Geographic Information Systems and Supply Chain Management

Overview

Empty shelves in grocery stores are becoming a common sight as the pandemic goes into the third year. The current global supply chain crisis is interrupting the delivery of everything from medical supplies to everyday items like toilet paper. Even in the areas where there is enough supply to meet the demand, challenges remain. Most producers and manufacturers depend on trucking companies to move their products. Furthermore, online shopping is now the primary option for many people, forcing many companies to expand their service areas and make deliveries in new areas. All this is putting even more stress on the supply chain.

By definition: the supply chain represents all the steps taken to get products or services from their original state to the customer.

Geographic information system (GIS) role in the supply chain involves more than just visualization. It has advanced tools incorporating transportation analysis functions. The tools bring data together, analyze and map it to help users make intelligent and strategic operational decisions.

Creating Efficient Routes

A well-planned route can not only significantly reduce trip time but also save your company money by cutting fuel usage and improving asset utilization. Supply chain managers use GIS technology to determine the most efficient routes between manufacturers/producers to the final distribution points. Knowing pick-up and delivery locations, along with other information like road closures, speed limits and other constraints, the Network Analyst tool helps improve route designs to assign trucks best possible routes to their destinations. Drivers don’t need to be familiar with the route. They can find their way even in unfamiliar routes.

Low overpasses are more than just a nuisance to truck drivers. They cost time and money. Costs on equipment, shipments, clean-ups and fines. These costs can quickly add up. GIS technology for route optimizations uses truck-safe navigation systems that take into consideration routes with limited truck access. Access limits based on loads, overpass heights and even, where known, low-hanging trees. This avoids scenarios where drivers have to take alternative routes because of unforeseen load limits or low bridges.

The biggest benefit efficient routing has on the supply chain may be backhauling. Backhauling is assigning the fleet a pick-up load on the return trip. Visualizing all pick-up and delivery locations on a map gives planners the ability to match supply with demand and plan backhauling. Since truck companies spend more than 3 billion dollars on operating costs each year on trucks driving empty, backhauling minimizes dead miles problems and maximizes profits.

Fleet and Good Monitoring

Many trucking companies have implemented satellite Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for their fleet. The systems gather the fleet location for the whole journey and transmit it to the central location where planners can view each vehicle’s location on a GIS map. Visual monitoring of the fleet allows giving customers more realistic estimated times of arrival (ETAs). It also allows them to make adjustments based on any unexpected changes to any delays. Accurate ETAs allow personnel and other logistic planning.

Other companies track individual loads as well. Monitoring loads in transit provides peace of mind, especially for high-sensitivity shipments. It is also beneficial for monitoring intermodal shipment, for example, rail cars to trucks or where the shipment has to be staged for inspection.

Conclusion

These are just some of the examples where GIS plays an important role in supply chain management. Although many companies already recognize the benefits of GIS technology and are using it to become more profitable, potential exists to increase responsiveness, minimize accidents, and many other problems.

Armed with better ETAs, distributors can make better use of their crews and other logistic plans and avoid having workers sitting around waiting for the shipment. And keeping your customers up-to-date on their goods makes their lives a little easier, a very important key to building better relationships.

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Ally Fumo

Ally Fumo

Former GIS Analyst in Oil and Gas industry turned Copywriter.