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How AI Helps 3PLs Deliver by Breaking up Bottlenecks

May 15, 2023
Using AI for logistics has become an increasingly popular option. How can decision-makers deploy it? Learn the details here.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a game-changer in the fast-paced world of logistics. With many shipments traveling increasingly long distances and customers frequently expecting orders to arrive in shorter time frames, any technological assistance is warmly welcomed. People have many options to pursue when looking for compelling examples of AI for logistics.

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers are some of the biggest adopters of the technology. Here are some fascinating ways these companies use it to address slowdowns.

Helping Humans Work at Their Best with Less Walking

Removing logistics bottlenecks often means assessing which parts of the workflow are most responsible for slowing people down. Many things may combine to create unwanted slowdowns. However, AI in logistics can help 3PLs make steady progress in reducing efficiency-restricting issues.

One case that shows what applying AI to 3PL services looks like in practice involves GEODIS, which began using autonomous mobile robots (AMR) to assist with case picking. The results were impressive, giving the 3PL a 1.7 times increase in productivity.

GEODIS achieved this by splitting employees into zones and tasking them with loading goods onto order pallets. The AMRs then move back and forth across the pick path. The company’s previous approach was to have workers drive pallet jacks along the pathway, but they had to get on and off the equipment to load the goods. This wasted time and required unnecessary walking.

However, this robot-enabled option combined the advantages of humans and machines for a major efficiency boost. Before using AI for logistics, leaders must carefully consider the goals they want to achieve. Choosing metrics to track can also allow them to verify if things are moving in the right direction or if it’s time to tweak an initial plan.

Using AI in Logistics to Gain Supply Chain Intelligence

3PL leaders must evaluate a wide range of global factors when making the decisions that keep their businesses successful. Bottlenecks could result in unprepared companies as shipping rates change and stock levels fluctuate.

One of the most advantageous characteristics of AI for logistics is that the technology can evaluate huge amounts of data much faster than humans. People still play an important role in confirming whether to proceed with what an AI tool recommends. However, an artificial intelligence platform could propose strategies humans hadn’t yet considered.

Real-world evidence also suggests people at leading 3PL companies realize that. A 2023 press release detailed how five top 3PL providers use an artificial intelligence platform from Roambee. The tool uses sensor-based and non-sensor intelligence to automatically detect when specific shipment milestones are met.

The tool can tell users about airport and port delays, estimate arrival time frames, assist with order fulfillment and delivery scheduling, and confirm customs-clearance events. These capabilities allow 3PL companies to provide additional value to customers, increasing their overall competitiveness.

Roambee’s CEO also published a blog post with compelling examples of how well the intelligence platform can work for the 3PLs that chose it. He mentioned how one of the largest returnable packaging providers for the food and retail industries uses it. Implementation led to a 34% decrease in idle dwell time at processing facilities, causing a proportional increase in revenue per asset.

Deploying Robots for Faster Deliveries Around the U.S.

Robotic technology is now much more affordable and accessible than it was not so long ago. Some 3PL decision-makers have aggressively pursued robots to increase efficiency and consistency. Sometimes, those machines are critical for helping companies meet customer expectations.

Many people now want to receive their deliveries in extremely short time frames. One study found 49% of respondents would join loyalty programs from e-commerce providers offering free next-day delivery. Fortunately, robots can help 3PL companies provide speedy shipments.

In one example, Nimble – which specializes in autonomous solutions and AI for logistics – has an algorithm trained on millions of real-world objects. It’s for an AI application that determines which interchangeable gripper is the most suitable for certain objects.

Nimble’s leaders set their sights on creating a robotic 3PL fulfillment service that uses smart machines to pick, pack and ship e-commerce orders. It will allow everything to happen in warehouses up to 75% smaller than those currently used. The resultant network of robotic warehouses will give participating brands access to more than 96% of the U.S. population. E-commerce companies will then be able to use 3PL businesses to send orders to those locations within one to two days.

Another way to capitalize on AI for faster, smoother deliveries is to deploy it for maintenance improvements. A predictive strategy relies on algorithms to alert people to problems before they make delivery vehicles nonoperational. This allows managers to make the best use of available fleets and better know when to replace specific trucks to avoid future problems.

Relying on AI to Improve Human Resource Utilization

3PL bottlenecks can also become problematic if company executives don’t know the best ways to deploy their employees. It’s not always a numbers issue. Some businesses have enough workers but struggle to schedule them most effectively to prevent slowdowns. Using AI in logistics can overcome this challenge.

PostNord offers 3PL and other logistics solutions to the Nordic region. One of its more recent investments was an AI scheduling tool. It can automate the workforce distribution needs for 18,000 employees. Martina Smedman – PostNord Sweden’s human resources manager – explained how it was incredibly intensive from an administrative perspective to handle the requirements associated with all those workers.

Besides figuring out which shifts to give them, it was necessary to track collective agreements, individual employee requests, and fluctuations associated with industry demand levels and worker availability. However, the company’s chosen AI solution allows automating many of those aspects. Users can also see instances of under- or overstaffing, allowing them to proactively fix issues before they get out of control and cause bottlenecks.

The AI tool also has staff planning, communication and time-reporting capabilities. Having one place to do everything means HR representatives can use their time wisely without switching between multiple apps.

It’s Time to Use AI for Logistics

3PL providers play vital roles in helping today’s companies with their logistical needs – especially while facing increasing marketplace challenges and customer demands. These examples demonstrate why it’s smart for people in positions of authority to strongly consider using AI sooner rather than later. Making that decision is an excellent way to stay competitive while future-proofing a business.

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About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.