Everything interesting, new and useful about the logistics and 3PL Industry

Archive for September, 2014

Introducing “Outside the Box” Technologies into Your Business

Thinking outside the box” is a mantra that has always been valuable in the business world. Simply put, it points to the idea that the most obvious answer to a question or solution to a problem may not be the appropriate one for the situation. By being prepared to think outside the box and embrace the unexpected, you’re opening both yourself and your organization up to a whole new world of possibilities, many of which would have previously seemed impossible with a more traditional viewpoint.

In today’s modern climate, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that thinking “outside the box” isn’t just a recommendation – it’s practically a requirement. There are a few key “outside the box” technologies in particular that have potentially dramatic implications for third party logistics providers all over the world.

3D Printing

One of these bold new technologies is 3D printing, which is also commonly known as additive manufacturing. 3D printing involves the creation of almost any three dimensional object that you can think of through a process in which layers of material are continually laid down on a surface under the control of a computer. Using only a 3D printer, a connected computer and a digital design, nearly any type of object can be made to a user’s exact specifications using the appropriate type of material.

For third party logistics providers in particular, the potential of this is seemingly limitless. In a White Paper written by Ken Lyon and John Manners-Bell, they use the example of service parts to get this point across. If a spare part for a particular type of machine or vehicle is required, it can be printed quickly and dispatched to the appropriate location just as fast using only a 3D printer and anLogistics 3D Printing electronic design library.

Even if the part that is required is no longer being traditionally manufactured, an existing model can be scanned in 3D and additional parts can be made on demand. 3D printing stands to not only dramatically reduce costs normally associated with warehousing and inventory, but it also has the potential to completely redefine the supply chain management process in general.

Mobile Applications

Another “outside the box” technology that can be implemented into the third party logistics business involves embracing mobile applications. Implementing mobile technology in your business is something that is handled primarily through software, thanks largely to the fact that most people already have their own Internet-ready smartphones and other devices of that nature. More specifically, Web-based and mobile order and shipment management applications can be used to gain finer control over the supply chain process than ever before. When paired with location-based tracking technology, these advancements can be used to find the exact location of individual items at a moment’s notice.

Light Picking

Another example of a benefit to be achieved by thinking outside the box includes light picking technology, also commonly referred to as “pick to light.” In this type of deployment, a light-directed system is installed in a warehouse to expand what employees are capable of doing. Lights are installed above racks, bins and other types of areas where employees will be picking items from (hence the name). When a customer places an order for a particular item or even a set of items, an associated barcode is scanned by the operator.Light Picking

Based on the items that the customer is requiring, the lights above the respective bins will illuminate and contain specific pieces of information like how many items should be picked and more. Employees will no longer have to spend varying amounts of time searching high and low for particular items. The system itself will automatically identify not only the location of those items but the quantity that is desired. The process itself becomes substantially easier and faster, increasing productivity as a result. The only expenses associated with this type of deployment include the lights themselves, the installation for the system and the dedicated software used during the picking of orders.

These are just a few of the many examples of the benefits that are associated with implementing outside the box technologies in your business. Voice picking technology, waveless technology, Kiva robots and augmented reality picking are a few more examples of advancements that are just on the horizon.

There has been much discussion regarding these and other types of “outside the box” technological advancements. Many assume that technology like 3D printing will spell “doom” for third party logistics providers. If 3D printing becomes easier, more affordable and readily available, what need will businesses have for the providers themselves? That type of thinking is shortsighted, however, as with the right attitude these technologies can dramatically benefit 3PL providers, not harm them. 3D printing, mobile technology and more – such as enhanced automation and RF operators – can make it easier for 3PL providers to do their jobs, which will only result in stronger business and better service moving forward.

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Creating a Winning Work Culture

Creating a Winning Work Culture

Employees work to better your company through increased production, safety awareness and fast implementation of changes when they feel secure.

Security does not center solely on monetary gains. Workers who feel their supervisors respect them and the job they do have higher production output, fewer sick days and genuine pride in their jobs.

A unique and profitable company culture grows from this respect and trust.

Disrespect vs. respect

The old-fashioned boss-employee relationship does not work in today’s workplace. The attitude of “them against us” leads to:

  • High turnover
  • Increased theft
  • Loss of the company’s vision
  • Negative media attention

Employees who find little respect at work, serve the same disrespect to managers, coworkers and the workplace.

In a poll, how would your employees rate management?

Employees for one major retail holding company gave their CEO a 19 percent approval rating in a national poll.

Most employees rate their employer somewhere between the bottom 20 percent and the top 10 percent with trust as the deciding factor.

At companies like Google and SAS, over 95 percent of the employees rate management as ethical, trustworthy and respectful.

Of course, not every company can afford cafeterias, an onsite Frisbee golf course and nap pods like the top two companies on Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work for in 2014.

