By Christian Dow
What a difference a couple of weeks can make. At MODEX in March, members of MHI’s Solutions Community delivered a presentation entitled, “Do You Have Labor Shortages? The Solutions Community of MHI Can Help.” That was right before the coronavirus pandemic slaughtered the bull market, hurled the country into a recession and sent initial jobless claims up sharply.
At the time of the presentation, the historically low unemployment rates were making it nearly impossible to keep warehouses, distribution centers and fulfillment centers fully staffed. The demand for talented workers seemed higher than ever, with robust consumer spending and customers increasingly demanding same- or next-day delivery.
Fast forward just a few weeks, and no one knows what the short- or long-term future holds. Workers likely will be highly available for the foreseeable future, but health experts continue to recommend social distancing to control the spread of the virus, so fully staffed workplaces pose a real threat.
The one constant is that supply chains need to keep moving, providing food and consumer goods that people rely on regardless of economic or public-health conditions. For fulfillment centers, it’s time to innovate, using emerging technologies to streamline operations, boost throughput and reduce the reliance upon manpower.
The MHI Solutions Community is a resource for members looking to innovate. It’s made up of supply chain consultants and engineers, providers of hardware and software solutions and equipment manufacturers who can “gemba walk” a fulfillment center and identify areas for improvement. This in-person facility tour, a strategy sometimes called “management by walking around,” can help pinpoint bottlenecks and other issues, such as an inefficient use of space or an inadequately trained staff.
Many fulfillment centers already have automated their processes significantly, but it’s important to ensure your systems are updated and maintained prior to peak events or seasons to avoid unplanned downtime. Can your internal maintenance team provide this logistics tune-up session, or do you need the original solution provider to handle it? Do you have system components that need to be replaced to minimize the risk of unplanned downtime?