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The Next Generation of Service Parts Logistics

Robot arm handling parts

The rapid evolution of technology and its widespread use in everyday life has significantly changed customers’ expectations for supply chain services.

This holds true for third-party logistics (3PL) providers that manage aftermarket service parts who must be on call to deliver what their customers need, wherever they need it and often at a moment’s notice. It’s a mission-critical job that requires a top-notch service supply chain and visibility.

Fortunately, evolving innovation in service parts logistics will help companies deftly leap both common and unexpected hurdles — ultimately providing better, faster customer service.

In the future, service will be practically seamless. Imagine this scenario: A customer urgently needs an out-of-stock part to fix critical equipment and sends an order to a warehouse just before rush hour.

A sophisticated IT system then automatically directs an on-site 3D printer to print the part. Next, a robot picks up the part and takes it to a shipping station to be boxed, complete with a tracking inventory tag.

A small drone swiftly flies the item over heavy traffic congestion to the delivery site. The technician assigned to the job, who has been able to track the entire process via mobile app, arrives right on schedule to retrieve the part and fix the equipment.

“Evolving innovation in service parts logistics will help companies deftly leap both common and unexpected hurdles — ultimately providing better, faster customer service.”

Reimagining the future of service parts logistics

Such a future is not some pipe dream. A myriad of cutting-edge tools and services are already helping to solve for a wide range of complex challenges.

For example, available autonomous parts planning platforms allow original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to adapt and scale inventory dynamically at sites based on real-time demand, minimizing inventory while still meeting required service levels.

Companies can turn to a 3PL that can offer the right mix of automation and people in its fulfillment centers and field stocking locations. Technology can include a warehouse execution system (WES) that optimizes and orchestrates real-time activities and equipment on the floor using autonomous mobile robots, goods-to-person picking solutions and other automation technologies that generate efficiencies.

These tools are only getting better and more affordable as they evolve. Future technologies offer benefits that are even more exciting, but the investment required can get steep quite quickly. Using a 3PL that is testing and rolling out new technologies can help companies save money and time.

Visibility improves customer experience while driving productivity

Effective visibility enriches the customer experience and maximizes efficiencies within the service supply chain.

Knowing precisely where a part is on its journey can allow the field service technician to better plan their daily workload, also helping the OEM’s Service Managers monitor the execution of an order and notify customers of potential delays or changes. This level of visibility ultimately reduces the amount of people and time needed to communicate information.

Third-party logistics providers like UPS are investing in this optimization. Same-day delivery GPS tracking will allow companies to view updated estimated time of arrival (ETA) information, and a new visibility platform will provide one source to track orders, inventory and transportation across a customer’s global network.

“Using a 3PL that is testing and rolling out new technologies can help companies save money and time.”

Modernized operations generate new advantages

Companies that specialize in providing service parts logistics are also experimenting with other new technologies to increase competencies. In addition to improving visibility, the following technologies can increase labor productivity and provide robust data for analytics:

  • Inventory drones count inventory faster and more economically.
  • Sensor technologies such as Bluetooth low energy (BLE) and radio-frequency identification (RFID), can track inventory and assets.
  • Additive manufacturing optimizes companies’ parts inventory and lowers costs.

Of course, these technologies are evolving. For example, 3D-printing technology is not quite ready to print some critical high tech or medical device parts where quality tolerances are extreme, but advancements in technology will one day enable real-time, on-demand manufacturing and fulfillment of critical parts.

“In the future, technology will dramatically change the service supply chain, creating a better user experience, enhanced visibility, larger efficiency gains and all at significantly lower costs.”

Autonomous delivery will change the face of service parts logistics

One day autonomous, same-day transportation will transform global supply chains, enabling faster delivery and reliability through contactless delivery.

The current landscape already includes autonomous vehicles, delivery robots and delivery drones in certain capacities.

With drones, companies can avoid auto traffic altogether and deliver goods more sustainably. Applications could include direct delivery of parts via drones from warehouses direct to the customer site.

Drones could also “extend the day” available for parts order cutoffs by flying right over rush hour traffic, enabling technicians to make repairs same day, rather than having to wait until the next day. This can both increase service levels and reduce inventory needs from consolidating inventory sites.

In the future, technology will dramatically change the service supply chain, creating a better user experience, enhanced visibility, larger efficiency gains and all at significantly lower costs. Those companies that embrace this new technology faster will reap the most rewards.

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Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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