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Regular Industry Development Updates, Opinions and Talking Points relating to Manufacturing, the Supply Chain and Logistics.

Redefining supply chain visibility

19-Mar-2018
Redefining supply chain visibility
Everything you wanted to find out about your supply chain… but were unable to ask. Toby Mills, CEO of Entopy, says granularity and frequency of insight will change our perception of what supply chain visibility really means.

Supply chain management, the backbone supporting today’s businesses, involves herculean effort and multiple stakeholders to move product from point of origin to the end customer. Wanting to control as much of that process as possible is an entirely logical ambition.

But if you can’t see what’s happening in a supply chain then what can possibly be done to control it? Little surprise then that ‘visibility’ has become a buzzword.

Visibility built around most current technology generally offers little more than point-to-point asset tracking. Using cellular communications to communicate with sensors placed securely on assets, however, overcomes the limitations imposed by infrastructure, which is a feature of most current supply chain management technologies such as RFID, barcode readers and beacons.

It can provide ‘real time, all the time’ information, no matter where the asset is – and this will redefine supply chain visibility. It is only through this kind of technology, provided by a systems like Entopy’s Tracca, that managers can witness how product really moves through their supply chains, between the points, in a way never seen before, with valuable information on things like temperature, acceleration and speed. In fact, everything you wanted to know about your supply chain… now you can ask.

For example, in the grocery or pharma sectors, particularly in a cold chain, goods often need to be maintained within a certain temperature range, if not the customer will reject them. If you can see and understand when a product exceeded this range then it is easier to determine responsibility for the rejection, particularly when a third party between the supplier and the customer is involved.

With this kind of technology, it is now possible to identify more precisely issues such as where bottlenecks occur, how long product gets held at each store or DC and what the cycle times are. By knowing cycle times from hub to spoke, one can start to understand at a glance the links of a supply chain that are operating more optimally than others. Armed with this data, managers can speak to those responsible for the underperforming links and demonstrate performance comparisons.

This hands managers greater control over that process, allowing them to drive change. Take the example of one national retailer that risked having to repay significant promotional sums back to one of its suppliers. The supplier made extra payments to the retailer, in return for promotional material being displayed correctly in all of its stores. But when the supplier audited stores, it found that the materials were not on display.

The distribution company responsible for delivering the materials to stores was sure that it had delivered everything correctly. The stores claimed they were putting on display everything they received. The retailer couldn’t reconcile these views, and if the problem persisted, the repayment of marketing contributions would be substantial.

The retailer tried out Entopy’s Tracca solution. Tracca sensors were attached to sample deliveries, allowing a grocery retailer to track exactly what was happening in its supply chain. This revealed that deliveries often arrived late and in some cases, were delivered to the wrong location. The key contributor to these delays and mistakes was actually in the retailer’s own network of DCs and was not a result of the distribution company. They also saw that some deliveries were not processed correctly and were left in a back-of-store area. The trial manager was able to use Tracca’s dashboard to communicate to the store exactly where to find the materials, pinpointing the location within metres. The trial highlighted certain DCs that contributed to late deliveries more than others through a higher dwell time and also highlighted that the processing of deliveries at store was a key process that required attention.

This particular supply chain is now working as it should, saving the retailer substantial repayments to its supplier.

This places a very different spin on supply chain visibility, moving away from simply tracking assets to ensuring that a product has arrived, that it is where it should be and is in the correct condition. It goes beyond asset tracking and into a real time, all the time audit of your supply chain.

A supply chain auditor may be able to manually monitor such things as cycle times and dwell times but this only captures information at one place and one point in time. It’s not real time, all the time visibility.

With the extended visibility offered by a system such as Entopy’s cellular communications-based Tracca system, the data is often more valuable than the asset being tracked, resulting in a financial benefit being delivered straight to the bottom line. All you need to do is ask.

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