Practicing Social Distancing while Keeping Inventory Moving during COVID-19 pandemic

In these uncertain times, companies are turning to technology to help them comply with social distancing rules and to keep their workers and drivers safe in any conditions.

PINC Kiosk automated gate management

The global pandemic has thrown manufacturers, distributors, and retailers into a mode that most have never experienced before. While social distancing rules, shutdowns, and high demand for certain product groups are top-of-mind right now, employee and driver safety should also be factored into an organization’s overall pandemic response.

Research firm Gartner, Inc. sees technology as a key enabler for companies that are implementing new driver and safety measures. “As capacity continues to tighten and there are fewer drivers on the road, it’s a requirement to keep them safe,” Gartner’s Carly West said in a press release.

“While safety is especially important now, it should be a key issue for logistics leaders at all times,” West continues. “Fortunately, there are a variety of technologies available that increase driver safety and also help run more efficient operations now and in the world after COVID-19.” Gartner’s top options for companies looking to enhance employee and driver safety include:

Tech-enabled virtual practices enabling social distancing 

Technology solutions help reduce physical contact to a minimum. Routine procedures like gate check-ins and paperwork signing can move to the cloud via software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Real-time transportation visibility platforms flag shipments carrying essential goods, so staff can already prepare with protective gear, such as face masks and be in place to retrieve or offload quickly,” West said. “Proactive alerts are also a good practice for the last-mile delivery to end consumers. Tracking technology allows them to see when the delivery is approaching their home, as well as when it has arrived.”

PINC’s YMS solution, for example, offers functionalities like gate automation, appointment scheduling, real-time visibility in the yard, trailer movement automation, automated alerts and notifications, and enterprise visibility.

PINC offers two types of self-service gates PINC Kiosks and PINC Dropbox. PINC Kiosk includes a touchscreen kiosk with an optional PINC RFID tag dispenser for drivers to self-check-in or out. Shipment/appointments information can be automatically provided during check-in through integration with any system of record. Once the details are validated by the driver, he or she is presented with a drop location based on criteria (i.e., live/drop, type of inventory, type of equipment, load status, etc.). The gate arm opens automatically and the driver proceeds.

On the exit side, PINC Dropbox is an automated system for auto-check-out drivers and trailers from facilities. During check-out, drivers insert PINC’s RFID tags inside of a dropbox similar to a mailbox, and the driver and trailer will be checked-out in the PINC YMS, and the gate arm will rise automatically if all criteria are met.

Some of PINC’s customers are leveraging PINC Kiosk and PINC Dropbox to emphasize social distancing at their facilities and protect employees and drivers coming to these facilities. There’s no more the need for gate personnel or shipping and receiving office teams to interact with drivers at check-in and check-out.

“Allowing drivers to wait in their truck makes it easier for all of us to practice social distancing. Previously, the driver would be waiting in the lounge to talk to the DC after completing check-in.“ – L. M., Major Beverage Manufacturing company.

These automatic processes streamline gate procedures, increases the velocity of check-in and check-out of trailers, yard trucks, shuttle trucks, tractors, and drivers, and loads can be electronically reconciled with purchase orders or bill of ladings. The information to be captured at the gate during check-in or check-out can be customized in the YMS. More importantly, they enable organizations to keep truck drivers and their employees safe during this public health crisis.

Monitor and Locate Critical Items Moving Through the Supply Chain with IoT Sensors

For product safety, supply chain leaders should consider using sensors on products and trailers to keep products safe. Sensors can be used within trailers or products to track the movement of the product on the road and set alerts for deviations or issues,” Ms. West said.” Using technology to track critical and expensive products is a smart practice for companies to have better control on location and safety of their assets.” 

As we know, misplaced or stolen trailers and containers parked at facilities also cause a major disruption to the supply chain. We would like to add to West’s point that It’s also imperative that trailers, containers, and inventory are tracked not just over the road but also while these assets are parked at facilities across the U.S.A.   

PINC Real-time location system (RTLS) enables users to track and locate assets in real-time using passive RFID, GPS, and other sensors. All the information collected is presented online on PINC’s yard platform. Through PINC’s yard management application, users access real-time yard inventory lists, count, and history information eliminating the need for yard checks.

Information is readily available in the application in the form of reports, digital yard maps, digital whiteboard, and dashboards. Also, information can be filtered, and this functionality enables users to define, create categories of trailers, and group them to facilitate and expedite trailer search. Also, resulting matches can be used to feed other activities like recommending specific slots for where the assets should be parked, dock doors they need to be moved to, or displayed on the facility map.

PINC also provides the system of record to the assets (trailer, container, dry, reefer, …) on the yard to the customer’s systems such as WMS, TMS.

Our customers call the PINC YMS the “Google of trailers.” Because it’s easy a fast to find any information associated with a trailer or shipment in PINC’s yard management application.

PINC Yard Management System

Your Facility Live in 2 Weeks

PINC’s yard management system is highly configurable and modular. It is the only turn-key solution that can evolve from SaaS only implementation to SaaS + IoT Hardware and is scalable to enterprise-wide.

