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3PL automation: The key to successful supply chains

Man in warehouse holding a tablet

Whether you’re new to 3PL end-to-end automation or looking to deepen your understanding, this blog guides you through its ins and outs. You’ll learn the pros and cons of automated 3PL and how it can transform your operations for the better. Let’s get started!

What is 3PL automation?

3PL automation (third-party logistics) is a method to simplify your logistical processes through technology. It’s about leaving the bulk of your operation up to software programs or other technology. Third-party logistics automation involves outsourcing your operations to a supply chain solutions provider.

The technological tools they use handle several tasks at once, from storing goods to shipping them out and scheduling their deliveries.

For small business owners, this means: 

  • Less hassle.
  • Improved consistency.
  • More time to focus on value-added activities.

The essential role of 3PL end-to-end automation

3PL end-to-end automation covers every step of your logistics workflow — from the moment goods arrive at a warehouse to when they reach your customer’s doorstep.

Automation software handles all the data that’s produced through your operations and analyzes it in real time to set up each process effectively.

This approach ensures smooth, error-free processes that keep your supply chain running.

How does 3PL warehouse automation work?

Technology is the foundation of 3PL warehouse automation. To effectively implement an automation solution, you first need to make sure that you consistently capture data from your warehouse operations.

A warehouse automation system analyzes the data to give you valuable insights into your operations, such as:

  • The mistake rate on your fulfillment processes.
  • The percentage of warehouse space utilization.
  • Your operating costs.
  • The percentage of inventory accuracy.
  • Warehouse storage capacity.
  • How often you meet scheduled delivery times.

When picking an automation solution, you must ensure it integrates with your current systems, or get an all-in-one system that tracks and analyzes all your processes.

Automation technology uses that data to run your operations for you. When implemented well and integrated with the proper tools, warehouse automation technology can:

  • Automatically reorder items when stock is low.
  • Forecast and prepare for seasonal spikes in demand.
  • Handle shipment tracking.
  • Manage distribution processes, such as routing and scheduling.
  • Reduce manual tasks.
  • Integrate with a picking solution to increase the accuracy of fulfillment processes.
  • Track storage locations and simplify the putaway process.

These automated systems ultimately increase your profits as they reduce the negative effects of inefficiency and manual errors.

Where warehouse management systems come in

Warehouse management systems (WMS) are advanced technologies that automate warehouse processes. They track every item in your warehouse and ensure you fulfill your orders accurately and promptly. WMS is not always a part of 3PL, but it makes logistical automation even more powerful.

Pros of 3PL automation

Let’s dive into the benefits of 3PL warehouse automation and how it can give your business a competitive edge.

Save warehouse space

Automating your logistical processes helps you use your warehouse space more efficiently use your warehouse space more efficiently. Automated storage and retrieval systems mean you can store more in less space. As a result, you save on costs and foster internal organization and efficiency. 

Strengthen your supply chain

Automation makes your supply chain more resilient. It can adapt to changes and challenges, which keeps your business moving forward no matter what.

Increase order fulfillment speed and reliability

Automation tools speed up every process involved in fulfillment, including: 

  • Receipt of goods.
  • Item storage.
  • Picking and packing.
  • Order scheduling and shipping — and more.

Faster, more reliable order fulfillment results in higher customer satisfaction and fewer losses.

Cons of 3PL automation

The initial setup of automated 3PL can be expensive, and it comes with ongoing costs that might be tough on your budget. For most automated systems, there’s also a steep learning curve for you and your team. But for many small businesses, the long-term benefits outweigh these hurdles. Nonetheless, common cons of this kind of automation include:

  • Onboarding and training.
  • Overreliance on software.
  • Maintenance and repair.

Establishing efficient processes in a small or medium-sized operation guarantees that you follow best practices as your operation grows out of your complete control.

Grow your field service business with automation.

What are 3PL warehouse automation solutions?

There’s a wide range of 3PL warehouse automation solutions, from robotic picking systems to advanced WMS. These technologies work together to automate your logistical processes.

Some solutions even handle demand planning and inventory management tasks specifically to significantly cut down your admin work. For example:

  • Warehouse Management System.
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs).
  • Shipment tracking software.
  • Robotic picking and packing devices.

Logistics and distribution solutions to consider for automated 3PL

When looking into automated 3PL, consider solutions that fit your specific needs. From drones for inventory checks to automated forklifts that put parcels away, many options are out there for you to explore.

For many, the most important component of this strategy is WMS, as it lets you stay organized and integrate with other solutions. An automated warehouse gives you real-time visibility into your processes and simplifies your daily operations.

Key highlights: The power of 3PL automation

3PL end-to-end automation can transform your supply chain. It offers efficiency, reliability, and the agility to adapt to market changes.

3PL warehouse automation is a strategic move for small business owners looking to boost their supply chain’s efficiency and reliability. By embracing automated 3PL, you set your business up for success.

Automated 3PL FAQs

What are some successful 3PL strategies?

Successful 3PL strategies focus on: 

  • Business partnership.
  • Technology integration.
  • Continuous improvement. 

The best strategy involves finding a 3PL provider that understands your business and can grow with you.

What are the most important things to consider when evaluating a partner for 3PL automation?

When evaluating a 3PL solutions provider, consider their: 

  • Technology.
  • Experience.
  • Ability to scale. 

You want to implement scalable solutions with a partner who can meet your current and future needs.

Why third-party logistics?

Third-party logistics lets you delegate your logistics processes to the experts. This means you can focus on your core business activities while you enjoy the benefits of an automated warehouse — like faster shipping and better inventory management.

Keep learning about logistics automation and boost your operational efficiency. See more.

Image credit: Tiger Lily via Pexels

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