Logistics Automation: Process Documents Faster & More Efficiently
Think back to the last time you bought something online. For some, this is a daily ritual; others feel once a month is sufficient; then there are those who treat an online purchase as an annual extravagance. Whether it’s ordering the latest gadget or book or simply restocking cleaning supplies or staples for your home, you have most likely bought something online. However you look at it, you have probably been influenced by ads, friends or running out of your favorite product which pushed you to make an online purchase (or even simply the enticement of a promotion or free shipping).
In this consumer-driven world, people expect goods to be delivered to their doorstep as soon as they click “Buy”. This demand creates a strain on the companies that supply the goods and on the warehouses that store them. Most customers are unaware of all the processes that go on behind the scenes after they’ve made an online purchase. Online retailers that want to offer same-day delivery must ensure their logistics and warehouse operations have the processes and tools that enable them to fill orders in less than 24 hours. Adding automation to operations such as picking, packing, and document processing can help companies provide same-day delivery.
The Evolution of Logistics
Logistics IS automation. From steam trains to boats, trucks, planes and even drones, there seems to be no end in sight for new, innovative types of logistics and transportation. Every corner of the world is accessible by one means or another. Today, you can order something from Amazon in the morning before you go to work and your purchase is awaiting your return home in the evening. Ecommerce is booming and so is consumer demand. It’s up to logistics to remain relevant and up-to-speed.
Big Names in Logistics
Top global logistics companies include XPO Logistics, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, and DHL Supply Chain. These companies focus on managing the supply chain – the flow of goods and services – to make them as economical as possible.
“Logistics companies and customers need to find an innovative way to reduce costs and increase throughput that traditional warehouses are not able to handle. [Because] automated warehouses have the ability to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without the need to be trained on shifts, this brings a new level of flexibility and practicality to warehouse managers who want to optimise output.”
Types of Logistics
Logistics is a broad term that encompasses:
- Sales logistics
- Production logistics
- Recovery logistics
- Procurement logistics
Sales logistics moves products from producer to consumer. Product logistics is the flow of materials inside a factory. Recovery logistics is the flow of returns from consumer to waste. Procurement logistics is the flow of goods and raw materials required for manufacturing.
To keep customers happy and coming back for more, companies need enough product in stock to meet high consumer demand. Over the past five years, global inventories have doubled, which puts additional pressure on pickers and packers to meet deadlines and on dispatchers to deliver packages within shorter and shorter timeframes.
The Surge in Ecommerce
Due to recent disruptions to business, the US retail markets saw a 3% decline as Q1 ended but ecommerce thrived and sales grew 49% during the month of April alone. While social distancing and quarantine were in full swing, consumers changed their buying habits and went online to order, for instance, their groceries through pickup and delivery services. At the same time, retailers reported a significant rise in sales of comfort items like pajamas (↑143%) accompanied by a decrease in sales of business apparel (↓13%) – why bother with business casual when you’re working from your couch?
Since the beginning of 2020, Walmart saw a 74% increase in ecommerce sales. This growth consisted primarily of grocery purchases, followed by essential health and wellness goods and general merchandise. Even during the turmoil of the past few months, Walmart has gained an opportunity to garner a greater share of the retail market.
Ecommerce typically sees surges during certain times of the year such as holidays, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. As the push towards ecommerce has become more apparent than ever in the past few months, this increase in demand can lead to difficulties in fulfilment and proves that companies need to implement automation into their logistics operations.
What is Logistics Automation?
Logistics automation refers to the use of control systems, machinery, or software to improve operational efficiency. The term is broad and refers to all functions performed at a technological level. This could include reducing manual efforts like data entry and the automatic receipt of necessary information of confirmed goods and when ordering transport.
Processes along the supply chain, including procurement, distribution, customer service, and reverse logistics, are among the multitude of processes performed in a warehouse or distribution center (DC) that can be automated. Ecommerce and automation need to exist symbiotically. One cannot grow without the other; therefore, as the ecommerce market continues to grow, automation needs to keep pace.
