ The transportation cross-docking function, which leads to optimized warehouse processing at intermediate locations, eliminates storage and repacking requirements.
§ The Labor Management module helps optimize resource management, provides the ability to compare planned versus actual performance, and accordingly, triggers incentives.
§ The EWM seamlessly integrates with automation equipment (such as storage and retrieval systems) and conveyors without middleware and PLCs via a Material Flow Systems module. This aids the warehouse slotting and rearrangement processes, along with continual and periodic reslotting, for the optimization of operational efficiency as sub-optimal arrangements directly impact bottom lines.
§ The EWM’s RF-framework enables processes for mobile data entry to be designed very efficiently and ergonomically.
§ The Yard management module in EWM provides real-time information on the location of trailers in the yard and allows warehouse supervisors to move trailers from staging to docks while ensuring efficiency of the deliveries.
 
Thus, EWM offers significant advantages and works efficiently and comprehensively to meet the many complex warehouse management requirements, such as controlling material flow, managing resources, supporting voice picking, and managing the entire warehouse conveyor system end to end. This solution aids effective warehouse logistics and transportation management, keeping in mind green objectives and enabling flexibility, while driving business advantage.
 
As companies and citizens, it is our responsibility to embrace long-term sustainability solutions to create green entities which will ensure a better future for our next generations to come.

 
About the Author
Vijay B. Iyer is the Vice President & Global Head for Consumer Goods, Retail & eCommerce. He has over 22 years in the industry, including the past 12 years providing professional consulting services to clients around operational improvement, business and IT strategy development, and technology integration. He has played a key role in the creation of Enterprise Application Services & Enterprise Transformation Services lines of business with HCL. His functional specialties include manufacturing, consumer goods, retail, sales, supply chain, production planning & customer service processes. Prior to his work with HCL, Vijay was the CIO for a large manufacturing & distribution organization.
 
 

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