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Managing the rail supply chain

22 December 2022

There is a growing awareness that automation can greatly improve productivity and increase supply chain transparency in the rail industry. When looking to implement new approaches, the technology selected for inventory management determines the level of visibility you have across a facility. Here, Chris Billinge, Business Development Director of TFC, explains the capabilities of digital inventory management technology in the rail industry.

Chris Billinge, TFC
Chris Billinge, TFC

The pressure of high demand, coupled with barriers to the global supply chain, has pushed inventory management to the forefront of rail industry professionals’ minds – without adequate inventory, the supply chain cannot run efficiently, or even at all.

Stock control is a critical component of supply chain management and when inventory is managed well, the flow of products throughout the supply chain is smooth. But it's not as simple as it sounds.

Monitor and control
Many organisations still have limited visibility of indirect material usage, often due to untracked storage locations or areas of the business with limited control over use. Without an audit trail, products can be lost, forgotten and wasted.

Systems that rely on manual inputs are at high risk of human error and cannot feasibly be updated in real time. This makes it harder to track each individual item and can result in false stock readings.

Limited visibility increases the likelihood of leakage, excessive spending and user error going unnoticed, causing delays in replenishment. For example, a personal protective equipment (PPE) supply runs out early after an employee that is required to use one pair of gloves per day regularly takes two.

Without an up-to-date record, it is difficult to understand why more stock is needed or identify where to train the workforce to improve health and safety understanding across the business.

Removing the noise
A popular way of reducing the headaches associated with supply chain management is a vendor-managed inventory (VMI). In this situation, a third-party provider takes responsibility for sourcing the components, as well as managing the supply and flow of parts. 

The VMI partner ensures that parts, fixings, consumables, materials and other products are delivered to the right place at the right time, providing timely stock replenishment in-line with a predefined delivery schedule. This is particularly attractive in the current climate, where sourcing stock can be challenging and businesses are facing long lead times.
VMI helps manufacturers reduce operational costs by ensuring parts are only purchased when needed, which reduces delivery costs, frees up warehouse space and improves internal efficiency. 
In addition, the customer doesn't have the overheads associated with warehousing stock and, because they aren’t being invoiced for that stock until they are ready to use it, VMI frees up working capital.
With the launch of VMI Smart Solutions, businesses can supercharge their VMI with a whole host of smart technology that helps improve compliance, reduce waste, keep inventory available, charge power tools ready for use and more and achieve a first-visit fix.

Relevant digital inventory technologies include industrial vending, mobile automated replenishment systems, asset management solutions and app-based inventory management. Crucially, these are connected to cloud-based software for real-time access to reports and information. The adoption of digital inventory management technology brings a typically manual process into the Industry 4.0 era.

Building an inventory management solution is a complex feat. With the right support, integrating automated technology can make product availability easy in even the most unpredictable manufacturing environments. For help implementing the right mix of digital technology into your business, contact a supply chain specialist.

Interested in digitalising your inventory management? Visit the TFC website.

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