In today's world, utilities are discovering the need to become more efficient. When it comes to warehouse management, this change is evolving quickly. The introduction of even something as universally accepted as bar-coding technology is making a big difference in the industry’s supply chain. Once considered an unnecessary step, bar coding of materials has proven itself to be a valuable cost-cutting tool for utilities.
“While many manufacturers in the power industry have yet to adopt the technology themselves, we have recognized its power and do it in our warehouses before it reaches our clients,” says Michael Love, director of operations-north region at Anixter, “and it has transformed their supply chains.” Specifically, Love adds, “tracking inventory using bar codes or, in some cases, RFID tags, can lead to better efficiencies in three areas.”
Higher Product Velocity
With each item being tracked in real time, traditional annual usage data—which is often more guesswork than not—becomes obsolete. Within that same amount of time, a precise snapshot can now be taken to show exactly when and how many items are being used. This visibility helps managers turn the inventory over faster and reduces carrying costs by better predicting usage trends and eliminating the need for surplus stock.
Warehouse and Pick Optimization
While you may be able to reasonably assume when, where and how employees are using certain items, how can you know for sure? Tracking the items allows usage to be monitored so that bins in specific locations can be efficiently stocked and picked with more high-velocity items and less underused items.
More Efficient Cycle Counting
Say goodbye to the annual time-draining inventory count. When warehouse items are tracked in real time, inventory numbers are updated and available as often as they are needed. Discrepancies can be remedied immediately. This improved accuracy equals less time and money wasted.
For a utility, though, reaping these benefits isn’t as simple as applying a label on each item that comes through the door. Outsourcing much of the work involved in tracking inventory is the key to making it work. Surprisingly, enlisting help can lead to impressive labor savings.
“We’ve seen a huge shift in warehouse inventory management outsourcing now that utilities are tackling the issue of an aging workforce,” Love says. “Instead of backfilling warehouse positions left open by retirees, some utilities are exploring other options such as outsourcing that work instead, which can offer several additional benefits.”
Those benefits include access to a wide range of tracking, analytics, reporting and labor efficiencies, including the three cited earlier. It can also incorporate advanced inventory services like vending solutions as well as laydown yard management and reverse logistics for large infrastructure projects. The shift has given rise to the era of the inventory specialist: Someone whose entire job is centered on creating efficiencies for everyone else. All this, says Love, allows the utility to invest in other parts of the business.
“A warehouse, functioning more efficiently, can allow one more lineman or engineer to be put to work on what matters most,” he says. “There’s no longer time or money wasted searching for items, absorbing the cost of surplus stock, or fixing costly mistakes that happened months ago.”