Knowing your stock position has been a requirement since the invention of commerce. Once a handwritten exercise, inventory management software is now essential to manufacturers, retailers and logisticians.
One of the greatest challenges is to eliminate the need to halt warehouse operations to carry out inventory checks. The objective is to move as close as possible to a permanent check on inventory. To have a precise real-time view of where every item of stock is to best meet customers’ needs.
Within the logistics industry, and as part of the Supply Chain 4.0 revolution, inventory processes are evolving rapidly. Several innovative technological solutions are currently under development that give us a glimpse into the future. These new solutions represent an opportunity to improve your inventory management, and FM Logistic can help you understand how.
Checking inventory is an activity that is time consuming and costly, especially when it involves several tens of thousands of pallets. But time and cost can be significantly reduced.
Checks are also often seen as a low value task rather than a tool to achieve superior performance. In reality, regular, and eventually, permanent inventory checks are a big step towards an ideal. That is “to never be out of stock, always have the right product available at the right time and in the right place”, as Axelle Ratte, Director of Methods and Industrialisation at FM Logistic explains.
Before we get there, the immediate objective is to improve the reliability and accuracy of stock checks. The basic operation remains the same. That is to move a reader along the warehouse aisles and read labels and barcodes on all the pallets. This can be done much faster and FM Logistic has experimented various technologies, now focusing on two main solutions.
Inventory Viewer, ten times faster
FM Logistic has developed Inventory Viewer in partnership with HubOne. Trials have shown it is ten times quicker than using operators on cherry pickers, with an accuracy of over 98%.
The unit itself incorporates cameras to scan barcodes and take HD images of each location. The data recorded is sent to the WMS and incorporated within seconds. Mounted on a forklift, the scanner requires an operator and can be introduced easily to most warehouses. It uses standard equipment, loading the Inventory Viewer onto a reach truck.
CLIENT TESTIMONIAL – Nestlé
“We have been using inventory viewer since 2017 at the Fontenay-Trésigny platform. It means that we can carry out three inventories per pallet location per year. It is completely safe because there is no need to use aerial platforms. And it is flexible because we can check inventory at any time during the week, when most convenient. We are impressed with the reliability and how easy it is to use the data generated”
Inventory Viewer, an innovation co-developed by Hub One and FM Logistic
- Each location is processed in 3 seconds, compared to 30 seconds for a classic inventory system
- High-definition photos mean that anomalies are dealt with from a computer screen, without the need to return to the warehouse floor
- FM Logistic and Hub One have paid particular attention to the user-friendly aspect, operators appreciate “its speed, simplicity and operating comfort”
- FM Logistic has identified between 15 and 20 sites that could be equipped with Inventory Viewer. Three are operational now, four more by the end of 2021.
- The system is especially useful at sites with several customers hosted.
An alternative route to implementing a camera and reader is to incorporate it into drones that fly through the warehouse aisles. Combined with autonomous flight plans, when possible, this solution is more complex to deploy. It is currently under test by FM Logistic.
It offers a great alternative when fiscal inventory is needed, drastically reducing operating time for a similar cost to current.
Drone technology provides similar results to the Inventory Viewer but is slower, taking ten seconds per reading versus three. There is also the question of autonomy, managing multiple batteries and replacing them every 15 minutes. Today the drone is reserved for smaller sites, but no major investment is required. As a result, it can be used for one-off or irregular use.
Invest and improve performance and customer satisfaction
As Axelle Ratte explains “the challenge is to find a way to synchronise the physical flow of goods with the digital data flow. And this in real-time, with zero human intervention.”
We are not there yet and real-time location systems (RTLS) using RFID tags appear to be the ultimate technology today. But they require almost total control of the production process. Major investment in infrastructure throughout the supply chain, including at retail store checkout, is also essential. It is not a realistic option in the midterm.
Solutions such as Inventory Viewer look to be the best option for the immediate future. These tools can make the supply chain leaner and more transparent for both customers and logisticians and significantly improve performance and customer satisfaction .
To implement and get full advantage from these smart logistics systems, investment with an ROI over several years is needed. The advantages are enormous. FM Logistic is more than ready to support its clients in their first steps in this revolution. Thanks to its multi-client warehousing facilities, these costs can be shared and significantly reduced for each individual client.