Guest post by Rico Fleshman, Manager, Corporate and Strategic Relationships Transportation, Logistics & Supply Chain at American Public University
In the last several months I have attended and participated in trade conferences for reverse logistics, transportation demand management, transportation legislation, and warehousing education. Of those, perhaps where I learned the most about an ever-adapting and still rapidly growing logistics industry was at the warehousing education conference.
My involvement started me thinking about warehousing not only as an integral part of the supply chain process but as an industry all its own. From a layman’s or historical perspective, it is easy to dismiss or overlook this segment as simply a storage front for companies while they go about selling their wares. I have found that warehousing in 2015 is as complex and necessary a process to companies as manufacturing or shipping.
As one example, Moreno Valley, California—part of the Inland Empire--is purported to be the nation’s largest network of warehouses and employing upwards of 200,000 people. This is one look at how warehousing has transitioned from the traditional role of storing goods to massive, sprawling distribution centers needed by the world’s largest retailers to fulfill a litany of orders coming to them from brick-and-mortar stores and virtual and internet channels that require direct-to-consumer supply needs.
This Omni-channel fulfilment- causes retailers to expand their distribution networks in order to compete in the fast-paced world of e-commerce and has been a major impetus for the expansion of warehouses into roles to support that growth.
Long gone are the days where the majority of warehouses consisted solely of a large shed with rows of racks, a handful of employees, and several forklifts to store and remove the goods. Now, these distribution facilities have warehouse management systems (WMS), refrigeration needs, breaking bulk responsibilities, demands for access to inventory data in real-time, complex palletizing systems, advanced sortation systems, multi-lingual devices, increased safety concerns for human workers, and the need for highly specialized software for robotic hardware.
A tour through any one of these vast warehouse distribution facilities provides the view of a highly mechanized and organized, if not futuristic-looking, process at work serving demands for customized products.
Not all of these facilities are located in proximity to large ports and not all need to be as vast. In many cases, companies have to explore the need for regional as well as national facilities. In cases where companies have facilities that are geographically isolated or space-restricted there is still technology, machinery, and the software driven systems needed. As innovation continues to drive e-commerce and increasingly savvy consumers demand greater purchasing power and more efficient delivery options for their products, distribution channels will continue to expand and warehousing responsibilities and roles will need to keep pace in order to sustain its valuable contribution to the industry as a whole.
About the Author
Rico Fleshman is the Corporate and Strategic Manager: Transportation, Logistics and Supply Chain for American Public University. He has worked with numerous transportation associations and has extensive knowledge of federal and state transportation policy, funding, metropolitan planning processes and regulatory compliance of transportation programs. For information on the online Transportation, Logistics and Supply Chain programs at APU, visit StudyatAPU.com.