Trust: The foundation of a great company culture

Building trust in employees begins with hiring people with the right attitude and then developing their skills. Finding people who work well together and share a common goal comes before hiring the person who has all the technical skills.

Skill building will happen over the first few months of employment but an attitude rarely changes.

Hire people who will actively pursue the future success of the company and believe in the company’s:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Values

Of course, these key company elements hang throughout the building and everyone knows them by heart. But, what do employees do each day to expand and improve each element?

Problem solving and safety

Great working environments spring from workforces who share diverse perspectives on the same idea to reach a solution to problems. Employee input remains vital to warehousing success as they work with the people, equipment and processes every day.

Successful 3PL companies offer employees more than a job. Companies that provide educational opportunities and career path planning give employees reasons to improve.

An outstanding safety record makes any 3PL valuable to clients.

Warehouse safety-awareness programs that encourage employee ideas and implementation not only lower accident rates but also give workers incentive to identify potential hazards before an accident happens.


Incentives for safety awareness can include:

  • Employee of the Month recognition
  • A parking spot
  • A gift card to a local store

Employee appreciation does not always mean a pay raise or paid time off. Long-time team members who go beyond their job with perfect attendance and above standard job performance deserve gratitude.

Awarding these outstanding achievements with a personalized parking space costs little and brings happiness every day. Who can resist smiling when pulling into a parking place with their name on it?

Lead with care

  • Supply your team with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Keep equipment in good working condition by having operators complete a checklist each day and ordering repairs when needed.
  • Keep your employees engaged in their jobs by offering variety where possible.
  • Listen to worker concerns and accommodate those who need personal time or schedule changes for family matters. Many companies offer flexible schedules, compressed workweeks and telecommuting, which allow employees to find a balance between work and family. Having no balance between family and work is the number one cause of stress in the workplace. Relieving that stress lifts a huge weight off the company shoulders.
  • Inform employees about current business trends, financial insecurities, and coming benchmarks. Never lie or deceive employees about possible cuts in personnel or pay.
  • Let everyone speak and validate each contribution with positive feedback.

A great work culture grows from individuals learning to interact and work together for the good of your company. Prove your trustworthiness through ethical practices and treat your employees with respect.

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Mobile and Beyond – The Future of 3PL

The Future of 3PLBecause third party logistics providers play such an important role in the daily operations of many different types of businesses, it makes sense, to a certain extent, to always be looking toward the future to try to figure out what big advancements are on the horizon.

If you look back as recently as 10 years, the landscape of 3PL providers across the country has changed in a number of dramatic and integral ways. Popular thinking from experts, like 3PLStudy.com, has indicated that as 3PL providers continue to grow and evolve in the future, they will only ingrain themselves further into the day-to-day operations of businesses everywhere.

One of the major ways that third party logistics is expected to change in the future has to do with an increased emphasis on mobile applications of all types. Those in the industry are already seeing the beginning of this type of change. Work that was done on a desktop or, at best, on a laptop computer is now also available on a smartphone, tablet or some other type of portable device.

Current trends expect this emphasis on the mobile landscape to increase dramatically moving forward. The prominence of this trend was confirmed in the 2014 Third Party Logistics Study conducted by 3PLStudy.com. More specifically, the study indicated that paper records of all types and nearly every other function currently expected from a third party logistics provider will be available on mobile devices in the next 10 years for businesses to use while on the go.

Another important change in third party logistics has to do with an equally massive change in the economy and in business in general. Analysts, such as at Deloitte, are predicting a dramatic globalization of the economy to take place by 2020. As businesses continue to grow, they need to operate not just on a national scale but on the global landscape to thrive and continue to stay profitable. As technology continues to advance and connect businesses together in new and interesting ways, the world gets smaller as a result. Supply chains will only get more intricate and complex as costs begin to vary wildly based on the scope of a business. As a result, third party logistics providers will need to meet all of these demands in order to not only stay functional within this globalized business environment but to stay relevant at the same time.

Another key change that will take place in the future of third party logistics is an increased level of collaboration between 3PL providers and the shippers that they’re doing business with on a regular basis. Technology is already paving the way for this type of relationship to take place in the present day, so the natural evolution of that relationship is to take things to the next level. Thanks to online Web portals and mobile applications that allow for more intricately managed inventory by vendors, vendors will be able to monitor the inventory of a supplier themselves and make resupply decisions based on demand and current trends. This type of information sharing and others will become more and more critical as third party logistics providers will need to be as flexible as possible to help maintain the speed and integrity of the services that they’re offering to businesses on a daily basis.

We are living in a rapidly evolving and exciting time. The key is preparing yourself, so you can properly adapt to whatever comes your way. Remember to always be looking towards the future to stay ahead of the game.

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