Technological developments have a direct impact on import businesses, as there are a number of processes that can be automated, considering the increase in online commerce. Logistics is an integral part of these new global trends, and Randall Castillo Ortega, an entrepreneur and expert in import and export operations, provides the pros and cons of automating the logistics processes in an import business.
To a large extent, automation reduces uncertainty in response times, while at the same time minimizing operating costs and potential human errors, the portal adds. In the same sense, Castillo highlights that the preparation of orders has been automated to gain efficiency in the set of logistics operations developed by the human team, optimizing tasks such as warehouse picking or the preparation of delivery notes. Through collaborative processes between professionals and technology, it is also possible to eliminate the workload that does not add value.
The adaptation of the management software to those automated or robotic elements guarantees fluid communication and the possibility of having very complete information about goods, invoices, delivery notes, times or another type of data of maximum relevance, such as stock breaks. The software is, therefore, adapted to the business model to improve logistics efficiency. Explains Castillo, “The integration of software with the company’s enterprise information management (ERP) system is here fundamental to respond efficiently to the needs and objectives set, controlling the information from the receipt of an order to its final delivery. The results of this show not only improvements in productivity but also reduced costs and errors.”
In the advantages of logistics automation, there are essentially three – “hard” or obvious benefits, “soft” or less obvious benefits and invisible benefits. The hard benefit is defined as a successful automation should be able to reduce the number of hours of labor needed to achieve the same results as before the automation. This represents an improvement in costs and is one of the most obvious results.
Soft benefits are, for example, an automated supply chain from one end to the other can better manage and forecast its demand, which will also mean an improvement in stock rates, the necessary storage volumes, etc. The invisible benefits refer to the skills that the person in charge of implementing these changes must have to convince the management that the changes are necessary to make and show their benefits.
One technological resource to consider is artificial intelligence (AI). States Castillo, “In this regard, AI will reduce times and resources in the supply chain and pointing out as an example the possibility of incorporating automatic orders of materials based on sales made – through patterns and production times.”
Robotics is of particular interest in this sector. The incorporation of robots that increase the cycles per hour of picking is an aspect of special relevance when preparing orders with a great diversity of products, as it happens in the retail sector. Intelligent palletizing systems, robotic arms or conveyor belts with inventory counters are some of the robotics applications that are already consolidated in the logistics sector. They add that automation goes beyond the distribution center, as it has also facilitated the work of the carrier, since it handles more effective information regarding the location of the delivery, more expeditious routes, etc.
In the same vein, technological advances and management tools dedicated to automation occupy a large part of the market for equipment and software for terminals of this type. These systems make it clear how the efficient design of a container terminal can provide a new dimension in cargo handling. In this case, automation is the only effective solution for cost reduction.
One of the main factors that plays against automation is lifespan. According to studies, an automated system is usually estimated to last about ten years on average, which, faced with the amount it costs to put it into operation, sometimes gives returns on investment that companies consider too low. Therefore, when taking into account the risks of automation going wrong, there are companies that refuse to start these projects.
Another study probed US import companies about the state of their automation, how they look ready to launch into it and the reasons that make them reluctant. Among the nearly 200 people with decision-making power who have been interviewed were very diverse sectors (manufacturing of consumer goods, equipment and electronic components, defense and aerospace equipment, automotive, and others. Among the findings of the study, “importers continue to invest in automation technology as a key pillar of their overall growth strategy. Additionally, with the growing focus on automation and digital initiatives, they are concerned about potential gaps in staff qualification.