PINC’s automation engine enables facilities to simplify workflows and improve efficiencies by letting PINC YMS automatically check-in and out trailers, recommend a parking spot to drivers, notify a user about an event, notify a carrier about a load status, send an email informing about demurrage and detention fees, generate a report and share it, change the status of an asset, auto-create a move for an asset, and much more.

To help you navigate through these tough times, PINC has a dedicated team that can bring your facility operational in 2 weeks and our deployment and training can be totally virtual.

Countering the Bullwhip Effect in a COVID-19 World

By shifting from a forecast-driven ordering system to one that enables high levels of visibility and information-sharing, companies can effectively avoid the dreaded “bullwhip effect” in their supply chains.

Bullwhip - yard management system

A distribution channel phenomenon in which inaccurate forecasts quickly turn into supply chain inefficiencies, the “bullwhip effect” refers to increasing swings in inventory in response to shifts in customer demand as one moves further up the supply chain.

With COVID-19 taking its toll on supply chains around the world, more companies will experience this detrimental impact, which was originally identified back in the 1960s and then weaved into supply chain vernacular in the 1990s. That’s when Hau Lee of Stanford University told a story about Volvo to illustrate the bullwhip effect’s impact on the supply chain.

Suffering a glut in “green” cars at the time, Volvo’s sales and marketing developed a program to move its excess inventory. The program helped raise interest in the cars, but Volvo’s manufacturing department was unaware of the campaign and wound up reading the increase in sales as an indication of a growing demand for green cars. In response, it ramped up production, thus adding to the glut and creating a bigger issue for the car manufacturer.

“The supply chain is a complex group of companies that move goods from raw materials suppliers to finished goods retailers,” Osmond Vitez writes in The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chain. “These companies work together when meeting consumer demand for a product; supply chains allow companies to focus on their specific processes to maintain maximum probability. Unfortunately, supply chains may stumble when market conditions change and consumer demand shifts.”

What Causes the Bullwhip to Snap?

According to Vitez, the bullwhip effect surfaces when changes in customer demand push organizations to order more goods to meet the new demand. From there, the bullwhip effect flows up the supply chain—from the retailer to the distributor to the manufacturer and right through to the raw materials supplier. In many cases, the problem can be traced back to forecasting errors.

For example, when companies introduce new products, they estimate the demand for goods based on current market conditions. “Most companies in the supply chain order more than they can sell, attempting to prevent shortages and lost sales of goods,” Vitez writes, noting that this excess inventory begins to increase or decrease during the normal market fluctuations of supply and demand.

“In the bullwhip effect, demand for items amplifies up a supply chain like the crack of a whip. Imagine a bullwhip—a tiny, swift flick at the whip’s handle results in an uncontrolled, widely snapping motion at its tip,” Amy White describes in The Causes and Impact of the Bullwhip Effect on Supply Chains. “Similarly, a simple action such as a manager ordering products at a store can result in unpredictable effects at the top of the supply chain like a manufacturer or wholesaler.”

This variable and unpredictable demand leads to significant supply chain inefficiencies that include (but aren’t limited to), buying and storing excessive inventory, lost revenues, ineffective transportation, missed production schedules, out-of-stock products, poor customer service, and higher costs for consumers.

Addressing the COVID-19 Bullwhip

In the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis, images of empty store shelves have triggered a few things: even more panic buying, a social media frenzy of hoarder shaming, and even gang activity linked to toilet paper theft in Hong Kong. “For many supply chain leaders, this presents the enormous and potentially costly challenge of dealing with the bullwhip effect,” Jenny Reese points out in Preparing for COVID-19 and the bullwhip effect: What happens to the supply chain when you buy 100 rolls of toilet paper?

“When major swings in inventory occur from panic buying and hoarding, the impact of this sudden demand is magnified as it moves upstream in the supply chain (similar to the way a bullwhip’s thong amplifies in a wave as it moves away from the handle),” Reese writes, noting that little or no visibility into demand patterns and limited understanding of demand drivers are the primary culprits in this scenario (of course, COVID-19 came with little early warning, hence the paper goods shortage).

“How long can this boom in freight volumes last?” FreightWaves’ Daniel Pickett asks. “I have to imagine we are seeing a one-time pull of inventory as pantries, garages, and freezers are filled. Inevitably, the shelves at home will be full, and we will see a ‘demand hangover’ in grocery retail and trucking.”

Building Bridges with Partners

For companies that want to avoid or counter the bullwhip effect within their own supply chains, the answer lies in accurate, real-time demand information across the supply chain. To achieve that, companies must shift from a forecast-driven ordering system to measures that enable information-sharing with the supply chain partners and provide complete visibility of the actual customer demand.

Using real-time inventory and shipment information, companies can effectively minimize the risk of disruption while moving more inventory at a predictable, reliable cadence. In How to reduce the bullwhip effect, George Lawton tells companies to educate themselves on the causes of the bullwhip effect, build better trust across supply chain partnerships, consolidate supply chain data (i.e., aggregate efforts across suppliers), and gain an understanding about partner processes. “Building bridges with other supply chain partners is critical to preventing the bullwhip effect.”