How Automation Helps Logistics Companies
Automation works alongside people in a warehouse or office. Rather than replacing staff with robots, companies that adopt automation are reassigning human workers to new jobs that involve close collaboration with bots and maintenance of new machines. If you want greater efficiency and a faster, more effective route to market, machine learning could be the answer. It has become an essential new technology for many logistics companies.
For CEOs, logistics automation has become a high priority due to an increase in labour shortage, increasing demand from online retailers and driving technical advances. Employees will no longer be doing simple and repetitive tasks; instead, the AI can take over.
Automate Data Capture from Logistics Documents
Goods are shipped and receipt is confirmed. In logistics, there are many documents to pass, check, and approve, including invoices, purchase orders, bills of lading, and customs documents. Typically, long tables listing information about all shipped goods (description, quantity, unit price, etc.) need to be entered into the appropriate business system. Doing this all manually would take hours. Instead, by automating this document data capture, it’s possible to extract the same data in minutes, and sometimes only seconds. This helps improve efficiency and simplify customs compliance.
Benefits of Logistics Automation
The movement of goods can be tracked at a superior level by optimizing and automating logistics. Automation can help fully integrate inventory management through companies’ ERP systems. There’s greater organizational control, and automated systems are flexible enough to adapt to new business rules as they evolve. The following benefits to logistics automation are not only for the customer, but the logistics companies who need to keep customers happy.
Real-time Access to Data
When you can load and analyze data and run reports in real time, you can make better business decisions. This enables your company to better manage its inventory and process invoices to ensure timely payment.
Mistakes can be extremely costly, especially when it comes to shipping goods across a great distance. With manual data entry, these mistakes can mean an increase in shipping costs, excessive inventory, improper planning and coordinating processes, and penalties for documentation errors which can hurt the logistics company as well as the end customer.
Scalability and Speed
For logistics, scalability and speed are of the utmost importance. Imagine making your logistics processes faster and even easier to scale. As the orders roll in, automation software can easily enter data into the correct system and consolidate transport invoices into a single weekly or monthly invoice. This helps make managing a warehouse a breeze.
Room for More Inventory in Warehouses
An increase in order volume may seem purely beneficial: more demand = more dollars coming in. In fact, greater demand puts a strain on the logistics company, transport, and warehouses. Many B2B companies struggle to adapt to B2B2C. Most warehouses have a portion of space dedicated to B2B operations; however, as order volumes grow, this may not always be possible, which can further harm business arrangements.
Automate Your Warehouse
There are plenty of logistics processes that can be automated, including picking and packing, invoice and PO processing, and order fulfilment. Automating small, repetitive tasks allows workers to focus on higher-level activities. Automation robots can work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, don’t take lunch breaks, sick days, or holidays, and are 100% drama-free.
Documents That Can Be Processed Automatically
There are a few logistics documents that are particularly noteworthy. Commercial invoices are the first that come to mind; swifty extracting invoice data and automatically exporting it to your business systems is a priority. Bills of lading detail what goods are being shipped and act as a receipt to the person consigning the goods. Data from these documents increases shipment transparency, so this data must be accessible to you whenever you need it. When shipping goods internationally, there are customs documents that allow goods to clear customs. It’s possible to sort, process, and access customs documents quickly and securely with automated processing. Finally, packing lists are included in every shipment and it’s imperative to confirm the type and quantity of goods delivered. Typically contained in long lists in tables, AI enables you to capture and export this data in seconds.
Companies are looking for plug-and-play automation solutions that employees can use anywhere, any time. Cloud-based software is accessible from any location and ensures enterprise-grade security to protect your data. Cloud computing solutions can help ensure continuous growth potential while providing the following benefits:
- Cost Reduction
- Scalability and resilience
Cloud-Based Automation Solution
Keeping track of the goods you ship can be a costly, time-consuming process. Capturing, archiving, and searching for data from crucial records like invoices, customs documents, and bills of lading can create avoidable inefficiencies. If you’re looking for a solution that can automate the manual data entry you are currently doing to process your logistics documents, Rossum can help.
Create a free trial to see how quickly and accurately Rossum can process your logistics documents. Now is the time to process more documents faster.