The supply chain chaos isn’t going away this year. It’s time to give automation serious thought

As 40 years of record inflation tripled, hiring barriers and supply chain constraints continue to underpin commerce in the US, smart businesses are getting creative.

From rethinking fulfillment and materials management systems to planning now for the spring shopping season of 2023, here’s how to negotiate the supply headache.

Adopt flexible automation

Just as you can cross-train employees to pinch other departments during high season, flexible automation can help your machinery or services achieve greater utility. In today’s rapidly changing environment, now may be an ideal time to invest in more flexible systems, which can be reconfigured quickly in response to customer demand, says Mike Larson, 57, an executive at Dematic, an Atlanta-based logistics solutions company. can be worked from. Think of a distribution center’s software system, which can morph from simply recording orders to offering real-time data analytics on orders to help suppliers keep up or down with market fluctuations and labor challenges. be able to help.

put robots to work

Until the latest quarter, e-commerce growth in the last two years was one of the few bright spots for companies. But it has also increased the demand for labor, which could make automation necessary. Warehouse owners are becoming increasingly aware of the need. Analysts at market research company ABI Research predict that the number of warehouses using robotics will increase from 4,000 to 50,000 globally by 2025, about half of which will be warehouses. robot-supplemented warehouse–or 23,000–U.S. alone specialty in.

“With robotics,” Larsen says, “you can automate your system to continuously take orders—enabling increased throughput during peak season.” These robots are designed to help human workers perform diverse tasks in a warehouse environment, says Larsen. Some robots follow human pickers around the warehouse floor and act as mobile storage bins for selected orders. They may also transport materials, suppliers and inventory within warehouse facilities.

However, be clear about the cost of automation. While a robot can be great if you don’t have humans to do the work, if you are displacing an employee with that technology, you may want to cross-train that human worker. Employees displaced by automation can be re-employed Make sure everyone is contributing their maximum value. For example, you can take extroverted employees into sales or technical support, and create a department dedicated to robots. Programming and Usage.

nurture strong partnerships

Marshall, North Carolina-based private-label manufacturer FedUp Foods has long relied on business with suppliers. FedUp’s co-CEO, 43-year-old Jane Adams, says swapping surplus goods for low-stock items helped the company avoid supply chain chaos.

The company traded a pallet of kombucha for a pallet of toilet paper during the depths of the pandemic, says Adams. This is just one more reason to maintain a strong relationship with the vendors, he added. “Our best response to this supply chain chaos has been to remain extremely human and treat our suppliers like real humans, struggling to navigate the noise and distractions,” says Adams.

Reevaluate product lines

While diversity of supply can certainly attract more customers, it can turn into a weakness if it is being used to support an overly wide range of products, which can be hindered by a lack of components.

Ali Kane, 50, founder and CEO Haven’s KitchenA New York-based creative cooking company says it has to give up its favorite sauce during the pandemic after an ingredient became unavailable. She suggests business leaders try to avoid excessive ingredient lists and back up for every ingredient to avoid sudden supply-side shortages.

“Everything is taking 2 to 3 times longer to produce, so we all have to be super vigilant about risky ingredients and plan accordingly as much as we can,” says Cayenne.

plan ahead

If the pandemic has taught entrepreneurs anything, it’s never too late to plan, says Bill Thayer, co-founder and co-CEO of Phillogic, a New York City-based logistics platform for retailers. in an interview with Inc. Last year, Thayer said businesses should plan for the busy season a year ahead. “Be extra careful and critical of buying seasonal products that have a short window of arrival. If you’re shipping seasonal items, act fast.”