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Logistics

10 small (but significant) ways to improve your supply chain right now

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One UPS expert shares "bite-sized" improvements nearly any supply chain manager or small business can make.

There's no doubt that supply chain and logistics issues are critical to any company's success. But dramatic improvements don't always involve large-scale strategic overhauls or process changes that require months to implement.

"Anything you can do to reduce steps in the warehouse is critical." – Rayford Collins, supply chain optimization expert with the UPS Customer Solutions group.
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Here are 10 smaller, less daunting ways to improve logistics processes, from Rayford Collins, a supply chain optimization expert with UPS Customer Solutions.

1. Rethink transportation modes and routes. "Small parcel carriers can often provide a cost savings on multi-piece shipments that don't involve a full pallet or multiple pallets," Collins says. "Look at small parcel vs. LTL carrier or LTL vs. truckloads to understand the price differentials for various weight and zone break points. Changing the routing or mode of shipments can pay off, especially for midmarket shippers."

2. Put fast movers close to the shipping station. Make sure your A and B movers are properly located to allow for minimum processing time and distance to the outbound shipping lanes. "Place those fast movers carefully. If they are all in the same aisle or location, you can create a bottleneck as employees run into each other doing the pick." 

3. Position inventory strategically. Companies shipping from more than one location would want A & B movers in each, but D movers in just one, to keep inventory carrying costs down. "If you decide you need to have 100 D movers, put them where the warehouse space and labor costs are lowest," Collins says. "That can reduce your inbound shipping cost, too."

4. Keep boxes and packing material close at hand. "Anything you can do to reduce steps in the warehouse is important," Collins says. For example, keeping boxes, tape and packing materials at the shipping workstation helps your employees avoid walking five or 10 feet to pull a box, or go somewhere else for the bubble wrap. 

5. Pick into the actual shipping box. When possible, have employees pick into a pre-labelled shipping box to save time processing orders, Collins says. This option works best when most orders will fit in standard-size boxes. 

6. Add wireless mobile printers.  Many companies outfit warehouse staff with wearable label printers that combine two steps into one, Collins says. "When an employee picks items that are prepackaged and ready to ship, the system is programmed to print a shipping label as soon as the item is scanned."

7. Hold pre-work communication meetings (PCMs). Two or three minutes before the shift starts, have a brief meeting with your shipping/warehouse employees and outline specific goals for that day. The meetings can be especially effective if you have a heavy day ahead, reminding workers to stay focused and motivated. Also, always end with a safety reminder. 

8. Drop-ship from suppliers. A major trend in controlling transportation cost and saving time is shipping direct from your manufacturer or supplier to the customer, using third-party billing. "When a supplier ships direct using your UPS account number, you get the benefit of managing your transportation decisions of carrier selection, leveraging your transportation spend, while reducing your inbound and outbound transportation costs."

9. Consider on-demand packaging.  Rightsizing packaging is more critical than ever now that dimensional weight is an industry standard. "With on-demand packaging, a machine die cuts the right size box for each order from rolls of corrugated board," Collins says. The payoffs: Reduced packaging and transportation costs, as well as enhanced sustainability, an increasingly important consideration for customers.

10. Improve end-to-end visibility.  Relatively inexpensive, cloud-based technology now allows you to have near real-time awareness of when inbound shipments will arrive, so you can gear up as needed or respond quickly to delays that off-put customers. Similarly, technology can let you track when an order has been processed, picked, packed and shipped, and send a tracking number to your customer. "The end result is a better customer experience, especially when they can manage their own delivery." 

As the saying goes, "results may vary." But Collins says that companies can save in transportation costs with a review by the UPS Customer Solutions group. 

"If we are doing a full-scale supply chain analysis, including facility optimization and throughput, we tend to see 10 to 15 percent savings in the overall supply chain budget," he says.

Learn how one UPS customer streamlined their supply chain processes with help from the UPS Customer Solutions group.

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