If you’re not big, fast or strong, you have to be smart. This is the underlying moral of almost every story we read to our children. This article is the modern adult version of those stories: if you're not high-tech (yet), you have to be smart.
Do I believe that Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the future? Certainly. IoT in particular offers practical solutions for many problems in the logistics sector and forms the basis of entirely new business models. Why would you still purchase machines or equipment, for instance, if you can acquire them based on use? Equip a forklift with smart sensors which measure the number of kilometres travelled and the use of the hydraulic pump, and you have ‘forklifts as a service’. It’s the end of high purchasing and maintenance costs!
At the same time, I also believe that the availability of high-tech solutions don't exempt us from the obligation of thinking for ourselves. Regardless of how modern your company is, there’s always room for human ingenuity to make improvements.
Find the forklift
Fortunately, examples of this ingenuity abound. I was recently at a large foodstuffs manufacturer, where the localisation of forklifts is essential for planning efficient routes in their enormous warehouse. To do this they could have opted to fit the warehouse with expensive and complex tracking devices but they decided to approach things differently based on the previous pick location. After all, the system knows the exact location of the picker when they’ve picked an order and uses that information to determine which order would best be picked next. An effective method which requires no extra hardware.
Always turn right
UPS is a good international example. The American parcel delivery company plans the routes of their delivery trucks in such a way that they turn left as little as possible. That sounds stranger than it is – if you think about it. A left turn is a wide turn which requires crossing the cross street. That means that the chance of losing time is greater than when turning right, where you don’t have to cross. Moreover, the chance of accidents is greater when you turn left – resulting in delays and extra costs.
Does this sound a little extreme? Not if you use tens of thousands of trucks as UPS does. By allowing no more than ten percent of the truck turns to be left turns, the company claims to save 35 million litres of fuel annually, emit 20,000 tons less CO2 and deliver more parcels with less trucks. Not a bad idea, right?
I’ll finish with one more customer experience. This one is from the Dutch agricultural sector, one of the most technologically advanced sectors in the Netherlands. Even so, the sector has inefficiencies – and therefore opportunities for making a profit – of its own, sometimes in seemingly small ways. For example, a major manufacturer of agricultural machinery has its parts delivered from all over the world and assembles its machines in the Netherlands. Because the various parts were delivered mixed and unsorted, a lot of time was lost searching and sorting during assembly.
The solution was just as simple as it was effective: they asked suppliers to deliver the parts sorted and in order of assembly. A small effort for the supplier and a great convenience for the customer. In addition they agreed that the supplier would supply directly to the assembly line, so that they could skip the warehouse reception and issuing. These are simple adjustments, but they result in significant time savings.
Ingenuity is a virtue
It's clear that technology offers enormous opportunities. But it’s not the Holy Grail. It demands high investment and specialist knowledge, and is never a comprehensive solution. To be genuinely effective, creativity, courage and ingenuity is needed. And that is exactly what separates us from robots and computers.